Documenting St. Louis’ survivors


The Shoah destroyed whole families and scattered their remnants across the globe. It had a profound and unique effect on child survivors. Yet, despite it all, most of those children grew up to have fulfilling, productive lives, in a final triumph over tragedy.

Three child survivors, all at least one-time residents of University City, are the focus of the documentary Scattered Seeds: Hidden Children of the Holocaust. The documentary, being shown on local television, aims to both preserve their stories and underline their successful lives.

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Scattered Seeds: Hidden Children of the Holocaust will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 on the Higher Education Channel (HEC), Channel 26 or 13, depending on your viewing area.

The documentary focuses on the stories of Jerry and Marie (whose last names are withheld), both of whom are Polish-born child survivors. Producer and moderator Liz Lippa, herself a child survivor, conducts a round-table interview with the two subjects, while use of archival footage, family photos and stills of faded documents help tell their stories. Lippa, Jerry and Marie will also be featured on 90.7 FM/ KWMU’s St. Louis on the Air At 11 a.m. on Thursday, July 23.

In the film, Lippa introduces her subjects, and then offers a brief overview of the early years of the war, before Jerry and Marie tell their stories.

Each tells a personal child’s eye view story of surviving the war and their lives afterwards. Lippa, who also serves as narrator, manages to fit in a little of her own story as well, explaining how her family escaped Austria, where she was born, and fled to South America when she was a child.

Jerry was confined in the Warsaw ghetto with his family, but the family managed to escape and hide in the Polish countryside. After hiding from the Nazis, the family had to escape a second time from the Soviet bloc.

Marie, who was much younger at the war’s start, was enticed to crawl under a fence to escape the Warsaw ghetto by an uncle who dared her to do it. He knew she was the kind of child who if told she could not do something, would do it right away, she tells us. She was taken to a Christian family in the countryside who agreed to hide her but exploited her.

Both tell harrowing and inspiring stories of bravery, risk, near-missed, hardships and losses. Ultimately, the filmmaker ties all the stories together to bring out how, despite all that happened, those who survived managed to flourish, “scattered seeds” that put down roots and produced a new generation.

Although the stories are compelling, the documentary runs a bit long and has a few flaws. Interviewing both subjects at one time, at a single round table with little visual interest in the background, makes the interview footage sometimes seem static, though intercutting images of old photos and documents helps break things up. Still, the fascinating personal stories hold our interest.

Creating the documentary

The seeds of producer Lippa’s project were planted when she moved to the St. Louis area five years ago and discovered, for the first time, a community of child survivors like herself in the local Hidden Children/Child Survivors group, which meets monthly.

“Actually, Marge (Margaret) Bilinsky, who has made a few videos, is a member of the Child Survivor group, which I am also a member of,” Lippa said. “When someone (in the group) asked her about making another video, she said ‘I don’t think I am up to it.’ I said ‘Marge, if you want to make another video, I’d be glad to help, because I have some background in this,'” she said. Lippa has worked in TV, in acting and as a storyteller.

The film was funded by a grant from University City’s Committee for Access and Local Origination Programming (CALOP), and was co-produced by Bilinsky, who produced the short documentary Hidden Treasures about “hidden children” of the Shoah.

“Somehow it came to be that the CALOP organization was asking for proposals. We started working on it and it just kind of flowed over to me,” she said.

Lippa became convinced of the need to tell and preserve child survivor stories, especially for their descendents, who had very little in the way of tales from their grandparents and extended family.

“I got really interested in the project because when I think about my life and my family, I have nothing from my grandparents, my great-grandparents, even my parents. I don’t have anything that is really concrete about their lives and their story,” the filmmaker said. “I just thought it would be a really important legacy because all of us are getting older, and every year, one of two of the survivors passes away. I just thought I would like to start doing some videos, some taping of them.

“Marie and Jerry had interesting stories,” she continued, about the film’s subjects. “I really thought there might be a little more of my story in there but I interviewed them and I thought their stories were going to be the highlight.

“After watching a lot of Ken Burns’ stuff that I like so much, I realized how important it was to edit in some history and some photos and videos, if I could get them, to illustrate, because attention spans are short these days,” she added.

One of her goals was to craft an educational documentary that could help introduce middle school students to history of child survivors. She noted that while eighth graders in Illinois study the Shoah, she did not know if Missouri students or those in other states covered this piece of history.

“I looked for what would be appropriate and interesting for an eighth-grader, as well as an adult audience,” Lippa said.

Besides its local broadcast, Scattered Seeds will also be shown at the International Conference of Hidden Children/Child Survivors this fall in Boston.

Scattered Seeds: Hidden Children of the Holocaust

WHAT: Documentary produced by Liz Lippa of University City, showing on HEC-TV

WHERE: Channel 26 or 13, depending on viewing area

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 29

OTHER INFO: DVD is available at the University City Public Library and the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library