Charleston-produced Holocaust survivor story set to air on PBS
By Ben Schools
The Holocaust Education Film Foundation, headed by producer Ron Small, is set to air its newest survivor documentary “I Danced for the Angel of Death: The Dr. Edith Eva Eger Story” through PBS on national public television. This is the latest in a series of interviews with remaining Holocaust survivors that began with Joe Engel in 2017. Since then, the foundation has ensured that numerous stories stay alive, and the laudable initiative is based right here in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 2019, a colleague sent Ron a book called The Choice written by Dr. Edith Eger, and he devoured every word of what he calls “one of the best Holocaust books ever written.” Published in 24 languages, the book catapulted the 93-year-old practicing psychologist into a high-profile status, allowing her incredible survival story to reach countless people around the globe. Dr. Eger has even appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show to discuss the New York Times bestseller.
At the same time Ron read Dr. Eger’s story, his communication with an associate in San Diego led him to edit a video in which Dr. Eger appeared. He immediately asked to be connected with her, but given her packed schedule and slew of gatekeepers, this was no simple task. After multiple months, Ron reached her on a Zoom call, arranged for an interview and found himself sitting across from her a few months later in California. Although the process had proven difficult, it was more than worth it.
Ron spent two days with arguably the most famous Holocaust survivor in the world. He describes her as an exceptionally warm and inviting woman, and felt as though he made a new best friend. The foundation’s West Coast director of photography, Felix Arceneaux, filmed the entire interview before Ron categorized different parts and pieced them together into a story.
Edith Eva Eger was born in Hungary to her mother, a civil servant, and her father, a tailor. In 1944, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. Her parents were sent to the gas chambers, but she, only a teenager, was directed to a different line with her sister. Through bravery and unfettered will, they stayed alive. In the documentary, Edie tells of dancing for Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, who in turn gave her bread, which she shared with some other girls — an act of kindness that later saved her life.
Toward the end of the war, Edith and other prisoners had been moved to Austria. On May 4, 1945, a young American soldier noticed her hand moving slightly among a number of dead bodies. He quickly summoned medical help and brought her back from the brink of death.
After the war, Edith moved to Czechoslovakia, where she met her husband. They moved to the United States in 1949. She received her degree in psychology from the University of Texas, El Paso, in 1969 before pursuing her doctoral internship at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Dr. Eger has a clinical practice in La Jolla, California, and holds a faculty appointment at the University of California, San Diego. Besides The Choice, she recently published another book called The Gift within the past year.
Speaking about the upcoming film, Ron says, “It’s a riveting story and I hope that people are moved by it.”
Dr. Eger’s documentary was planned to premiere in Charleston at the end of April 2020 in conjunction with an appearance by Dr. Eger herself, but that was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The original funding dissolved; however, the Holocaust Education Film Foundation leaders remained hard at work trying to keep the project afloat. Eventually they were able to gather the funds from other sources like the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University. Stan Greenspon contributed a significant donation that really served as the impetus for accelerating this project again, and Talli Dippold, the center’s associate director and granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors, played a huge role in its success. She even flew out to California to meet Dr. Eger with Ron.
Coincidentally during this intermission period, Ron was introduced to Alan Moskin, a 94-year-old World War II veteran of Patton’s Army, 71st infantry, whose battalion liberated the camp that Dr. Eger was in. Out of the staggering number of concentration camps — about 44,000 in all — this was a lesser-known camp called Gunskirchen Lager, a subcamp of Mauthausen.
Moskin was an 18-year-old soldier when he entered that camp, and in his interview with Ron, he shared his own recollection of that day and the images of the horrific reality inside. Moskin did not know Dr. Eger at the time of liberation, but his memory of it is now given alongside hers in the documentary.
Through a laborious process looking for broadcasting avenues, Ron ended up at WLRN, a PBS Station in Miami, Florida. WLRN general manager John LaBonia and executive producer Adrienne Kennedy embraced the program. Three weeks ago, they released word that PBS will nationally air “I Danced for the Angel of Death: The Dr. Edith Eva Eger Story,” which is supposed to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 8, 2021. Depending on the television station, the date may vary by a couple of days.
Ron says, “In the end, this is a feel-good story — it’s not meant to depress viewers. It’s meant to be uplifting. These people lived to tell the tale.”
From concentration camp to world-renowned psychologist and author, Dr. Edith Eger has defied all prognoses of limitation. Her story should be celebrated, and it will soon air in homes across the United States of America. Let us continue to support efforts like the Holocaust Education Film Foundation to preserve these voices and incredible stories for future generations.