Holocaust survivor inspires high school film project

Published March 2012 Voice

With 15 years’ experience in the motion picture industry before becoming a teacher, Sean Gaston knows a compelling storyline when he hears one.

When it also happens to be true and historical, both the teacher and filmmaker in him come out like the Hollywood stars on Oscar night.

That is what happened when Gaston, a communications teacher at Fleetwood Area High School in Berks County, attended a conference in Indianapolis that challenged a select group of teachers from around the country to advance Holocaust education.

Gaston sat captivated at the story being told by Frank “Misa’’ Grunwald, a 78-year-old Czech now living in Indiana. Grunwald was among the15,000 children held at the Terezin concentration camp in the Czech Republic. Fewer than 100 of them survived.

“This was a truly extraordinary story of survival,’’ Gaston said. “When I heard it, the filmmaker inside of me just took over.’’

It just so happened that one of Gaston’s colleagues at Fleetwood, social studies teacher Jennifer Goss, is considered one of the top Holocaust experts on the East Coast. She is a graduate of West Chester University’s Holocaust and Genocide Master’s Program, a current U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum teacher fellow, a participant in the Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program, and vice chair of the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council.

With Gaston directing and Goss producing, they involved 100 Fleetwood students, eight teachers, and several departments in a project to produce a movie about Grunwald’s four-year ordeal in the concentration camp. “The ‘Frank’ Documentary Project’’ (www.fahsdocproject.com) will culminate April 16 with the premiere of “Misa’s Fugue,’’ a 90-minute film that blends art, music, history, and technology, at the Miller Center for the Arts at Reading Area Community College.

“Fugue’’ is derived from 16th century Latin or French. Musically, it is a composition in two or more voices that repeatedly address point and counterpoint; clinically, it reflects loss of identify and subsequent flight from a life trauma.

Zachary Houp, an English teacher and school newspaper adviser, is writing the screenplay based on 116 pages of interviews with Grunwald.

Noting that nearly 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust, Goss said “Frank’s very survival is statistically extreme. We want to create something for our students, for the Holocaust community, and for Frank.’’

The film will include performances by Fleetwood’s orchestra, chorus, and band; the art department is creating the artwork and promotional art; the communications department is cutting the film; the social studies department is managing research and production; the English department is contributing to scriptwriting and managing public relations; and the tech ed team is designing the poster and DVD jacket.

After the premiere, the project team plans to create and distribute DVDs that offer “Misa’s Fugue’’ free to high schools, non-profits, and museums. Funding is being provided by the Jewish Federation of Reading, the Albright College Holocaust Resource Center, the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, local synagogues, and many anonymous donors.

“We’ve learned about the Holocaust countless times in school, but you don’t get the full effect like hearing it from an actual victim,’’ said student and aspiring musician Nick Ercoli. “Everyone who is a part of this film knows it isn’t just some movie; it’s a life-changing experience.’’



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