In 1939, George Landau was a little boy living in Poland when his life was upended — in the middle of the night, his family was forcibly removed from their homes and sent to slave labor camps in Siberia. It was the beginning of World War II, and the Soviet Army had invaded their county from the east, even as the German army invaded from the west.
In the harsh, remote camps, the family struggled to survive with inadequate food and shelter. After the war, they continued to struggle as undocumented immigrants eking out an existence in Uzbekistan, where they lived in an open chicken coop, before finally emigrating to the United States.
Now, Landau’s cousin Nancy Margulies has produced a documentary sharing that story. Margulies is the daughter of David and Joan Thaler, who started the Cedar Rapids-based Thaler Holocaust Remembrance Fund to provide support for education about the Holocaust in Linn County. The film was funded in part by a grant from the fund.
Margulies produced and directed the film. She also created illustrated scenes from the story, re-creating images otherwise lost to history.
“I knew from George and other members of our family they had been through a very difficult experience in World War II,” she said. “He is such a positive person, and so grateful for every part of his life; I was curious how he saw the war years.”
She lives in Half Moon Bay, Calif., but she and Landau will screen the documentary in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 29 and 30. The film is about 40 minutes, and the Cedar Rapids events will include time for discussion and questions after the screenings.
Despite the hardship he faced, Margulies said Landau always said he felt lucky that the family were deported from their own country by the Soviets rather than the Germans. If the Soviet Union had not reached their city first, they could have been sent to die in concentration camps.
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“The Soviet Union took people away not based on their religion but based on whether they were educated. They sent them to Siberia, where many died, but some survived. The Germans were marching in from the other side and taking people, mostly Jewish people,” Margulies said.
She said it is important to capture stories from survivors now, as fewer and fewer are around to tell their stories.
“Now it’s getting to the point where the only survivors were young children at the time,” she said. “I wanted to make the film while George was still alive and could tell his story — he’s in his 80s now.”
She said she hopes people hear the story and take away not only Landau’s positive spirit and resilient attitude, but also the reality of how quickly a society can change and something like fascism can overcome it.
“Really appreciate your freedom and be grateful for what you have. And also, be alert,” she said. “I think right now, in our political climate in the United States, this film is particularly poignant and appropriate, because it talks about how everything seemed normal, and then suddenly it changed and everyone lost their freedoms.
“It is a call to action. Now, if we believe some of our freedoms are being jeopardized and some of our humanity is being taken away, this is a time to really be alert and stand up against that type of behavior,” she said. “I want to encourage conversation ... Do what you can to help keep our country from going the direction of Germany and the Soviet Union (in World War II).”
If you go:
• What: Screenings and discussions of “Lies and Miracles: Childhood in a Siberian Camp”
• When and where: noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 29, Cedar Hall, Kirkwood Community College, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids; 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29, Busse Library, Mount Mercy University, 1330 Elmhurst Dr., NE, Cedar Rapids; 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 30, Kesler Hall, Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
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• Details: holocausteducate.org/documentary-shares-timely-lessons-from-dark-history
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