By Henry Shorr
Maag Library will be collaborating with Jacob Labendz, director of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust studies, for April’s Movie at Maag event to commemorate Yom Hashoah. The Czech film “The Distant Journey” will be shown and accompanied by a talk from Labendz.
Colleen Duchon, the reference librarian at Maag, helped to start the Movies at Maag series in the fall to give students an on-campus event where they could safely socialize.
“Once a month, we’d have a poll and students will be able to kind of pick whatever movie they want to watch and — the first in September and October — we actually projected the movies onto the side of The Butler,” Duchon said. “It was just a fun thing that we did. And then because it was successful, we decided we’d do it through spring as well.”
Maag showed movies for Valentine’s Day and Women’s History Month, and now it is working with Labendz to showcase, not just this historic film, but also Labendz’ knowledge on the movie and the Holocaust.
According to Labendz, “The Distant Journey” by Alfréd Radok was one of the first movies about the Holocaust. Filmed in 1949, it weaves in real footage from Theresienstadt with a love narrative of a Jewish woman being ripped from her gentile lover. He went further into why this film is so important in the context of Holocaust media.
Labendz spoke on how this film evokes a visceral, emotional response by weaving a narrative in with documentary footage shot during the liberation of the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
“They’re skinny — showing, like, the limits of representation in some ways. Okay, so here’s documentary footage, but what does it really teach us? What do we see? How do you entertain the experiences of the people in those films?” Labendz said.
Labendz described the parallels between what is in this film and what is happening in today’s world.
“I think, interestingly, with the question of what totalitarianism and fascism do to communities and families, how it rips families apart, created new divisions where divisions may not have existed before, explored how class privilege also affected people’s experiences, and that the end, I think, offers a somewhat problematic salvific idea of the redemption of Jews,” Labendz said.
He continued by laying out some of the more problematic points of this film.
“The salvation of Jews by this sort of broader Czechoslovak Christian community, which film scholar Judith Donnison, at least, has pointed out was a bit of a trope that the Jewish woman would be rescued for the romantic love of a Christian man, so it’s not an unproblematic film. But it’s fascinating and very important,” he said.
Duchon explained why collaborating with Labendz for this screening was so important to her.
“Dr. Labendz is going to be leaving shortly. We really wanted to do something to honor him and because Holocaust Memorial Day is at the end of April, we thought we could combine those two things,” she said. “We could give him an opportunity to really showcase his knowledge and his understanding of the information, and he’s done lectures on the movie before. So we kind of felt like it was just a perfect pairing of making it educational and also getting to collaborate with him and the Center for Holocaust studies.”
Duchon, who took a Holocaust studies course when she was majoring in history at Youngstown State University, believes it is an important topic for everyone to have some knowledge in, so she is happy to be able to facilitate not only the showing of this film, but also the talk from Labendz.
“[‘The Distant Journey’] was the first dramatization of the Holocaust. It was actually filmed in Theresienstadt, so you know … it’s going to give people a different look at the Holocaust movies that are more, like, Americanized and more current,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t, you know, co-hosting this with him or co-sponsoring this event with him, I want to come to this just because, you know, he’s an expert, and he’s going to be able to give really, really interesting information about this.”
The film will be shown at 6 p.m. April 27 at Maag Library. For more information, go to the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation’s website.