Over 300 members of the Yale and New Haven communities gathered at the Criterion Cinemas on Sunday for the premiere of “People Forget: New Haven Remembers.”
Commissioned and sponsored by local nonprofit Greater New Haven Holocaust Memory, founded by Doris Zelinsky ’71, who was also the documentary’s executive producer, “People Forget” traces the experiences of four New Haven residents who survived the Holocaust and commemorates the building of the city’s Holocaust Memorial, which was completed in 1977. Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13 LAW ’18, Doris’ son, highlighted the importance of preserving these survivors’ firsthand narratives, which he said allows future generations clearer insight into historical tragedies.
“[The film] captures that story [of the building of the Holocaust Memorial] and the memories of four survivors who resettled here in New Haven on what it was like to live through the war,” Doris Zelinsky said.
She explained that last year she approached Elena Lefkowitz ’03, a New York-based short-film maker, to shoot the film. The project of documenting New Haven’s Holocaust survivors, however, went back nearly a decade, starting when David Ottenstein ’82, an Elm City-based photographer, produced a black-and-white image series of the city’s Holocaust survivors and those involved in the creation of its Holocaust Memorial. His portraits were featured in the documentary.
In 2007, Zelinsky’s nonprofit organized a traveling Holocaust exhibition, entitled “Memory and Legacy,” which included material on the lives of the four survivors whose stories are highlighted in “People Forget.”
“To me, [the documentary’s] importance is in becoming part of a historical record as both a teaching tool and a resource down the road,” Ottenstein said.
Zelinsky described the New Haven Holocaust Memorial as “the fifth star” of the documentary film, alongside the four survivors. The first of its kind to be erected on public land in the United States, the memorial was refurbished in 2007 by Eric Epstein ARC ’77, a New Haven-based architect who also serves as one of the directors of “Greater New Haven Holocaust Memory.”
Lefkowitz said she thinks the memorial is a reminder of both the dangers of government-sanctioned hate and the strength of the human spirit.
“I think Yale students and New Haven residents alike should know that [the memorial is] there, and what it represents not just to the survivors who built it, but to all peace-loving, life-respecting citizens,” Lefkowitz explained, adding that she passed the memorial on several occasions during her time at Yale without knowing what it was.
Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02, a lecturer in the History Department who attended the event, commended the robust turnout of New Haven residents.
In particular, Gitlin noted the attendance of Mayor Toni Harp, who delivered what he described as an “eloquent” speech at the screening.
“[The memorial is] a story of the dynamic, positive relationship that exists between this university and the city,” Nathaniel Zelinsky said.
The New Haven Holocaust Memorial was opened in 1977 and has since been maintained by private funds.