Pogrom survivor remembered through animation

Center for the Humanities Newsletter Photo
Shelley Jordon

In Berlin in 1942, a six-year-old girl and her family were forced into hiding. For four years, they moved from one place of concealment to another, sheltered by helpers motivated by friendship, compassion and sometimes greed.

The story is familiar, but the outcome was happier than most: the Graetz family—two children, two parents, two grandparents—all survived to immigrate to the United States. And unlike so many, whose stories died with them, the Graetz’s story lives on in a hand-written account kept by the little girl’s father.

That account is now in the hands of Center Research Fellow Shelley Jordon, an artist who is using it as the basis for an animated film. “The writing is filled with visual details and insightful particulars, including terrifying close calls and fortuitous confluences of circumstances that make it a compelling narrative suited to visual interpretation,” Jordon wrote in her research summary.

The story holds extra power for Jordon, a professor of art at OSU. The little girl, Anita Graetz, grew up to become Jordon’s mother-in-law, Anita Greenstein. Though Jordon had heard bits and pieces of the family history, it was not until the meticulously documented account was transcribed by another relative that she felt inspired to create a project based on it.

Jordon’s hand-painted animation, “Anita’s Journey,” will be presented from the little girl’s point of view. “The piece will not be a literal narrative, but rather a visual expression of a powerful emotional experience from a child’s perspective.”

Many written accounts of the Jewish experience in Germany during WWII have been produced—including Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus—along with documentaries and other media, but Jordon’s appears to be the first animated depiction. Though no photographs of Anita’s family from that period survive, Jordon is able to draw on the collections of other families and individuals kept in the Jewish Museum Berlin, as well as the holocaust archives at the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Free University of Berlin.

She also visited the neighborhood of Anita’s early childhood in the Jewish district in Berlin to sketch and photograph the buildings, shops, and playgrounds that remain, and is working with images taken from home movies showing four generations of Anita’s family in the 1950s. During her Center tenure, Jordon is writing the “script” for the film, creating sketches, developing images, and beginning a rough draft of the animation on a computer. The film will be silent apart from an original musical score composed by Kurt Rohde, a music professor at the University of California-Davis.

The Graetz family had already begun to suffer before being driven into hiding. The father, Robert, had lost his job and the children were no longer allowed to attend the local school. They were evicted from their home and were living in a one-bedroom apartment with the grandparents, Herman and Eva Lack, when forced to flee. Anita’s sister, Renate, was four at the time.

Miraculously, the family survived and arrived in New York City on July 15, 1946, aboard the SS Marine Flasher. After some time, they settled in Portland where Anita married and had two children, including Jordon’s husband David. Sadly, Anita died fairly young of complications from multiple sclerosis.

“Anita was a girl who survived the terrors of war through her family’s wiles and good fortune but was also my husband’s mother and the grandmother my daughter never really knew. I hope to keep her historical memory alive in an art form that is meaningful and unique.”

Jordon has produced two previous short animated films, Terremotto and Family History. Family History has been shown at film festivals around the world and has won a number of honors, including the “Judges Award” from LA Times film critic Ken Turan at the 36th Northwest Film Festival in Portland. In November, Terremoto won Best Art and Animation at the Radar Hamburg Film Festival in Germany.

In the fall, Jordon was awarded an Art & Technology residency at the Wexner Center at Ohio State University. Each year, the Wexner Center invites around 20 milmmakers and artists to take part in the program, which provices professional technical help with new works. The resultant projects are exhibited at fesitvals and museums worldwide. Jordon will be there for a week in December and again in June.
“Unlike a painting, which can only exist in one place at any given time, animation is a portable medium that can be viewed concurrently in multiple venues with potential for a much broader audience.”

Shelley Jordon’s animation can be viewed online at: http://shelleyjordon.com/animation/.