Holocaust survivor Peter Feigl meets, from left, Thomas Gnacke and Dane Kassube at Chapman University. Gnacke and Kassube took first-place in National History Day’s Junior Group Documentary Category. The students interviewed Feigl by Skype, but this was their first face-to-face meeting.
Holocaust survivor Peter Feigl meets, from left, Thomas Gnacke and Dane Kassube at Chapman University. Gnacke and Kassube took first-place in National History Day’s Junior Group Documentary Category. The students interviewed Feigl by Skype, but this was their first face-to-face meeting.

Rodgers Center Brings Students and Holocaust Survivor together Middle school documentary makers get to meet their film subject in person for the first time.

Chapman University’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education had the unique opportunity to connect young documentary makers from Discovery Elementary School in Bakersfield, California, to one of the subjects of their award-winning National History Day film.

In conjunction with the Center’s “Shards of Memory – Symbols of Hope” fall series lineup, grade-school students Thomas Gnacke and Dane Kassube were treated to a dinner with Peter Feigl, a Holocaust survivor and educator, who sheltered in the village Le Chambon-sur-Lignon of France when he was nearly the same age as the students themselves. Their first prize student film was screened at the dinner before the evening’s larger presentation by Alexandra Zapruder. 

Zapruder shared the personal writings of young diarists of the Holocaust from her book, “Salvaged Pages,” and spoke with Peter Feigl about his experiences and diaries.

While creating their film, Gnacke and Kassube had interviewed Feigl, but only via Skype, never in person. The dinner was a once in a lifetime chance to bring them together, not just shrinking miles, but connecting their youth to that of Feigl’s.

“Visiting Chapman was an unforgettable experience in my very long life now at 90 years … In fact, this visit is the crowning event of my 27 years’ involvement in Holocaust education,” said Feigl, “Meeting Dane and Thomas in person and seeing their film with them was deeply moving and a memory I will always treasure.”

Through their film, they brought to life the story of Le Chambon and the people who dared to hide and protect me as a 13-year-old boy.” 

For Gnacke and Kassube it was a night of new friendship and learning.

“The experience of meeting Mr. Feigl was extraordinary. It was amazing to be able to sit next to him and ask him questions about his experiences during the Holocaust,” said Kassube. “My time at Chapman University is an experience I will never forget.When we received a standing ovation for our documentary I felt moved by their recognition of all our hard work. The event motivated me to continue spreading the word about the Holocaust and to keep the memory of Le Chambon alive.” 

Seated boys holding up shirts.
From left, Dane Kassube and Thomas Gnacke.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, despite having few resources during the war, accepted Holocaust refugees into their midst with kindness. Their actions, combined with some of the surrounding communities, saved between 3,500 and 5,000 Jews from the Nazis.

“It was amazing getting to meet someone that we actually interviewed for our project. Hearing Peter Feigl’s personal thoughts on his story really impacted me because it made me think about what I would do if I were in that situation, and how he had great courage and persevered through times of trouble,” said Gnacke. “I was touched by how the survivors responded to our video and it reminded me of how important it is to continue to share their message to the next generation.”

Other events in “Shards of Memory – Symbols of Hope,” fall series are:

  • An Interfaith Service of Remembrance for Kristallnacht: Featuring Holocaust survivor and Kristallnacht witness Engelina Billauer  and Chapman Presidential Fellow and author Glenn Kurtz, Ph.D., Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m., Fish Interfaith Center.
  • Etty: A one-woman played adapted and performed by Susan Stein, directed by Austin Pendleton, based on the diaries of Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum. To be performed Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m., Fish Interfaith Center.
  • Messengers of Memory: Highlights from 20 years of prize-winning prose, poetry, art, and film representing more than 100,000 middle and high school participants in the Holocaust Art and Writing contest sponsored by The 1939 Society and Chapman University’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. Through Nov. 30 at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Admission to all programs is free. For more information, please call 714-628-7377 or visit chapman.edu/holocausteducation.

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