European Premiere of Inna Rogatchi’s Film on Simon Wiesenthal at the European Parliament

The European premiere of Inna Rogatchi’s new film LESSONS OF SURVIVAL. CONVERSATIONS WITH SIMON WIESENTHAL had a place at the European Parliament at a special seminar commemorating the International Holocaust and Remembrance Day 2014. The seminar had been hosted by MEP Hannu Takkula (Finland) and co-organised by the ADLE (Liberals & Democrats for Europe) allianceEFI (the European Friends of Israel)and The Rogatchi Foundation.

The seminar had been very well attended, with participation of special guests including MEP Baroness Ludford (UK), MEP Sari Essayah (Finland), high representatives of Israel, Canada, Poland and other Missions to the European Parliament, and representatives of several major public organisations, such as the European Coalition for Israel, and others.

In his opening remarks, MEP Hannu Takkula introduced the subject and emphasised the growing reality and historical evidences of those presented in the film to the situation that the well-known European politician has called ‘absolutely shocking’ when it comes to the “current open anti-Semitism and heavily biased opinions and views that people allow themselves to issue publicly, including in the halls of the European Parliament”.

It is worth remembering that Hannu Takkula had been the initiator of the commemoration of the International Holocaust Day at the European Parliament from 2005 onward. Hannu Takkula has said that his and his colleagues choice of Inna Rogatchi’s new film to be presented at the European Parliament had not been accidental.

“I have known Inna for very many years; she is a multi-talented personality who is a well-known writer, art-photographer, and also leading international philanthropist. Her works in different genres are powerful, comprehensive, they are filled with new materials and are expressing a deep and thorough humanism – the thing that we all do need today, as ever”.

In her introductory note, Inna Rogatchi told the audience about the pre-history of the film, of her and her husband Michael’s long close friendship with Simon Wiesenthal. She also enlightened the audience with some details of the work on the film, including her special historical research on the topics discussed with Simon Wiesenthal that had been filmed for this production specifically; and why in her opinion such documents are forming the pillars of our knowledge on the most important parts of history:

“There is nothing more unique than an original document: a photograph, some footage, a conversation. It is not just a preserved memory, it is the most telling, most authentic bits of our heritage that do not have an age, or statute of limitation. Simon Wiesenthal in this film is not giving a routine kind of an interview. Due to our long, close and cordial friendship, he is sharing with us the most important things for him on which he had been thinking all his long and productive, legendary life. Almost ten years after Wiesenthal’s death, his legacy is appearing to us from the screen on the issues which are looming with more importance today, unfortunately. Also, in the film, there is a sufficient share of completely new material, and they are of both interest and importance”.

Inna Rogatchi also has mentioned that the work on the film has prompted her to write a new book, Stars of Despair, Stars of Hope: Personal Reflections on Holocaust in the Modern Times. The book is due for publication sometime during the 2014-2015 time period.

The film has been received extremely positively, and its author has got a highly appreciative reception among all who were present at the seminar.

After the presentation of the film, several special guests have participated in a vivid and meaningful discussion.

Baroness Ludford, the MEP from the UK, did emphasize that “we have been gathered here at the timing which hardly could be more actual for the event like that. In general, to my dismay, I need to say that we are living now at extremely worrying atmosphere with regard to issues of anti-Semitism and race hatred which both are alive as ever, against all expectations and the very logic of the historical and human development. So many times we’ve said and repeated ‘Never Again!’, with such incredibly tragic and going so deep reasons for that, objective historic reasons, importantly. And here we are again – with the threat of the heated anti-Semitic and race hatred is arising, and clearly so. We can seeing it in many every-day’ manifestations in many countries, all over Europe, and it is terribly worrisome and strong sign. Too strong for us to ignore it. What I believe, we all must do, and do it now, it is to make the conscious effort to perceive the threat of the rising again race hatred and anti-Semitism, the intentional ignorance of so recent history, as the alarm. To make it a common cause; to stop the massive circulation of that dangerous and easily spreading ‘virus’. The thing is that anyone can pick up a virus; and our goal of today is to do everything to stop that particular virus’s spread. We just have no luxury for a repetitions like that. I do respect the work of Dr Rogatchi deeply, and am wishing her to continue her efforts in the stream of our joint cause”.

Ben Bourgel, the second secretary of the Mission of the State of Israel to the European Parliament, has actively participated in the discussion. He was talking about long and productive years of joint work of various Israeli state institutions with MEP Hannu Takkula; he was also pointing out the crucial importance for the real, durable peace based on unbiased mutual understanding between Israel and various institutions of the international community, the process in which the organisations like EFI, European Friends of Israel, are playing a central role, constructive and efficient. Mr Bourgel also was telling on the importance of the work done by Dr Rogatchi, in making her new film on Simon Wiesenthal, and in general.

Ben Bourgel’s perspective from the Israeli end was the most authentic and important to hear for the audience at the European Parliament: “I would like to tell you, our European friends and colleagues, that figure and role of Simon Wiesenthal for people in Israel is still be of extreme and very special importance today, as it was from the day one after the end of the WWII. The thing is that this man, alone, in everything he did during all his long life, but importantly, soon after the end of the war, did epitomised for thousands of survivors and their families, and also for all Jewish people who had been crushed, almost annihilated during the process of the Holocaust, brought to nothing, from the point of view of a human dignity; that man, Simon Wiesenthal, in his life mission of restoring of justice, in his attitude, in his actions, in his belief and his deeds, did return to masses of Jewish people the feeling of dignity and self-respect. The role of Simon Wiesenthal is fundamental for Jewish people and for the Jewish state, and I can tell you that he is a living legend in Israel. Thank you, Inna, so very much, for making such great film and such much needed tribute to Simon Wiesenthal, and to all Jewish people, those who did experience the horror of the Holocaust, and those who learned it from parents and great-parents”.

MEP Sari Essayah (Finland) in her comments did emphasize the human dimension of Inna Rogatchi’s film: “I did watch the presentation of the film with huge interest, and I would like to underline that this kind of film is so very important, both in general, and thinking on the current situation in Europe and the world, too. This kind of historic evidence, historic documents simply have no time limitations. In particular, I would like to emphasise such special qualities of Inna’s documentary as its incredible warmth. This is very touching film, from the beginning to the end, and it speaks directly to the heart of viewers. There are not so many documentaries like that. And it keeps a viewer to be incredibly interested from the beginning to the end. And not just interested, but being co-living, sharing the dramatic and unique experience that Simon Wiesenthal tells from the screen as if directly to one’s heart. Such emotions will definitely stay long also in the minds of those who have seen the documentary.

“Also, what I find very important it is a lot of new historical material, new important information that Inna’s film presents. In particular, for me, as the representative of the Nordic Europe and Scandinavia, was extremely interesting to watch the part devoted to Raoul Wallenberg. I never heard about the things that Simon Wiesenthal is telling in the film in this respect, and I do find it very important and absolutely worthy of the further proceeding in order to establish the truth, finally, with regard to that crucial episode of the world’s recent history, to make the record on the destiny of Raoul Wallenberg, straight, at last”.

Raquel Lager, the head of Political Affairs at EFI, European Friends of Israel, was telling about the work that EFI is conducting both in the European Parliament and outside it, in different countries. She has conveyed to all the present warm regards from the EFI leadership and those 18 members of the European Parliament who had participated at the very days of the seminar, in the unique event taken place in Auschwitz, when largest to the date over 60 members delegation of the Knesset led by vice Prime Minister of Israel Naftali Bennett, along with many Holocaust survivors and their families, together with representative delegation of the European Parliament, led by the chairman of EFI MEP Marek Siwiec have had a special joint Knesset and EP session conducted in Auschwitz in commemoration of the International Holocaust and Remembrance Day 2014. “There cannot be more important contributions into our efforts to promote the historical justice and truth, to educate the new generations in dignified way, than this kind of historical research and its public outcome as it comes out of Inna Rogatchi’s new documentary on Simon Wiesenthal and all the questions which are risen by this beautifully done, and very important from historical perspective, film”.

Representatives of different public organisations present at the premiere, also have taken part in the discussion. Petri Kauhanen, executive manager of The Karmel Society, was talking about moral values and the human perception of those at the current stage of the world and society development. “I have a strong feeling that we are living at the time when all of us, both personally and as a members of the corresponding societies are living almost literally staying on a cross-road, and that cross-road is a serious examination of the traditional values on which our civilisation has been built on. That cross-road is also an indication of our personal attitudes and responsibilities, as well as the attitudes and responsibilities of the societies and important institutions – such as European Parliament. After all that dramatic, traumatising historical experience on which also Inna Rogatchi’s film is telling with such clarity and such high moral appeal, we just cannot allow ourselves to stay idle on that cross-road, and also to stay there for long. There is no such. Nothing good will happen if both individuals and the important institutions will stay indifferent towards extremely alarming development which we all are witnessing today, practically daily, with regard to sharp rise of open anti-Semitism and boasting pro-fascist movements, sentiments, slogans, actions, all of it. We all, people and our organisations, have to realise that it is all up to us – how to react, and where to go from the point of the cross-road where we all are staying at the moment. The only thing which really worries me it is that our move would not happen too late”.

Pasi Turunen, representing Patmos Foundation (Finland), was thanking Inna Rogatchi for her film that has become a “truly important input into the understanding and reminding of the danger of hate, the race-hatred, and its horrible practices. When we are watching the footage of this new documentary and are listening to Simon Wiesenthal’s recollections, we start to feel and to understand that all that had been happening not that far ago. There are still people alive for whom all what we saw now on the screen was pretty much their own reality. But naturally, those people, that generation, is passing away, and because of that we have to be even more so to be alerted literally every time when ugly expressions of the anti-Semitism are getting its way so freely in our nowaday reality. I do believe that we, and especially media, should be much more vigilant towards that so much increased flow of race hatred that we are witnessing today. To me, so-called new wave of anti-Semitism is just a chameleon-like ‘new’ faces and phenomena of the old anti-Semitism. The core of the matter is still the same. But societies, media, and governments for some reason all are too mild and uncritical to such impossible to imagine in the degree of its hatred and so meticulously, so well organised movement as the international boycott movement of Israel. Unless we would not be alerted, active and articulate in our resisting to that old race hatred in its new clothes, it will become self-justified, and thus will lead to devastating results – exactly the ones that we all were reminded so expressively and deeply by Inna Rogatchi’s new film on Simon Wiesenthal”.

The representative of the European Association for Israel, discussing the documentary, did point out personal responsibilities of people in challenging times and challenging situations. “Watching this film, and thinking on the personal input of Simon Wiesenthal into the opposing the evil, I would like to emphasise the importance of the inner work that each of us should do, to prepare ourselves to defend the moral principles that need to be defended actively nowadays, quite obviously so. Of course, the international bodies and organisations are doing their work, but it is always slow, and sometimes it could be too slow as we know from history only too well. But we, individuals, are quite capable of doing our share in this big and crucial work of defending the moral ground of civilisation, and simply truth. You never know how your word, and your action would affect, you might be surprised many times on the results; not always, but it does work, and then, nothing would ever happen if people would not try to affect things to the better on a personal level. From Inna’s film, we have just seen how one man, one person could affect the processes, the history, if you wish. Clearly, Simon Wiesenthal had been in no way even slighty megalomaniac and he was not occupied by the thoughts on his future place in history. He did what he believed he personally needed to do – and this lesson is a nucleus, to me, for our all would be attitude to what each of us can do personally on the path defending the truth and objectivity. Simon Wiesenthal’s example from that perspective is highly inspiring, and Inna Rogatchi’s film does present his legacy in a strong, warm and very convincing way”.

Inna Rogatchi, in her capacity as the president of The Rogatchi Foundation has also informed the public of the beginning of the Foundation’s new international charitable campaign around the newly released film, in support of the survivors in need and so-called “the hidden children”of the Holocaust. The name of the campaign is SPARKS OF KINDNESS, and it will be conducted internationally.