Director Daniel Finkelman wants viewers of “Rainbow in the Night” to understand the conditions the Jews experienced in pre-war Europe and the treatment they endured as prisoners in the camps.
He also wants us to know, however, and to truly appreciate, that we are still here to remember.
With the slogan “The Last Survivor” as the main concept for his music video, Finkelman unveiled the film – taped in Krakow, New York, and the Majdanek concentration camp – on Jan. 27, designated by the United Nations as Holocaust Remembrance Day, releasing it on YouTube. He now wants it to go viral.
The film’s title comes from a song written by Cecelia Margules, the daughter of survivors. Her music is played throughout the video and sung by Cantor Yankie Lemmer, the chazan of Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah.
Margules, who has composed dozens of Holocaust songs, said the idea for the song “just came to me, a moment of inspiration.”
The rainbow, she said, “represents the hope and the promise of tomorrow. It was the perseverance, the endurance, the spirit, and the indomitable will of the survivors that awed me. That was their ‘rainbow’ in the night that was the Holocaust.”
The songwriter noted that people react “emotionally” when they hear the song, which contains the “intertwined emotions of sadness and hope.”
Prior to the filming, Margules has already visited Krakow; Lodz, her mother’s birthplace; Czestochowa, her father-in law’s hometown; and Warsaw. In addition, she has been to Auschwitz-Birkenau twice.
“My parents were both there, and it is a place like no other,” she said. “You feel the pain and suffering in every building, everywhere. You see the luggage, the shoes, the crutches, everything. How can anyone deny that this horrible event existed?”
Lemmer, who has been with Ahavath Torah since the High Holy Days, said he has not done any acting since his teen years at camp. His involvement with the project came through Margules, who heard him sing at a concert in upstate New York several summers ago.
“I was mesmerized by the beauty and soul in his voice, and said I would love to work with him,” remembers Margules. “The rest is history.”
“She said I had a perfect voice for the type of music she was interested in, and she asked if I would be willing to go to Poland,” said Lemmer, who added that he did not realize at the time that the video would involve so much acting.
“I thought I would just be the vocalist,” he said. Since he has been to Poland many times ““ his grandparents came from there and he has performed at a number of Jewish culture festivals there ““ “It was a no-brainer.”
The cantor said, “It was kind of creepy at first being in Majdanek.” When he stood in the barracks davening, however, “I felt a tremendous freedom to put on t’fillin where somebody [during the Shoah] would have gotten shot then and there. It was like a feeling of revenge.”
Lemmer pointed out that Krakow stayed intact during the war, being one of Hitler’s favored cities. “These are the cobblestones our grandparents walked on,” he said. “You don’t need the re-creation to feel it. You can breathe what was going on there” as you walk the streets.
“When I first heard the song, I approached [Margules] with the idea of creating the first-ever music video set as a motion picture from the perspective of a survivor,” said Finkelman, who studied filmmaking in Israel. “It’s made for our fast-paced generation, where everything is short.”
The song, he said, bears a streak of optimism. While six million died, the survivors “had a rainbow in that dark night, against all odds.”
The film, which begins with a concert in Margules’ own home, features a gathering of survivors – friends and neighbors of the songwriter. The painting shown in the opening scene has a “very special story” in itself, said Finkelman, who was able to borrow the painting for the video.
According to the director, it was painted by an eyewitness to Kristallnacht, depicting what he saw. Early in the war, it was viewed at a conference by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the new British prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, constituting graphic evidence “of what was going on against the Jews.”
“It was very difficult to be in Majdanek,” said Finkelman, “and even in the streets of Krakow,” from which Jews were evacuated. The director called his re-creation of the atmosphere “surrealistic,” citing the use of a vintage 1937 Mercedes, the vehicle preferred by the Nazis.
“Majdanek was even more powerful,” he said, pointing out that no team of filmmakers has been granted access to that site since the Shoah.
“After that, something amazing happened,” he said. “Out of nowhere, as we finished packing, it poured rain, which is typical for Eastern Europe. But then there was a huge rainbow in the sky over Majdanek, like the song. The local Polish filmmakers, who were atheists, said they started rethinking.”
The last scene, showing more than 800 smiling Jewish children, was shot in Manhattan Beach, New York.
Finkelman said his goal is not to teach a history lesson. Indeed, he noted, some critics have scorned him for not showing “enough horror.”
“I made a decision not to go that route,” he said. “The question is, what now? What do we do with the fact that we were almost extinct? Let’s preserve ourselves now. It’s a call for unity,” he said.
“The purpose,” added Lemmer, “is to get young people involved, to know more about the Holocaust. It’s to ignite their interest, act as an impetus, a trigger.”
Since the video has good visuals and vocals and a catchy tune, he thinks young people will be attracted.
“It’s not too depressing,” he said. “It comes full circle,” ending with the “beautiful generations” that followed the Shoah.
Lemmer said he recently watched “Defiance,” a film about the heroic efforts of the Bielski brothers. The most powerful scene, he said, was one with no sound or visuals, simply scrolling text.
“Sometimes, a few words may be the most powerful,” he said. “Rainbow in the Night” ends with the printed words, “We survived, let’s unite.”
Lemmer is hopeful that the music video will get the message across.
To view the video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSlWy1ckoAk