Three Promises: The Kalef family of Belgrade, a Centropa multimedia film

“The film is a valentine to a lost Sephardic world, but one that doesn’t shy away from the horrors that destroyed that world.” Lilith Magazine, New York, March 2016

 

 

I promise I’ll protect our daughters, no matter what happens. I promise I’ll hide you, no matter who comes looking. I promise if I get out of this alive, the world will know about this priest.

Backgound: what makes Centropa different

Centropa was founded in 2000 so that they could interview over a thousand elderly Jews still living between the Baltic and the Black Seas and ask them to tell stories about the entire century, just as they lived it.

Centropa was not founded as a Holocaust-interview project. They did not use video in those interviews. Instead, Centropa’s teams spent a decade sitting in 1,200 living rooms in 15 countries, held up 25,000 old family photographs, and asked their respondents to tell stories about the people in those pictures—from the small comedies of everyday life to the great tragedies that befell them.

You can find the English language online database here. It is also available in German, Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, and other languages. No one had ever captured European Jewish memory in this way before. It is sadly too late to begin such a project now (in 2020).

Using personal stories to bring history to life

That’s why films like the Kalefs of Belgrade is so important. Matilda and Breda Kalef  take us into their Sephardic Jewish community in the 1930s to tell us about cousins, aunts and uncles, Jewish holidays and family vacations. And when the Germans invaded Serbia in 1941, their mother hid her giant family photo album, grabbed her daughters and knocked on the door of a church in a nearby suburb.

In October, 1944, they returned from hiding to find their home wrecked but the photo album still there. Everyone in those photos, however—from babies to great grandmothers--had all been murdered, including all those pictured above.

This is the story Centropa tells in the award-winning film, Three Promises, which has now been shown in six international film festivals.

Teachers — and students — love this film because

  • very few of us have ever seen Holocaust-related stories about Balkan Sephardic families;
  • even fewer have seen photographs of Sephardic women dressed in traditional costume;
  • and most important, this is a film with a strong moral and ethical core to it: of reaching out, leaning in, and saving a life.

There’s a punchline to Three Promises: Father Andrej Tumpej, the priest who saved their lives, always told Breda Kalef she had a lovely voice and she really should do something with it. And did she ever!

Watch the film here:

 

Dialogue between Italian and Israeli Teachers at Yad Vashem

Every year, thousands of teachers from Israel and around the world come to the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem to learn how to teach about the Holocaust. In the 70 seminars and professional development programs organized at Yad Vashem in at least ten languages annually, the teachers have the opportunity to hear various lectures from noted experts in history and pedagogy. Additionally, teachers actively participate in workshops and gain hands-on experience with age-appropriate educational resources developed by Yad Vashem.
On July 23, 2015, Italian-speaking Israeli teachers joined a group of Italian educators affiliated with the Italian teachers’ union UIL Scuola in dialogue and learning together at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

At first there was concern that there would not be enough teachers who both spoke fluent Italian and were members of the Association of Secondary School Teachers in Israel (ASSTI), but it quickly became clear that fifteen Israeli educators from around the country were able to join 20 teachers that came from all over Italy. Some of the Israeli teachers shared their family histories with their Italian colleagues, illustrating the importance of teaching the history of the Holocaust. The Israeli teachers were impressed with the Italian teachers’ Holocaust-related projects and commitment.

The day commenced with a joint tour of the Holocaust Art Museum of Yad Vashem and concluded with an in-depth discussion about Holocaust education in both countries. In addition, the teachers spoke about what they can learn from each other and how they can cooperate in the future. All of the educators that participated found great value in the daylong international dialogue and expressed their appreciation for the opportunity, recommending that such encounters continue in the future.

This was the first time that a Yad Vashem seminar for European educators involved Israeli teachers, and Yad Vashem staff members were very impressed. Aside from the friendship and dialogue that developed between the teachers, there was also a sense that this type of discourse can only prove beneficial when addressing a subject as complex and important as the Holocaust.

The staff of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem hope that this cooperation will continue and expand in due course.

The ASSTI (an umbrella for the Israeli History Teachers Association) and Yad Vashem are planning further study days of this kind. To receive information about Yad Vashem professional development programming in Holocaust education for European educators, please contact the European Department of the International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem: europe@yadvashem.org.il