Resisting hatred of Nazis or racists in this country

How one woman's civil rights career was forged

Movies: on screen, DVD/Video

April 24, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Judy Meisel saw firsthand the worst of man, and has spent much of her life fighting its power to corrupt.

The Lithuanian-born Meisel, who spent her teen years living under the horrors of Adolf Hitler's final solution, relates her story in Tak for Alt: Survival of a Human Spirit, an hour-long documentary from filmmakers Laura Bialis, Broderick Fox and Sarah Levy that will be shown at the Pratt Library's Wheeler Auditorium Wednesday for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The film, driven by Meisel's informal, emotionally charged narration, is both a degradation-by-degradation account of her life under Nazi occupation and an explanation of how those experiences practically forced her into a career as a civil rights activist and lecturer.

Tak for Alt (in Dutch, "Thanks for all") opens with Meisel recalling how a black family's decision to move into her Philadelphia neighborhood in 1963 sparked a race riot that left her reflecting uncomfortably on how little things had changed since those horrific days leading up to World War II.

"Here I was in the City of Brotherly Love, and it was like Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938, ... and nobody was doing anything about it," she recalls. Both disturbed and angry, she quietly undertook her own act of defiance: She baked some cookies and went over to the family's house for a visit.

That early act of simple bravery is typical of how Meisel has fought hatred much of her adult life. It's also typical of how the filmmakers here have chosen to depict her life - simply, without frills, allowing Meisel and her memories to do the work without fanfare or embellishment.

We tag along as Meisel revisits her homeland and retraces the steps she was forced to take after the Nazis seized control. We share her joy, as residents of Meisel's hometown produce pictures of a lost relative. And we struggle to control our own emotions as Meisel tells of seeing her mother for the last time, outside the Stutthof concentration camp, then unashamedly sobs while running her fingers over the walls within which her mother died.

Tak for Alt will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Wheeler Auditorium of the Central Pratt Library, 400 Cathedral St. Admission is free. Information: 410-396-5494.

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