Katinka Kraft, originally from Berlin, is the granddaughter of a Nazi soldier. Michal Blum is a fourth-generation Jewish Seattleite who grew up with Temple Bnai Torah. The two met seven years ago while studying performing arts at Fairhaven College in Bellingham. They became friends and began talking about doing a project that would explore the parallel worlds of their respective family lineages and tell their personal stories. But they never got the project off the ground.
Then, after Sept. 11, Kraft began to have a weird cellular reaction to all the flags going up. She started to feel a growing sense of inexplicable panic. After a conversation with her father in Germany, who has devoted his life to teaching about the Holocaust, she realized that what was making her nervous was that she perceived there to be massive, blind nationalism driven by fear, and united under a symbol.
Ever since she was a child, Kraft has had dreams about the Holocaust. In these dreams, she is sometimes as perpetrator, sometimes a victim or witness. Blum remembers that the first play she was ever in was a story about children of the Holocaust. She cannot remember a time when she was not aware of that part of history.
Kraft and Blum began talking again about the idea of working together to examine their respective heritages. The Descendants Project, an independent film exploring the third generation after the Holocaust, was born.
The film will examine the generation demographically, what they are doing with the education they have been given, and maybe most of all, whether there is a connection between Holocaust education and current anti-oppression work. While Kraft and Blum considered different types of media for the project, they settled on film as the most accessible.
At the heart of it, said Blum, was our decision to visit Germany together and see the places where our ancestors intersected.
I think its time that this type of dialogue was started, said Miriam Greenbaum, co-director of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, I am looking forward to seeing what these two eventually produce.
Greenbaum met with Blum about the project and helped her make connections before her trip.
Blum and Krafts initial plan was as vague as lets go to Berlin and bring along a camera, but both women have a lot of friends in the arts who encouraged them to take it more seriously. They kept receiving feedback from people about how they needed to make the project more accessible to a broader community. They began making fundraising calls, sending out letters to friends and families, and held their first fundraiser in April of this year. They raised $3,000, enough to buy a semi-professional camera and two tickets to Germany.
Meanwhile, Cindy Peterson, who was studying law in Holland. She initially joined with Blum and Kraft to help with the filming.
We got over there and realized that we had a camera and a story, said Kraft, and no one to actually do the filming. Once Peterson became involved, however, she quickly became a vital force behind the brains of the project. Peterson, a direct descendant of Mayflower stock, helped Blum and Kraft push the story in a direction that would be relevant to a wider audience.
The project is not just a personal story, she said. Its about genocide, and heritage, universal lessons about how you teach the children about the mistakes of the past.
The trio started in Berlin, where they stayed with Krafts father. He was extremely supportive, and helped them make connections in addition to making available to them his significant resources.
My father taught me, ever since I was a child, to question everything. He always said you need to understand your past to know where you come from, said Kraft.
They traveled to Krakow, and Nowykorczyn, Poland where Blums family came from. Blum was amazed to discover that she had many family members who had perished in the Holocaust.
We have lived in Seattle for so long, I never knew that there was a whole side of my family that never came here. It was a huge turning point in my life, said Blum, going from understanding the Holocaust as a purely educational or cultural event to understanding the effect it had on my personal family.
While in Poland, they experienced the 14th Annual Jewish Cultural Celebration in Krakow. The event is run by non-Jews, for a community which has no Jews. The experience was confusing and disturbing for the trio.
On one hand, it felt like cultural appropriation. On the other, there were clearly young people that felt the empty place in their city and in their hearts, they wanted very badly to understand, said Blum.
Their goal was to interview people in the age range of 15-30 and discover how they had been shaped by their past. They interviewed people across the board in Poland and Germany: performance artists, youth, the tour guide in Auschwitz.
They currently have over 30 hours of unedited film from their trip. They now plan to edit it down to a 15-minute trailer with which to seek grant money. Once they have secured the grants, they will go back to with a professional crew and make a professional documentary. Eventually, the goal is to focus on four cities; Berlin, Krakow, Seattle and Tel Aviv, and tie together the stories gathered in each place.
The trip was not easy for either of the women.
Going to Auschwitz three times in 10 days is emotionally overwhelming, said Blum. But I realize that this is the history that shaped me.