By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky
One Friday night, Jordy Sank attended Shabbat dinner at the home of a friend. Also present was Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal, who, without any prompting, stood up and revealed harrowing stories of her trials and tribulations during the Holocaust. All listened attentively in silence and in tears. But when she finished, magically her demeanor transformed and she began to sing and dance and joke around.
“This was when I knew that the world needed to learn from Ella Blumenthal’s stories and the awe-inspiring way she lives her life today,” said Sank. He was a teenager when this dinner took place but he knew that her story had to be told.
“I Am Here” opens with a montage of news stories of hate crimes from around the world. This includes a radio segment about a South African Instagram influencer and model named Simone Kriel who posted a hate-filled diatribe vilifying Jews.
Losing more than 20 members of her immediate family to the Holocaust, Blumenthal decided to write Kriel a letter with the hope they could meet. “Maybe I will tell you my story, and you will tell me yours. I know we will learn that far more unites us, than divides us,” wrote Blumenthal.
The film continues with her 98th birthday celebration, as she recounts her story from the Warsaw ghetto to her miraculous survival and current life in South Africa. The story is told with great sensitivity by Director Jordy Sank, aided by captivating animation segments created by Greg Bakker, a Cape Town–based artist.
Ella’s recollections are stunningly vivid, as she transports the viewer from her joyous teenage years through her survival in three concentration camps: Majdanek, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. With her niece Roma at her side, Ella’s strong will to bear witness and her commitment to tell her story kept them both alive.
In the press notes, Sank explains the title of the film, which Ella said often to muster strength and courage. It comes from a line in Hebrew, “Baruch Hashem, ani poh,” which translates to “Thank G-d, I am here.” Sank found this to be extremely moving, considering Blumenthal is one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors.
Perhaps we could clone Ella Blumenthal’s zest for life or have her speak to Putin as an ambassador of peace. If anyone could convince him, it would be Ella.
“I Am Here” opens at the Dallas Angelika Film Center and Angelika Plano on Friday, March 11.
Run Time: 73 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Most of the scenes depicting the Holocaust are animated.