Lecture series takes new path with Saul actor

I’ve lost track of how many, many years it’s been since UT-Dallas’ Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies started an annual lecture in a series endowed by Burton Einspruch, but I’ve attended them all.
They’ve featured survivors, academics, activists. Some of them, and some of their presentations, haven’t been easy to understand, but all of them have been worth the effort.
This year promises to be very different. This coming Sunday afternoon, we’ll hear from Géza Röhrig, star of last year’s Son of Saul, which took both an Oscar and the Golden Globe award for best foreign language film. He is sure to be a none-of-the-above type speaker.
The best information I have about this man comes from the briefest of Michael Schulman articles, published last February in the New Yorker. It is tantalizing, to say the least — Röhrig might be called an accidental star! Before he met Laszlo Nemez, director of this Hungarian screen opus, it appears he had not been much of a success at anything. But he found his Judaism when he visited Auschwitz, then moved to Jerusalem to become a rabbi, which turned out not to be the right calling for him.
Afterward, with the wife he later divorced, he settled in Brooklyn, wrote poetry not too many of us have read (well, not yet!), and later, virtually penniless, worked as a shomer for $10 an hour. He had, however, been on screen in a Hungarian miniseries many years before, and so described himself, reported by Schulman, as “…an unknown corpse washer in New York, kind of a has-been punk underground star or whatever.”
I’m not a believer in coincidences; I truly think they happen when God has chosen to remain anonymous. After Nemes, a film student at New York University, met Röhrig, he emailed him the script for Son of Saul. And the rest is cinematic history.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, you should. But be prepared: It is harrowingly painful. In it, Röhrig plays Saul, a capo, one of the Auschwitz inmates charged with the horrible, grueling task of removing dead bodies from the gas chambers — all of whom know that their own lives will end soon, because the Nazis routinely executed these men to assure that no one would ever tell … But one day, this capo pulls the body of a boy from the gruesome scene, declares it is his son, and determines to give the young corpse a Jewish burial.
I’ve written about this film before and discussed it with others, and I disagree with most viewers about the identity of this “son of Saul.” But you’ll be able to see it and decide for yourself at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5. Then Röhrig will give his first lecture, “Playing Saul in Son of Saul,” at 2 p.m. the next day, with a reception following. And if you miss that event, or have attended it and want the opportunity to hear even more from him, “Saul” will speak again at 9 a.m. next Monday, when his topic will be “On Forgiveness.” The film pulls no punches; I see no reason to suspect that Röhrig’s remarks will not be the same.
If you’ve attended some previous Einspruch lectures, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the acoustics are much better in UTD’s new venues. For full information on where all three events will be held, visit utdallas.edu/ackerman/events for locations and a parking map. If you haven’t attended one of these annual presentations before, don’t deny yourself this chance to begin what’s sure to become a yearly habit. All lectures in the Holocaust series have been outstanding opportunities for real learning; this year’s promises to be the same — with a more popularly focused twist.
And if you haven’t seen Son of Saul, don’t deny yourself this rare local opportunity to view it first, then hear from its most unusual, incredible star afterward.

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