Film Locations

Sighet, Romania

Elie Wiesel's birthplace, the small town of Sighet, Romania, lies deep in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania, close to the Ukrainian border. In the 1600s, Jews fleeing persecution in neighboring Ukraine found refuge in Sighet and, until World War II, the town had a thriving and vibrant Jewish community. 

In his early years, Elie Wiesel spent a quiet childhood immersed in his faith with no inkling of the turmoil building in the outside world. In April 1944, the Jews of Sighet were cordoned into a ghetto in the town's center. One month later, Wiesel and his family were deported to Birkenau.

Today, only one synagogue remains in Sighet. The Old Jewish Cemetery, with its tilting stones and abundant wildflowers, is a peaceful reminder of a once vibrant and dynamic community. In 2002, Elie Wiesel's childhood home was declared an historic monument by President Ion Iliescu of Romania and transformed into a museum. In the garden of Elie Wiesel’s home, Student Ambassadors took time to reflect on the theme of identity. “What happens when you take the childhood from the child, the love from the lovers, the peace from the person who strives for harmony above all things?” wrote Gabby Reed in her journal entry.

 

Notes

17th century Sighet became a place of refuge for Jews fleeing Ukraine; for 300 years the Jewish community flourished.

Sept. 30, 1928 Elie Wiesel was born.

1940 – 1944 Sighet and other areas of Transylvania fell under Hungarian rule.

1941 almost 10,500 Jews lived in Sighet.

1944 Sighet Ghetto was formed. Elie Wiesel and his family were forced from their home and into the ghetto. Then authorities deported the Jewish community to Auschwitz.

1947 Just over 2,000 Jews lived in Sighet; 7 of 8 synagogues had been destroyed.

After World War II Sighet returned to Romanian governance.

2002 Elie Wiesel’s childhood home named an historic monument.

July 21, 2007 Footsteps Ambassadors traveled to the Elie Wiesel Memorial House, Wijnitzer Klaus Synagogue, and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

www.romaniatourism.com/sighetu-marmatiei.html

Krakow, Poland

At the start of World War II, there were 60,000 Jews in Krakow. Following countless evacuations, deportations, and murders during the war years, there are only 1,000 Jews living in Krakow today.

Krakow has always been one of the most important cities in Poland and has a long history of commercial, academic and cultural vitality. Just two hours from Auschwitz-Birkenau, Krakow was the seat of German-occupied Poland. As in many other European cities, the Nazis decimated its Jewish population. It served as a staging ground for sorting Jews being deported to various camps across Eastern Europe.

While the Student Ambassadors were enchanted by Krakow, they were keenly aware of what had taken place only a few miles away at the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. To experience Jewish life in Krakow, Student Ambassadors explored the Jewish section of the city, visited the Remuh Synagogue and heard traditional klezmer music at supper.

 

Notes

13th and 14th centuries An extensive Jewish community developed in Kazimierz, on the outskirts of Krakow.

Autumn 1939 – Spring 1940 The Nazis overtook Krakow and began to persecute the Jewish community.

March 1941 – February 1942 The Nazis forced Jews into ghettos and established extensive labor camps in and near Krakow. Executions and deportation to death camps began shortly thereafter and continued through 1943.

July 22, 2007 Footsteps Ambassadors explored Kazimierz (old Jewish quarter), including Remuh Synagogue, and prepared for journey to Auschwitz.

At the beginning of World War II Over 60,000 Jews lived in Krakow, comprising 25% of the city’s population. After the Holocaust, between 5,000 and 10,000 Jews remained in Krakow. By the end of the century, only a few hundred remained in Krakow.

www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?ModuleId=10005169

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland

Auschwitz-Birkenau, two death camps in Poland, were the largest of the Nazi concentration camps, claiming the lives of 1.1 million people from 1940 to 1945. They consisted of three main camps and several smaller satellite camps. Upon arrival, victims were sorted into those to be exterminated immediately and those fit for labor. Wiesel’s mother and younger sister were among those killed upon arrival. Auschwitz operated as a Soviet prison camp after the war and was turned into a memorial and museum by the Polish government in 1947.

To honor the victims of the camps, the Student Ambassadors arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau at dawn and in silence. Once the sun had risen, the students dispersed, still in silence, to wander through this most unimaginable place; extraordinary in its natural beauty while at the same time horrific in the ugliness that occurred here. At the agreed-upon time, students gathered again on the train tracks to break the silence with student violinist Maggie Love playing Schein’s Padoanna and a recitation of The Mourner’s Kaddish by Harold Robins.

Notes

January – June 1940 Auschwitz was established and began receiving prisoners.

May 1944 The Wiesel family was sent to Birkenau.

January 27, 1945 Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops.

July 23, 2007 Footsteps Ambassadors journeyed to Birkenau and Auschwitz I. The museum estimates that approximately 1 million people died in Birkenau.

Birkenau was the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex, and became a primary site for extermination. Most victims died in the gas chambers, although many others died from starvation, disease, medical experiments, individual execution, forced labor, and other unthinkable cruelties.

Visitors to Auschwitz I today are greeted by the cruelly ironic sign that inmates faced upon arrival: Arbeit macht frei (Work brings freedom); the gate to Auschwitz II – Birkenau is simply the ominous, infamous train tracks.

www.auschwitz.org.pl 

Paris, France

One of the largest, oldest and most populated cities in Europe, the French capital of Paris is also known as an epicenter of culture and art. The City of Lights, as it is often called, darkened during World War II under the occupation of Nazi Germany. And yet, it became a locus of Wiesel’s own self-awareness and determination in the years immediately following his liberation.

Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), a Paris-based humanitarian organization, saved hundreds of Jewish children during WWII, and sheltered Wiesel and other orphans after the war. OSE provided these children with medical care, shelter, education and psychological support. The OSE villa in Taverny was named The Elie Wiesel House in 2008, in honor of his 80th birthday.

In France, Elie Wiesel resumed his Jewish studies, eventually attending the Sorbonne to become a journalist, and working for French and Israeli newspapers. Paris represents an important step in his transformation from victim to writer. For our students, it symbolized the endurance of beauty and hope.

Notes

1938 – 1960 The OSE rescued children of the Holocaust and placed them in French homes; 14 houses were in use during World War II, and 25 homes hosted children following liberation.

April 1945 Elie Wiesel was liberated from Buchenwald by U.S. troops 3 months after his father’s death. With the OSE’s assistance, a teenage Wiesel arrived in Paris after liberation.

1948 Wiesel became interested in journalism while studying at the Sorbonne.

1954 An interview with French writer Francois Mauriac led Wiesel to begin writing about his experience.

July 25, 2007 Footsteps Ambassadors met with OSE historian Katy Hazan, researched archived photographs (including photos of a young Elie Wiesel), and spoke with a survivor about her family’s experience.

July 26, 2007 Footsteps Ambassadors visited the Paris Museum of the Shoah, where some were able to look for family names in the Holocaust lists.

www.ose-france.org/

www.memorialdelashoah.org/

Berlin, Germany

Berlin has long been the center of German cultural expression and nationalism, known for its progressive outlook and intellectual heritage. In the 1930s, the German capital became the center of Hitler’s Third Reich. Here, he gathered the leadership of his regime and promulgated his Final Solution.

Today, Berlin is at the heart of the reconciliation process between the Jewish and German people. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and The Jewish Museum in Berlin are two of many permanent expressions that stand as a testament to Germany’s commitment to a more just future.

In 2000, Elie Wiesel was invited to address the reopening of the German Bundestag in Berlin, where he spoke of the Holocaust’s legacy to humanity, our duty to remember, and the imperative to educate. 

Notes

1930s Berlin served as the center of Hitler’s power. It was in Berlin during the 1942 Wannsee Conference that Nazi leadership engineered the Final Solution.

May 2, 1945 The Soviet army captured Berlin, and Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8. In the aftermath of World War II, Germany became a divided state, with Berlin further divided between East and West. 

1961 Building began on the Berlin Wall to close access between East and West Berlin, developing into a heavily militarized zone.

November 1989 Germans celebrated as the Berlin Wall was torn down.

2000 Elie Wiesel spoke at the reopening of the German Bundestag, reminding the world of our duty to remember and educate about the Holocaust.

2003 – 2004 The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was constructed. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, near the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

July 27 – July 28, 2007 Footsteps Ambassadors experienced the Jewish Museum, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Shabbat at the Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue.

www.juedisches-museum-berlin.de/

http://www.holocaust-mahnmal.de/en