The story of how one San Diego woman survived the Holocaust will make its local film debut during the 25th anniversary of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.
“A Letter to Wedgwood: The Life of Gabriella Hartstein Auspitz” is the true story of how a progressive British politician became the protector of a young Jewish girl.
“I wanted to tell a moving story that leaves the viewer with a least one or two new facts,” said Director Yale Strom. “Many people know quite a bit about the Holocaust, but there’s always something new to be learned. Even if we think we’ve seen, heard or read about the subject a zillion times, there’s always something new to be unearthed and understood.”
Born in Budapest in 1914, Auspitz grew up in Mukachevo, a city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with a thriving, cosmopolitan Jewish community, where secular Hungarian Jews co-existed with Hasidim and Zionists. With the end of World War I, the city became part of Czechoslovakia.
Because Mukachevo was such an important center of Zionism, British Col. Josiah Wedgwood visited the city in 1922 to give a speech on why he and other Christian Zionists from England supported a plan to create the State of Israel. For the occasion, the Jewish community selected young Auspitz, whose maiden name is Hartstein, to present Wedgwood with flowers and a speech.
Although she had memorized her speech, Auspitz, then an elementary school student, was overwhelmed and started to cry. Wedgwood picked her up and wiped away her tears. The connection she made with Wedgwood would later save her from the same fate of most of her family.
In 1938, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and Hungarian fascists allied with the Axis powers took over the Mukachevo area. Auspitz, at the time, was a teacher at the Hebrew gymnasium.
As conditions worsened, she wrote to Wedgwood in an effort to save herself and her family. He sent her a British visa and, months later, sent another visa for her brother, who fought in the Czech Brigade of the British army.
Auspitz’s sister, sister’s child and her parents died at Auschwitz.
Today, she lives in San Diego, having recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
Using archival footage and photographs, Strom told Auspitz’s story in a 55-minute black-and-white film. He interviewed Auspitz in the summer of 2011 and edited the film the following year.
“What was the challenge, and kind of the fun of it, was being able to create a moving story by using archival photography and archival footage,” said Strom, who as a violinist and composer, also wrote the music for the film. “You see life as it was.”
Strom, who also lives in San Diego, met Auspitz through his father. David Strom had been working on memoirs and helped Auspitz organize her 2004 book, “My Righteous Gentile: Lord Wedgwood and Other Memories.”
About five years after publishing the book, Auspitz contacted Strom, wanting to film a documentary. He agreed her tale would translate to film.
“I hope viewers appreciate not only what the survivors went through, but how they were able to reconstitute their lives and really make something of themselves, going above and beyond,” Strom said.
“A Letter to Wedgwood: The Life of Gabriella Hartstein Auspitz” will be screened at 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre, located at 4126 Executive Drive in La Jolla.
General admission tickets cost $13.75. Tickets for non-member seniors and students cost $12.75.
To purchase tickets, call 858-362-1348 or visit www.sdcjc.org/sdjff.
For more about Strom and the film, visit www.yalestrom.com.