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In New Yorker doc ‘Nina & Irena,’ a director helps his grandmother open up about the Holocaust

(JTA) — Daniel Lombroso sees “Nina & Irena,” his documentary short film about his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, as a coda to his 2020 documentary “White Noise,” in which he followed leaders in the “alt-right” movement.

For the four years during the making of “White Noise,” he was surrounded by neo-Nazis, who were on the cusp of a resurgence around the 2016 presidential race. “I never thought about my own connection to the material in any detail, and then I realized the reason I cared so much about this story before anyone else in the country was because of my grandparents,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It was the stories that I grew up with that made me vigilant about extremism and curious and concerned.”

In “Nina & Irena,” which will be released through The New Yorker on the magazine’s digital channels on Wednesday, Lambroso’s Polish-born grandmother Nina Gottlieb — 90 during filming and 91 now — opens up after eight decades about her experiences during the Holocaust, when she lost about 25 members of her family, including her sister, Irena. Only she and her parents survived.

The New Yorker Studios film relates Gottlieb’s tale through on-camera interviews with Gottlieb that are interspersed with archival footage. Much of the film depicts simple moments of joy with her family, such as doing Zoom yoga with her grandson and her 90th birthday party surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Gottlieb is fully independent, lives alone in Long Island and still has an active lifestyle.

“The film is about the richness of her life,” Lombroso said. “There’s a lot of what they call Holocaust fatigue that we all grew up watching a lot of Holocaust films and hearing from survivors and you expect certain things. You expect the train tracks and you expect Auschwitz and smoke and it was very important for me to not necessarily avoid the horrors — you have to understand the horrors — but also balance them with the comedy of her life. She’s so funny.”

The film has been a success on the festival circuit, including winning best short film at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride. The documentary festival DOC NYC included it among its “Short Lists” predictions for top contenders for Oscars and other awards.

Growing up in New Rochelle, New York, Lombroso knew that his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, but she never spoke about her experiences during the war. She thought her stories were too horrible for her children and grandchildren when they were young. She always thought she would tell them later, but later never came. Lombroso realized that now was his chance to finally ask, before it was too late.

In the film, Gottlieb talks about her childhood in Kielce, Poland, and her relationship with her sister, spying on Irena and tattling to their mother. Even when discussing her sister’s disappearance, she has a matter-of-fact way of telling these stories, accepting what happened and not dwelling on the past.

Lombroso said her testimony helped him avoid the cliches of documentary filmmaking. Too often, he explained, “you’ve gotten your main subject to pour themselves out in front of the camera like it’s a therapy session. My grandmother doesn’t go there,” he said. “At first, I thought that would be a problem.” However, “with distance and going through screenings, I realized that’s what makes the film so different and special. Her message is one that you don’t hear much: Keep going in life. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. And if someone like her doesn’t feel sorry for herself [after] losing upwards of 20 family members, then I certainly can’t.”

Another surprising aspect of the documentary is Gottlieb’s compassion for her tormentors. Having been evacuated to Prague, she saw the liberated Czechs pour tar on German officers and burn them alive. She was horrified.

“One of the worst moments of the Holocaust for her was watching a German officer be burned alive by Czech bystanders. She says, ‘You don’t do that to other people. We’re all born little adorable children. What happens to us?” Lombroso said. “The person she has sympathy for is her perpetrator and I just find that so rare in this day and age.”

In order to get this level of honesty from his grandmother, Lombroso approached this project, his first personal film, like his previous work at The New Yorker, where he is a staff filmmaker, and before that at The Atlantic.

“I’m used to embedding myself with people who I disagree with. I always try to understand subjects in the same way. Even when I was dealing with Richard Spencer, who is a famous white nationalist, I was trying to understand the root of his ideology and how he became who he is today,” he said. “I wanted to understand how someone becomes that f–ked up. We went skiing together and I met his mother. That’s the kind of reporting I just love doing and I think people open up to me because I don’t feel judgmental towards them. I just want to understand.”

And despite his love for his grandmother, he tried to keep a certain creative distance. “My grandmother had no editorial control,” Lombroso said. “She saw the film for the first time a few days before it premiered, and I told her you cannot change anything. And sure, there’s a tenderness in the film that comes through because I love her and feel close to her, but it was important to me not to compromise my practice in any way with her story.”

The one time he did let her weigh in is when he showed her a synopsis of the film that mentioned survivor’s guilt. She was furious.

“She said, ‘I don’t feel guilty about anything,’” Lombroso said. “I think it’s important to see someone like her and that’s what makes her so inspiring.”

The post In New Yorker doc ‘Nina & Irena,’ a director helps his grandmother open up about the Holocaust appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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