Cuba’s forgotten jewels…, documentary about Jewish refugees in Havana

A very little known story of the European Jews who arrived in Cuba during World War II is the basis of a documentary signed by Judy Kreith and Robin Truesdale, with which the hope that that spirit of hospitality “remerges in today’s world.”

The film Cuba Forgotten Jewels, a Haven in Havana, concretely reconstructs the case of the displaced Jews who arrived to the island and carried out their trade of diamond polishers there.

Judy, a dance teacher, and Robin, the film’s producer, for almost a decade had been interested in the personal history of Marion Finkels Kreith, Judy’s mother, who at the age of 14 escaped from Europe to Cuba, one of the few options there were for refugees at that time.

“As a child I heard some stories about my mother’s childhood, but it was only a long time afterwards that I understood the complete story,” Judy, who like Robin lives in Denver, Colorado, affirmed to EFE.

A record against time

When starting the process of researching for the documentary, not only did they encounter in Havana numerous stories similar to July’s mother’s but also that many had an advanced age and therefore a record had to be immediately made of those memories.

“The day I decided to make the documentary my life changed,” confessed the ballerina, who embarked on the project with Robin, a compatriot “with no experiences on immigration” and who would contribute the technical and cinematographic vision to the project.

After taking off in 2010 with some first interviews mainly done in the United States, five years later she officially started the production of the documentary which is 45 minutes long and was premiered in 2017, after which it has started a pilgrimage through festivals like the recent Miami Jewish Film Festival and the Havana Festival last December.

Robin underlines that since the beginning they decided to produce a documentary with a duration they considered “appropriate” and that was never thought of as a feature length, “although it wasn’t for lack of material.”

“Our focus is on personal stories. And these stories are encouraging and positive,” Robin commented, after alluding to another of the premises: that the subject not stray toward political questions.

Jewels

As is reflected in the documentary, when she arrived in Havana, Marion and other young refugees started working in what in the early years of the 1930s was a new industry in Cuba: the diamond business.

It had been created by experts in the polishing of jewels who has escaped to Cuba running away from Nazism and who, due to their international connections, were able to transfer to Havana the businesses they previously had in Europe. The maestros hired young refugees to teach them how to cut and polish the gems.

Today and tomorrow

But the documentary does not focus only on what happened between 1933 and 1944, years in which it is estimated that some 12,000 Jewish refugees arrived in Cuba, but also on the present.

“The traumas and challenges of the past and the energy and positive attitude of the present are very relevant,” noted Robin, regretting that at present immigrants are questioned in the United States and their talent and contributions are unknown.

The film has recovered the value of those experiences, now seen based on a new perspective. The documentary, the directors say, has served to locate those stories in the current context and has brought about a dialogue.

“My parents were refugees. My husband is foreign and this week he got his permanent residence in the United States. Now I understand what it is like to be an immigrant and a refugee. Now I understand what they felt. And despite their many years here, they still feel like strangers,” Judy affirms.

Despite avoiding political questions, past and present, the documentary has generated a bit of a controversy and Robin asks that his work be seen as “an educational work” that shares stories of “compassion toward foreigners.”

The documentary has been translated into Spanish and Hebrew, and in the coming weeks will be presented in Minneapolis, New York, Denver, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles, among other U.S. cities.

The filmmakers also hope to present it in Latin American cities because of the subject’s relevance for the Jewish communities.

“Be compassionate. One never knows what an immigrant or a refugee will contribute. If you shut your heart, you will never see it,” Judy points out in conclusion.

Francisco Miraval / EFE / OnCuba

 

 

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