Part One, Page One
SECTION 1: (00:00-16:57) “I knew that I had to tell my story.”
Words bolded in the main text are defined in the sidebars on the Summary and Viewing/Discussion Questions pages.
The Baker family’s story is a concrete example of the importance of equal rights in democratic societies. The Bakers’ experience of moving into an all-white neighborhood and Judy’s decision to support them demonstrate the courage needed to act on the principles of tolerance, respect, and responsibility.The Bakers’ personal story is part of a larger struggle for African American equal rights in the United States. The U.S. Civil Rights Movement, which was in its strongest period from 1954-1963, used non-violent protest and direct action to strive for equal rights and opportunities for African Americans in housing, voting, and public accommodations. Part IV of the viewing guide provides more information on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.JEWISH CULTURAL LIFE
Jews had lived in fully developed Jewish communities throughout Europe for nearly 2,000 years by 1933. (Consult Appendix A, “Two Thousand Years of Jewish Life In Europe by 1933.”) These communities were steeped in Jewish religious values, but they were also influenced by the cultures of the countries in which they lived. Emancipation (freedom of rights) in the nineteenth century gave Jews the opportunity to link traditional values and rituals with modern ideas about intergroup socialization, commerce, and politics.
KOVNO ( KAUNAS) GHETTO
The Lithuanian term for Kovno is ” Kaunas.” After the Nazis invaded Lithuania in 1941, they established a ghetto in the city of Kovno. The Kovno ghetto was located in Slabodka, a suburb of Kovno that had been a Jewish neighborhood for hundreds of years. Like other ghettos in the occupied countries of Eastern Europe, the Kovno ghetto was enclosed by a fence that prevented Jews from leaving the ghetto without German permission. When the Kovno ghetto was first established, about 35,000 Jews were confined there. Within the first three months of its existence, 12, 000 of the Jews in the Kovno ghetto had been massacred by Lithuanian volunteers under German command.
In July of 1944, as Soviet forces approached Kovno, the Germans began transporting the Jews still living in the Kovno ghetto to concentration camps. When Kovno was liberated by Soviet forces on August 1, 1944, only a few hundred Jews remained there.
The Film: In the opening section of Tak forAlt, Judy Meisel relates her decision to talk about her experiences in the Holocaust. The event that precipitates her decision to speak opens the film. While eating dinner one night at home, Judy sees a television report about an African American family, the Bakers, moving into an all-white neighborhood in Folcroft, Pennsylvania. The year is 1963. A mob of whites has turned out in an attempt to intimidate the Baker family into leaving the neighborhood. Judy, who lives in neighboring Philadelphia, welcomes the family into the neighborhood by bringing them some homemade cookies. Judy explains her decision to act by saying, “I felt that if their homes were not safe, my home [was] not safe, and when their rights were trampled on, my Jewish rights were trampled on at the same time.”
Before the Baker incident, Judy had not talked about her Holocaust experiences because she did not want to traumatize her children. But witnessing the mob action directed against the Bakers makes “an incredible mark” on Judy. She explains her response by drawing a parallel between the racism in Folcroft to German anti-Semitism in the 1930s: “I was devastated, because here I was in Philadelphia, in the City of Brotherly Love, and it was like Kristtallnacht in 1938 on November 9th, when the world sat and looked at what was happening in Germany, and nobody did anything about it.” Jarred by the lack of support in her own community for the rights of all citizens, she now understands that it is her responsibility to tell her story as a survivor of the Holocaust.
Following the scene with the Bakers, Judy describes her family background, her childhood in Lithuania, the invasions of Lithuania by Russian and German troops, and the effects of the occupations on Jewish cultural and religious life and civil rights. The Russian invasion of Lithuania marks the first time Judy must hide her Jewish identity: her family can no longer attend synagogue services, and her mother must light the Shabes (Sabbath) candles in secret. Shortly after the Germans invade, Kovno’s Jews are forced to move into the Kovno ghetto, where Judy and her family live for the next three years. Judy’s displacement to the Kovno ghetto was dictated by political circumstances that gradually stripped Lithuanian Jews of their citizenship and civil rights.