The Phoenix Effect is a feature length documentary about second
generation Holocaust survivors who grew up in Vineland, NJ after WWII.
The film concludes with the third-generation examining how the transference
of trauma effects the newest generation of survivors.
What emerge are their collective and individual stories layered with worldly accomplishment and personal angst. Most believing their existence is based on the death of shadow relatives they've never actually seen, second-generation Holocaust survivors have worked to replace what was stolen from their parents: their youth, family, financial security, and dreams. The irony is that in trying to achieve that goal, they have neglected or missed discovering their own.
"We came out of the ashes... the pits of concentration camps and raised a very sane... a very effective family... all of us... that's the phoenix effect."
From The Phoenix Effect
Sol Finkelstein (Auschwitz Survivor)
The Children (Second Generation)
Edith Hirshtal was a child prodigy, who became a concert pianist. She is a recently retired professor of piano and mother of thirteen year-old Jessica. Edith's father was a survivor of Buchenwald who lost a wife and three daughters. Edith's mother went into hiding with her infant son, Edith's half-brother Boris. Edith was born in 1950. Her parent's immigrated to the United States in 1953 and eventually moved to Vineland, NJ where they owned a grocery store. "I had to sleep in my parent's bedroom until I was twelve years old. My father was a survivor of Buchenwald who lost a wife and three daughters. Every night my father woke up screaming and my mother attended to him. I used to worry I'd never be able to sleep without my parents."
Edith Hirsthtal, from The Phoenix Effect. My father yearned for his real family. I used to have dreams that he would leave us for what I envisioned as his elegant, cultured beautiful wife and his three blond daughters. My guilt stems from the knowledge that had the Holocaust never occurred I never would have been born. Therefore I was born out of other people's suffering and pain. Edith Hirsthtal, from The Phoenix Effect
Edith Hirshtal's nephew is the son of Edith's half-brother Boris. David is thirty-four years old and lives in New York City.
"I had no interest in religion. I think I was an atheist by the age of ten. My father (Boris, Edith's brother) is an atheist too or an agnostic."
David Frenkiel, from The Phoenix Effect
Joe is a lawyer with a prominent Philadelphia law firm. He's married and has three children. Joe remains very close to his parents. He has assumed the role of "caretaker." Joe's father was a survivor of Auschwitz. His mother, Goldie survived Bergen-Belsen. After the War Sol and Goldie moved to Vineland, NJ and became chicken farmers. Joe although very bright and outgoing, feels a profound sense of loss and grief regarding the death of his grandparent's, aunts and uncles during the War.
"I think we grew staying away from emotions, not just emotions about the Holocaust but emotions in general. We didn't talk about feelings, we didn't express or share emotional experiences. There wasn't any emotional intimacy. Even doing it now feels like I'm crossing a taboo. I think my parent's were shielding us and themselves from their bad feelings and I think that after a while we began shielding them."
Joe Finkelstein, from The Phoenix Effect
Vickie is a mother of three children and also works outside the home as a kindergarten teacher. Vickie's mother lost a child and her first husband during the War. She is a survivor of Auschwitz. Vickie's father died when she was nine years old. Her mother remarried opening a catering business in Vineland. Vickie is still very close to her mother who lives only minutes away.
"At night I would lie in bed and listen for airplanes. If I heard one I became frightened that they were Nazis coming to take my parent's away."
"My mother was a very strong woman whom I love very much. But if I could tell her anything it would be, I wished that I fought back."
Vickie Furman, from The Phoenix Effect
Harry is married to Vickie. They live in a three-bedroom suburban home in Vineland, NJ where Harry grew up and now practices law. Harry is the film's tour- guide as we navigate the streets of his beloved town and discover the history that he seeks to preserve. Harry's strong focus is the life of Holocaust survivors in Vineland before and especially after WWII. He is a complex man who exercises a great deal of restraint over the emotional effects of growing up with two parents' that survived a concentration camp. It is with much difficulty that he admits how that may have determined his choices, i.e. to become a lawyer and remain in Vineland.
"I was replacing a former child. There was nothing but the best that I could do. When I made the decision in my senior year in high school to become a teacher, my father was devastated. He assumed I was going to be a lawyer. When I explained that I wanted to become a teacher he looked at me like I was crazy. The irony is…and somewhere deep in my psychology…that after he died I went away and became a lawyer, but he never saw it."
Harry Furman, from The Phoenix Effect
Third Generation Survivors
Jessica Mantel is the 11 year old daughter of Edith Hirshtal.
It (the film)is about the Holocaust...what they had back then like chicken coops...it left a scar in their hearts and in their minds they couldn't get it out of their head."
Jessica Mantel, from The Phoenix Effect
Michael is the son of Vickie and Harry Furman and a student at John Hopkins University.
"We have so many privileges there is pressure to succeed because of that. There is such a rush of Holocaust footage for me it loses a personal connection. Some of the footage seems processed...or cashing in on that era."
Michael Furman, from The Phoenix Effect
Adam Finklestein is the son of Joe and Sara Finkelstein. Grandson of Sol and Goldie Finkelstein is currently a law student.
"Knowing that my father cries when I leave the house...it's very difficult to say. I can't live another life because of that...I can't never leave the house."
Adam Finkelstein, from The Phoenix Effect
Julie Finkelstein is the daughter of Joe and Sara Finkelstein. She has spent time in Israel and learned how to operate an M16 rifle while training with the Israeli military.
"My family is not extremely religious...but being Jewish is something I'm most proud of. Even if I didn't marry someone Jewish I would want my children to be raised with the same cultural and Zionist experiences that I had."
Julie Finkelstein from, The Phoenix Effect