Photo courtesy of the official This is Your Life website (www.ThisIsYourLife.com).
May 27, 1953. Jews all around the world have just celebrated the fifth birthday of the State of Israel on April 20. People everywhere are vigorously debating the imminent execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg set for June 19. And according to the Gallup Polls, American support for Senator Joseph McCarthy is on the rise.
On NBC (the National Broadcast System), viewers tune into one of their favorite new television shows to watch host Ralph Edwards zero in on a young couple in his studio audience. The man is Jeffrey Hunter, a handsome actor soon to be immortalized as John Wayne's co-star in The Searchers, but who is the woman?
All cameras focus on her lovely young face as Edwards proclaims: "Hanna Bloch Kohner: This Is Your Life!"
Almost exactly eight years after her liberation from Mauthausen Concentration Camp on May 7, 1945, Hanna Bloch Kohner thus becomes one of the very first Holocaust survivors to tell her story to millions of people through the mass media. And almost sixty years later, the recitation of names (Westerborg, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Mauthausen) makes her story even more dramatic than it was then, when most people knew very little about what had actually occurred in these sites of death and despair.
This year the UCLA Film and Television Archive has included three episodes of This Is Your Life in their annual "UCLA Festival of Preservation," and our Gene Siskel Film Center will show the compilation on Wed. Oct. 5 at 6 p.m.
The Hanna Bloch Kohner episode is the first in the series, followed by the Ilse Stanley episode from 1955, and the Sara Veffer episode from 1961. All three women survived under conditions that are almost impossible to imagine today. Director Fritz Lang appears in the Stanley episode (Ilse Stanley played a small part in his classic film Metropolis), and the Veffer episode is filmed on a set built to scale (likely modeled after the set created for The Diary of Anne Frank).
The cognitive dissonance is intense: our current knowledge of the Holocaust fights against TIYL’s primitive production values and the show's tacky commercials ("Ladies: Buy Hazel Bishop lipstick! Buy Prell shampoo! Buy Py-Co-Pay toothbrushes!"). But come to the Siskel screening and I promise you, you will never forget the name Hanna Bloch Kohner.
Where: Gene Siskel Film Center (164 North State Street)
When: Wed, Oct 5, 6 p.m.
For tickets, visit: www.SiskelFilmCenter.org
Photo courtesy of Julie Kohner
Historical footnote: When TIYL featured a female guest, it was part of the formula to present her with a charm bracelet at the end of her segment. I searched for Hanna Bloch Kohner on Google, found her daughter Julie (Julie is the founder of an organization called "Voices of the Generations" a non-profit charity dedicated to preserving the personal stories of Holocaust survivors) and asked about the charms on her mother's custom-crafted bracelet. Here is her answer (clockwise from the top):
- "This Is Your Life Hanna Bloch Kohner" (with the broadcast date on the back);
- Czechoslovakia (where Hanna was born);
- Heart symbolizing the Hanna/Walter love story;
- House symbolizing the place in the mountains where Hanna’s family vacationed;
- Suitcase symbolizing Hanna's pre-WWII plan to study the hotel management business;
- Book The Sun Also Rises which was on Hanna,s night table when she was arrested in Amsterdam;
- Circular date (5/7/45) of Hanna's liberation from Mauthausen Concentration Camp;
- Walter Kohner's US army jeep;
- Walter Kohner's US army cap;
- Walter Kohner's US army insignia;
- Flag of Luxembourg where Hanna and Walter finally married on 10/24/45;
- Star of David symbolizing Hanna's Jewish faith;
- American flag symbolizing Hanna's new home;
- Statue of Liberty symbolizing refuge in America.