Memoirs of a Father

By Philip Rosenbaum

Joseph C. Rosenbaum
Joseph C. Rosenbaum

Producing a five minute video about my father and how he survived the Holocaust was an experience I will forever cherish. The idea came to me on the first day of our two-day seminar, Re-Imagining the Family Album with Professor Thomas Allen Harris at Hunter College’s Integrated Media Arts Program.

On that first day, I quickly put together a short video treatment of the subject with very limited resources — just a few photos and a narrative track I wrote as fast as I could. But during the month between classes, I knew I wanted to use a few clips from my dad’s Shoah video testimony he did for the Spielberg project in 1995. Finding the archival material in a high resolution digital file took some research and finally a kind-hearted USC archivist sent it to me, and I felt on top of the world. I watched the nearly two hour testimony one night, for the first time, 22 years after I first received a DVD version. I cried a lot that evening.

Were it not for this class and this project, I may have ended up waiting years longer, which would have been a shame. I was very familiar with the stories and detail in my dad’s video testimony. I had edited his written memoirs a few years before my father died in 2009. And I interviewed him on video many years ago. But this was different. Watching this testimony eight years after his death was like sitting with him again, one-on-one, something I wish I could do. I even felt his presence, as I watched the video and later when I began to edit my own video using clips from his testimony, family photos and my own narration. I began to obsess over every photo and my narrative. I wanted to give it my best.

Showing the video to the class at Hunter was an experience that felt like one of those life moments you always hold onto. It forever becomes part of your story. I’d never felt such communal, shared warmth, sadness, assurance and hope from a group of virtual strangers over my dad’s story and, in turn, my story. The video was not just about the horrors of his time during the war, but more about the amazing man who emerged from the ashes of post-war Europe to come to America and create what he could of his own American dream. It’s about the wise, moral and loving person who survived Hitler’s hell to come here and feel a love for the importance of making a life and living it right. He really did his best to inculcate those values in me, his own child, and I felt good that in a short video, that showed.

While the project may not be perfect, I feel that part of it is sealed. The version I showed to the class and emailed to friends and family received such beautiful feedback and helped me get in touch with my feelings that I want to preserve its original state.

I want this to be the version that my kids will watch someday. Yet at the same time, I’ve been inspired to do more with my dad’s story. Many ideas have entered my mind since the class began and now I can begin to bring those ideas to light.


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