Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 7 March-April 2001


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New International Film Explores Disability & the Holocaust
The following article is drawn from a press release by Simi Linton, Ph.D., (DisabilityArts@yahoo.com) a leading disability activist and writer who is now organizing a national tour of a video and accompanying panel discussion on "Disability & the Holocaust: A History Revealed."

Liebe Perla is an extraordinary new video that documents Nazi Germany's brutality towards disabled people through the exploration of a friendship between two women of short stature: Hannelore Witkofski of Germany and Perla Ovitz, now living in Israel. The film, made by Shahar Rozen in Israel and Germany in 1999, has received prizes at international film festivals, was shown on television in Europe and featured in the "Reframing Disability" series at the November 2000 Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival in New York.

Dr. Josef Mengele's infamous "scientific experiments" on humans during the Holocaust have become part of Nazi history but perhaps less known are his experiments on a Hungarian Jewish family of actors and musicians, all people of short stature. Fifty years later, Hannelore Witkofski, a woman of short stature born in post-war Germany, befriends the only surviving family member, Perla Ovitz, now living in Israel.

The driving force of the 53 minute documentary is set in motion when Perla asks Hannelore if she would look for a film that Mengele made of her family in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. As the documentary follows the search, it resurrects a lost history of the abuse and murder of disabled people in Nazi Germany.

According to Prof. Linton, "This astounding, intimate film tells us as much about the present moment as it does about that troubled past-the friendship of the two women and, more broadly, the social positioning of disabled people in these so-called enlightened times."

Shahar Rozen, director, said in a recent interview that "keeping the film's theme in mind and out of respect for Perla and Hannelore, we were very careful not to make a 'shocking expose' about 'dwarfs'. I believed the director should have a minor presence-in fact, he should be transparent-so that the heroes could tell their story in their own way."

publicity photo for Liebe Perla
publicity photo for Liebe Perla

Screening & Panel Discussion
During the spring of 2001, Prof. Linton has organized film screenings and panel discussions on disability and the Holocaust, most recently at the University of Oregon and California State University at Monterey Bay. She pointed out that while disability is a central theme of the presentation, the cultural event as a whole has been successful at drawing the interest of many scholarly and cultural communities. For example, the university-based presentations brought together various departments-English, German, Holocaust studies, women's studies, Judaica studies, art, disability services, education, law, medicine and communications, as well as participants from the disability and Jewish communities outside the university.

For further information or to schedule the film and panel discussions for a conference or event, contact Simi Linton of Disability/Arts, 140 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y. 10024; phone/fax 212 580 9280 or via email as above. The film, produced with the assistance of the New Foundation for Cinema & Television, and Keshet Broadcasting, is in German & Hebrew with English subtitles.


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