Brooklyn High School Welcomes Holocaust Survivor

Students and Grads Reunite for Screening of Award-Winning Documentary Film, 'Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story' Narrated by Richard Gere

Jun 01, 2010, 10:10 ET from Fanya Gottesfeld Heller

NEW YORK, June 1 /PRNewswire/ -- Holocaust survivor, Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, and students of Pacific High School will reunite on Monday, June 7, 2010 to celebrate the award-winning documentary film they made together, Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story. The just released film, narrated by Richard Gere, won the Park City Film Music Festival's Jury Choice Gold Medal for Excellence and is being featured at film festivals around the country.  A screening for the two upper classes of Pacific High School will be held in the school's gymnasium from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM at 112 Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, NY 11201.

Based on her memoir Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl's Holocaust Memoirs (Devora, 2005) the film is a raw and emotional look at survival through an unfiltered narrative lens. Only through the kindness of a Polish peasant did Fanya and her family survive -- hidden beneath a chicken coop with her parents and brother for two and a half years. Fanya's story resonates with the extremes of fear, starvation and a remarkable tenacity of spirit even as death is slowly seeping in against life.

Teenage Witness is also the story of these inner-city kids and their fortitude, their commitment and personal integrity. Despite their challenges, pain and sense of aloneness many of them stood up determined to find their way, promising to follow through on education, family responsibility and communal interaction.

Fanya was born into a traditional middle-class Jewish family in a small Ukrainian village in 1924.  The 2008-2009 graduates of Pacific High School were all born into impoverished and oftentimes broken homes. Fanya and these students have become fast friends since they first met in 2007.

"Pacific High School, the first alternative high school in NYC, has prided itself in making a home for students who need a personal environment and a last chance to complete their high school requirements," explained English teacher, Susan Cohen. "We graduate over 100 students per year who have overcome a myriad of problems and are ready to move forward in their education and/or in the work force."

Fanya, an 85-year old Holocaust survivor, has made it her life's work to share her unique story by speaking in schools, particularly to inner city teenagers. By reading her book and meeting her in the classroom, they understand the choices that she was forced to make and relate to the unexpected love she found in the midst of horror and chaos.  

"There were many occasions during our time in hiding when I didn't even want to survive," Fanya said when speaking to the students. "I felt like all I was waiting for was to die. Perhaps it was the love for life and learning that kept me strong … and if I inspired just one of you today to continue your education, to go on despite challenges and hardships, I've done my job."

For more information about the screening and reunion on June 7, or to request a review copy of the book and film, please call (212) 489-0600, ext. 200.

SOURCE Fanya Gottesfeld Heller