HBO film short has 10-year-old narrating the Holocaust

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – HBO and the Museum of Jewish Heritage plan to air on January 27th a 19-minute short film, The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm.  It builds on a touching conversation between an inquisitive 10-year-old, Elliot Saiontz, and his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack Feldman of Rochester, New York.  Elliot narrates the film.

Sitting on a couch together, Elliot and his great-grandpa look at photos in a scrapbook and talk about life in Sosnowiec, Poland, before the Nazis came, and then about how the Jews of that city were rounded up, put in a ghetto, and later sent in a cattle car to concentration camps.  Jack Feldman was in camp after camp, until he reached Auschwitz, where the number A17606 was tattooed upon his arm.

That number “was all that he was to them,” young Elliot narrates.

The warmth of the relationship between Elliot and his great-grandpa carries the film forward, aided by animated scenes drawn by Jeff Scher to illustrate the historic passages.  Directed by Amy Schatz, the short film moves effortlessly from animation to film and back again.  The movie drew its inspiration from a 1987 book written by David A. Adler titled The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm.

“Did it scare you?” Elliot asked after his great-grandpa told of being grabbed by the Nazis and taken away from the ghetto.

“Scare me?  Sure, they scared me!  I always hoped I’d see my parents again.  I always think about them.”

He never did see them.  But at one camp, a present from his father—a cap, with money sewn inside—reached him.   He gave the money to the head of the camp, who rewarded him with food and better treatment.  That cap might have been what enabled him to survive.

Jack’s father was a capmaker, and today, safe in America, be it by purpose or a matter of sub-conscious, Jack pays tribute to him by purchasing hats wherever he can.  He has a large collection of caps – some of which Elliot likes to try on.

There is another gentle reminder of what Jack has been through.  He owns a fish store, and according to one African-American customer, if people can’t afford to pay Jack, he lets them have fish to eat anyway. Jack knows what it is like to be hungry, the man explains.

Russian troops liberated Jack while he and other prisoners were being forced to march from Auschwitz  to Germany.  After liberation, he returned to Sonowiec, but no one from his family was left.  He found his way to a Displaced Persons Camp, married, and eventually immigrated to America.

“He’s my family’s hero,” says Elliot.

Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via [email protected]



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