Along with the other veterans of World War II, the Monument Men are dying. Too few of them have lived to see the documentary film that tells the story of what they did 60 years ago. "The Rape of Europa" details the scope of the Nazi's theft and destruction of art treasures — and also features wartime footage of the American soldiers who helped save the artistic heritage of Western civilization.
Ironically, when it comes to telling the world their story, Ethiopian Jews have been luckier than the Monument Men. They found a champion a mere 20 years after their defining moment in history.
Filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu has won several awards with the drama "Live and Become" about the struggles of the Ethiopians who were rescued by the Israeli Secret Service from refugee camps in the Sudan, beginning back in 1985. The Israelis saved their lives — but once they were safe in Jerusalem the dark-skinned immigrants quickly became second-class citizens.
These two films touch on the lives of Jews, which is why the Jewish Community Center joined with the Salt Lake Film Center to bring both movies to Utah. Next week, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts will be the third partner in bringing to Salt Lake "The Rape of Europa," the documentary about the Holocaust and Hitler and the Allies who tried to fight a war and save art at the same time.
Then the week after next, the University of Utah's Middle Eastern Center will be a third partner in helping to sponsor "Live and Become," which will be screened at the Salt Lake City Main Library. Mihaileanu's plot centers around a 9-year-old Ethiopian Christian whose mother sees a chance to get him out of the refugee camps by passing him off as a Jewish orphan.
Debbie Kesner-Steinberg is in charge of adult and Jewish programming at the JCC and says she is always searching through the schedules of various Jewish film festivals to see what is hot. While Kesner-Steinberg has not yet seen "The Rape of Europa," she knows it is getting increasing attention around the country. (It was screened earlier this month at Weber State University as part of the 2007 Holocaust Commemoration and has played in several dozen film festivals in the last two months, winning best documentary in an international festival in North Carolina.)
Kesner-Steinberg did get an advance copy of "Live and Become" and instantly knew she wanted to bring it to Utah and wanted a broad audience for it. She also knew she had to act quickly because the more awards a film wins, the more expensive it becomes. ("Live and Become" won the audience award at the 2006 Aspen Filmfest after having won the same award at the Berlin International Film Festival and the best film award at the Copenhagen International Film Festival.
"We try to put all our films on for free," she explains. Sometimes filmmakers will give the JCC a price break because it is an educational institution. "And sometimes," Kesner-Steinberg says, "we simply can't afford to bring a film in."
So Kesner-Steinberg raced to show "Live and Become" to Kathryn Toll of the Salt Lake Film Center. Toll loved it as much as she did.