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Surviving Auschwitz, returning with family: Documentary film traces the escape of a young Jewish woman |

On the run at eleven years old, ending up in Auschwitz: A documentary about the Jew Eva Szepesi traces this path. Szepesi traveled from Frankfurt via Budapest and Slovakia to Auschwitz for filming.

By Marit Tesar

This is where they lay – Eva’s braids, cut off by a guard in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Before the twelve-year-old knew it, she was shaved bald like the other prisoners.

Now, around eight decades later, Eva Szepesi is standing there again, in Auschwitz, this time with her children and grandchildren around her. On the occasion of the filming of the documentary film “In the air, your roots remain there,” the Frankfurt resident returned with her family to the place of horror of her childhood.

Further information

Lights Film Festival 2024

The documentary about Eva Szepesi by director Mario Morales is showing at Lights Film Festival 2024. Over 100 films from all over the world will be shown there from April 16th to April 21st, including numerous world and German premieres. “In the air, there your roots remain” celebrates its world premiere at Filfest at 7 p.m. in the Naxos Cinema in Frankfurt.

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A goodbye forever

Eva Szepesi grew up in Budapest; her parents ran a men’s fashion boutique. When the SS marched on Hungary in 1944, things became dangerous for the family. At this point, the father had already been assigned to labor service in the occupied Soviet Union.

Eva was sent away by her mother when she was eleven and was supposed to go to Slovakia to live with an aunt. At the train station in Budapest, the mother hugged Eva so tightly that she almost couldn’t breathe, as Szepesi remembers in the film. She never saw her mother again.

Old hands hold a black and white photograph depicting a family.

Film traces the escape

In the documentary “In the air, there your roots remain”, Eva Szepesi, this time at the age of 87, takes the path from her childhood again, accompanied by her daughter Anita Schwarz, her son-in-law and the grandchildren Leroy, Celina and Sharon. It is a journey that begins in Budapest, then follows Eva’s escape to Slovakia and finally ends in Auschwitz – all accompanied by the Frankfurt director Mario Morales and his film team.

Processing for the family

Being so close to her grandmother’s story was new for the family. Eva Szepesi remained silent about the past for a long time. She says in the film that she has only been able to mourn properly for a few years. A picture of her murdered family has been on the dresser since 2016.

How the grandmother’s survival shapes the lives of children and grandchildren – the film also asks this question. On the trip, Celina and Leroy asked their grandmother a lot of questions: “Grandma, where were you sitting in class? What was it like when the others started teasing you because you were Jewish?”

Since their trip together, Leroy has always carried a photo of Tamas with him – his grandmother’s little brother, who was murdered by the Nazis as a child.

Film crew stays in the background

The viewer cannot sense that the family is in front of the camera during their journey for a documentary. The film team always stayed in the background during filming – a conscious decision, says the director. There was no intervention in the events, the family’s conversations, and no scenes were staged or repeated. There is also no voice leading through the action. “The film tells itself,” says Morales.

Crowds of tourists in Auschwitz

Filming was a challenge, said the director. The visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp was particularly difficult for everyone, not just the family. The film team is also Jewish – he himself visited a concentration camp for the first time in his life during filming, says Morales.

The many tourists who line up there every day to buy tickets also made it difficult for the family. Actually, says granddaughter Sharon, Auschwitz should be seen more as a cemetery. Not as a museum.

“The Shoah began with society turning a blind eye”

After she was liberated from Auschwitz, Eva Szepesi went back to Hungary. She moved to Frankfurt with her husband in the 1950s, where she still lives today.

It took many years before she was able to talk about her escape and survival of the Shoah. She now speaks to school classes and has written a book about her escape. In 2017, she was awarded the City of Frankfurt’s plaque of honor for her commitment as a contemporary witness.

In January 2024, Eva Szepesi spoke on Holocaust Remembrance Day in the German Bundestag. “The Shoah did not begin with Auschwitz, but with society turning a blind eye,” she said there. And warned of increasing anti-Semitism in Germany, especially after October 7th and the Hamas attack on Israel.

She is very proud that her grandmother took this trip with them and had the courage to go to Auschwitz again, says granddaughter Celina. So that Eva Szepesi’s story is never forgotten.

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