When Henry Kronberg called me in October 2016 I held my breath as he said, “I’m not going to live forever, Barbara.” His friend Ben Lesser, another Holocaust survivor and Las Vegas resident, had suffered a serious health event — stirring Henry’s awareness of mortality.
The Holocaust survivor is among the subjects for more than 150 oral histories I conducted for the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project at the University Libraries’ Oral History Research Center. This work has shown me a kaleidoscope of personalities who share two qualities: They are of Jewish ancestry or traditions and they call Las Vegas home. The stories they tell traverse the history of Las Vegas. They are the builders, visionaries, entrepreneurs, entertainers, educators, doctors, lawyers, judges, and spiritual leaders upon whom our community has grown.
Each interview is an honor. I begin an interview by asking for the story of how the narrator’s family came to America and then the tale of coming to live in Las Vegas. Henry’s story has been among the highlights. He has called Las Vegas home since discovering his sister survived the Holocaust and was a resident of Las Vegas. In 1960, Henry joined his sister and became the owner/operator of Stoney’s Pawn Shop until 1998. He is now a youthful 97-year-old.
One of the most important touchstones of his legacy was the Warsaw Ghetto Remembrance Garden located at Temple Beth Sholom. He feared that history of the Remembrance Garden and what it represented would fade with the passing of people such as himself and Ben.
To Henry, the history of the Remembrance Garden deserved a video, something simple where he would talk about its founding and who it honored. Little did we know how others would step up to make this small project bloom into the documentary A Place of Hope. The film will premiere at the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival at 3 p.m. Jan. 21 at Adelson Education Campus. I’ll be on hand to help moderate the post-viewing discussion.
I’m credited as a consultant on the film and am the off-screen interviewer to whom Henry tells his story. I also introduced budding cinematographer Robert Machado, ’17 BS Film Studies, to the production team. All the film work is done by this talented UNLV graduate.
In charge of the production was Ben Huber, a writer/producer from Los Angeles who volunteered his talents to eloquently write and direct the film. His script provides the historical context of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II and uses Henry’s and Ben’s personal stories of survival. Mark Scheiner, who is one of the founders of the Warsaw Ghetto Remembrance Garden, served as producer. The film honors the garden’s history and reminds us of the importance of remembering the past.
Pista, another locally produced film, also will premiere at the same screening. It is the story of another local Holocaust survivor, Stephen Nasser, and is based on Stephen’s memoirs. It is produced by the film festival’s director, Joshua Abbey, ’80 BA Theatre,.
Also don’t miss:
- Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, which opens the 2018 Jewish Film Festival on Jan. 13. Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center, will moderate a post-viewing conversation. Sammy Davis Jr. is remembered as the iconic entertainer who graced Las Vegas showrooms and converted to Judaism during his career in Las Vegas.
- Wanderlust: Lesley Hazelton at 1 p.m. Jan. 28 at Eclipse Theaters. Moderating is Kellen Braddock, deputy director of UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute and publisher of The Believer Magazine. Hazleton is a British-American author whose work focuses on "the vast and volatile arena in which politics and religion intersect.”
A full listing of festival events is available online. All students and educators are admitted free to every screening.