In December of this past year I visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to do research for a film project I’m producing called “No Man is an Island” about the survival of Nazi-occupied Europe’s only Jewish community to survived unscathed, without a single loss.
This miraculous event took place on the Greek Island of Zakynthos in 1943-44, when Hitler’s “Final Solution” was in full swing and entire communities were wiped out one at a time.
I traveled to Tel Aviv with Steven Priovolos, my co-producer on this project and the real reason why this story I’ve been carrying around in my memory for almost 30 years, is actually being turned into a film.
After telling the story so many times over the years, sharing it with friends, lecturing about it, writing about it in various publications— it was Steven who looked me in the eyes and said “Let’s make a film about this.”
And the journey began.
We traveled to Zakynthos, Athens and throughout Israel, meeting survivors, interviewing them and sending countless hours in front of archives and books gathering information that would help in the creation of the script.
In the meantime, we began the arduous task of fundraising— already almost $100,000 raised from more than 500 people throughout the planet— people who care about history and people who think this story about humanity must be told to this generation of Greeks, Americans and all people of the world.
This past weekend in Toronto, I had a double epiphany regarding this project. First, at a fundraising luncheon hosted by a local supporter, I was asked if I had a defining moment along this journey of so many experiences.
I couldn’t answer the question. There were so many. Meeting the wife of the wartime mayor of Zakynthos whose name we saw inscribed on the wall of honor in Tel Aviv and one of the men responsible for saving the lives of the Jews? Hearing a Christian survive recount his stories? Meeting Haim Konstatinis, a Greek Jewish survivor?
Indeed there were many defining moments and picking one was a tough task.
Then, the following day, I heard James Manos— writer and producer of many top Hollywood shows including the Sopranos and Dexter— talk about story telling. He was a speaker at the National Innovation Conference and told the audience that you need time for an experience to become a story. It needs to sink in and materialize. Sometimes it may take years.
After his speech, I sat in my hotel room and thought about my “No Man is an Island” journey and all of the amazing experiences. Then I had my eureka moment, realizing when that “defining moment” for me really was.
It was back in December— Steven and I were in Jerusalem, visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. We were walking in the garden where they have planted trees for non-Jews who saved lives during the Holocaust. At one point, I turned around and saw a train hanging in the air, almost going up into heaven.
We both realized this was an original train that was used by the Nazis to transport millions of Jews to their deaths. In this garden of “peace” and “love” there was this reminder of the millions people who burned.
Steven and I didn’t say a word to each other. We just held each other’s hand as we stared, realizing that the story we were telling with its “happy ending” for the Zakynthos Jews could have ended up very bad and these people were so lucky to have had the faith and support of the Mayor and Archbishop of the island, who risked their own lives to save them.
We held hands for several minutes and just stared, realizing how important our film was. We never exchanged words. We still haven’t spoken about this experience. For me, this has been my defining moment so far.