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Remembering the Quanza: Film slated for 2020 Yom Hashoah program to be seen in Louisville at last

By Community staff

The steamship Quanza in the port of Hampton Roads, Virginia. (photo by Charles Borjes, The Virginian-Pilot, September 13, 1940; photo courtesy of Norfolk Public Library, Sargeant Memorial Collection)

This year’s Yom Hashoah program will finally include a film about a steamship bound for freedom, which Jewish Louisville was supposed to have seen two years ago.
Nobody Wants Us, a documentary by Laura Seltzer-Duny, will be shown at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 27, at Adath Jeshurun. It tells the story of the passengers on the steamship Quanza – 80 Jewish refugees fleeing German-occupied Belgium in 1940 – which docked in Norfolk, Virginia.
For a time, no one knew if the Quanza would face the same tragic fate as the SS St. Louis, the steamer, with more than 900 Jewish passengers aboard, that was denied permission to dock in Havana, Cuba, and then Florida in 1939. (The U.S. Coast Guard even shadowed the vessel in case its captain tried grounding it.) Finally, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where many of its passengers died in the Holocaust.
The Quanza was spared that fate, thanks in part to the activism by Norfolk Jews, who secured government permission for its passengers to disembark on U.S. soil.
Nobody Wants Us had been scheduled for screening at the 2020 Yom Hashoah program, but the event was canceled due to the outbreak of the COVID pandemic.
Seltzer-Duny, whose film was nominated for an Emmy Award, will be the featured speaker at the program and will be interviewed by her cousin, Cantor Sharon Hordes.
Jeffrey Jamner, creative consultant for ideas at the Jewish Community of Louisville, said the film is especially timely now, given last year’s refugee crisis in Afghanistan and the crisis unfolding in war-torn Ukraine.
“This is why the story of Jewish refugees on the SS Quanza, and the heroes who stepped up to help them escape, connects the past with the present,” Jamner said. “This will truly be a Yom Hashoah program for our times.”
Seltzer-Duny describes the Quanza story as one of “human spirit.”
She called the Jews of Norfolk who got involved “heroes who chose to stand up and not be bystanders, who got out of their comfort zones and made a difference.”
Passionate about inspiring the next generation through strong educational programming, Seltzer-Duny has screened her film in 366 junior and senior high schools Two Louisville schools are scheduled to show it in April.
Keeping the stories of Holocaust survivors alive by passing their experiences from one generation to the next – to have their stories “baked into our culture,” Hordes said – is central to Yom Hashoah.
This year’s program will also honor the memories of three survivors who recently passed away: Elias Klein, Gila Glattstein and Fred Gross.
Rabbis and cantors from Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel, The Temple, Temple Shalom and Anshei Sfard will have roles in the program, which also will be streamed on YouTube.

Want to go?
Registrations are required to attend this year’s Yom Hashoah program, either in person or on YouTube. (Watch the Community eblast for the link.) To attend in person, bring proof of vaccination and booster; masks must be worn indoors. Those who register will be sent the private YouTube link to the program on April 27, and another link to screen the 43-minute film, Nobody Wants Us anytime between April 26 and May 1. Excerpts of the film will be shown during the program itself.

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