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Wilfrid Israel film shows efforts to save many

[by Robert H. Sachs]

Albert Einstein wrote of Wilfrid Israel:

“Never in my life have I come in contact with a being so noble, so strong and as selfless as he was – in very truth a living work of art. “In these times of mass-misfortune, which so few are able to stand up to – one feels the presence of this ‘chosen one’ as a Liberator from despair for mankind.”

It is said that Israel saved tens of thousands of Jews and that he was a key player in the Kindertransport, an ambitious project that from 1938-1940 saved thousands of Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
So why was it we had never heard of him? That is the problem the 30-minute Israeli documentary, “Wilfrid Israel – The Savior from Berlin – The Story of a Forgotten Hero,” set out to rectify. Shown on February 20 at the Village 8 as part of the 15th Annual Louisville Jewish Film Festival, this story hit close to home.

The handful of young German Jews who in 1934 established Kibbutz Hazorea in the Western Jezreel Valley knew Wilfrid Israel. One of these young organizers was a cousin of Louisville’s Bonnie Bizer, and she was a co-producer of this film. Bizer was present at the showing of the film and spoke briefly about her connection with the Kibbutz and her involvement in making the film a reality.

Israel was a wealthy young man from Berlin whose family owned the largest department store in that city. He was a world traveller and collector of art. In fact, a small museum on the kibbutz grounds houses a valuable collection of treasurers from the Far East that Israel bequeathed to the kibbutz.

Israel saw the storm clouds developing over Germany and could easily have sold the family business and moved to another country. But he was made of sterner stuff. In an endeavor that ultimately cost him his life, Israel set out to save as many Jews as possible. He gave the 700 Jews who worked in the N. Israel department store two years pay so they could afford to leave Germany. He worked to implement the Kindertransport that saved thousands of Jewish children. He survived Nazi beatings to travel across Western Europe in his determined quest to save Jews. He was killed at age 43 when Nazi warplanes shot down a British Overseas Airways plane traveling from Lisbon to London.

Perhaps through this movie and a longer version that Bonnie Bizer told us is in the planning stages, the extraordinary story of Wilfrid Israel will become more widely known.

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