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From Here To Kovno
For Upper West Side Documentary Filmmaker, Search for Grandfather's House Leads to Family Revelations.
Susan Josephs susan@jewishweek.org
Staff Writer, The Jewish Week

{This article was first published December 12, 2000, in THE JEWISH WEEK

Some 25 years after her grandfather died, Douglas paid a visit to her childhood home and stumbled upon a series of forgotten family photographs. "These were people I'd never seen before. They dressed well, like they were from a city," recalls Douglas, who imagined her ancestors as "shtetl peasants. I was shocked. They shattered my identity. How could it be that I did not know my own story?"

It would be another 15 years before Douglas found herself knee-deep in passenger ship records, census counts and "The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto" as she searched for family roots. Finally, as a woman in her 50s, Douglas learned how her grandfather escaped conscription into the czar's army by fleeing to America. Two years later, his brother Max followed. She discovered how other relatives got herded into the Kovno Ghetto and how her great-grandmother Chaya had the good fortune to die of natural causes.

A broadcast journalist who spent her life telling the stories of other people, Douglas decided to apply years of professional expertise to her own personal history. The resulting documentary, My Grandfather's House,   records a family saga that many Jews will find familiar yet manages to remain fresh and poignant.

"It's a compellingly made, tightly woven story," says Ken Sherman, the director of film and media at Makor, who has viewed the documentary. "It's not an unfamiliar story but it has an emotional kick."

Currently under consideration at PBS, My Grandfather's House had been initially screened as part of the prestigious "No Borders" section of the Independent Feature Film Market. Still a work-in-progress, the film, written and narrated by Douglas, unfolds like a personal diary as it chronicles the events that lead to the filmmaker's trip to Kovno, where accompanied by her adult daughter, she searches for the home where her grandfather lived. "I leave New York, not even sure I have the right address. I don't know what possesses me," her voice narrates as the viewer watches her first cry in a taxi on the way to the airport and later, at the grave of her great-grandmother in Kovno.

Kneeling in a lush, green cemetery, bearing stones that relatives gave her to place on this ancestral grave, Douglas finally knows where her grandfather comes from and "where I come from. More importantly, I know who you loved I'm not in the dark anymore."
For the entire article go to http://www.jewishgen.org/litvak/here2kovno.htm
or http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=3883

In 1998, filmmaker Eileen Douglas discovered the book Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto, which accompanied the Museum's special exhibition of the same name. The book tells the story of the Lithuanian Jews whom the Nazis forced into the Kovno (Kaunas) ghetto when they occupied the Baltic states in 1941. Since Douglas's grandfather was from Kovno, she was inspired to visit the Museum. That visit began a remarkable search for details of her family's experience in Kovno during the Holocaust, portrayed in this short film she made.

A conversation with the filmmakers, Museum experts, and a representative from the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington follows the screening.
Public Programs | Spring 2002 film series | My Grandfather's House
(20 minutes, 2000; preceded by 20-minute slide presentation)