This is how it all began:
For over fifty years, I believed that I was just another guy who grew up in Los Angeles. As the only child of German immigrant parents, I wasn’t aware of any close relatives other than my mother and father, and a “ne’er-do-well” uncle somewhere in England. But, that would all change.
In my early fifties, I suffered a heart attack. My mother visited me in my hospital room and, to my shock and dismay, proceeded to have a highly emotional and paranoid outburst. Later, as I began to recover from my cardiac episode, I became obsessed with her strange behavior, and wanted to discover the reason behind it, and what my parents’ lives were like before I was born.
As my mother was not emotionally well, her continuing fragility made it impossible for us to have any kind of serious discussion. So, I distanced myself and put off meeting with her for nearly two years.
When I finally did, her reticence about our family began to crumble. She could hold back no longer and she finally shared a long-held secret: our family was Jewish. The floodgates suddenly opened, and she revealed more and more details about my family, both in America and in Germany.
A few years later, after my parents passed away, I found a half dozen photo albums from Germany containing several hundred family pictures dating back to the turn of the century, along with dozens of reels of 16mm film.
As I viewed those tiny photos magnified on my computer screen, I found myself drawn into a world that no longer existed. This was an era of upper, middle class life in Germany before WWII. It was a time when my parents were young and carefree, surrounded by their relatives and happy young friends, with no inkling of what was in store for them within a decade.
Little by little, like pieces of a puzzle, I started to identify these strangers in the photographs and the compelling history of my family began to unfold before me and my documentary was born.
But by 2007, seven years into the project, I was desperately in need of a fresh perspective. Fortunately, my friend, Bob Sallin, was intrigued by my story and offered to lend his assistance and expertise. Bringing his many years as a director, producer and writer, Bob joined me as my creative partner and instantly became both a welcome and vital addition.
As a result of our collaboration, FOR THE LIFE OF ME has evolved into a personal history that reaches people on many levels. Centered around the discovery of my Jewish heritage ––which is played out against decades of tragic European and American history –– it is also a searing indictment of repressed family secrets, and the pain this can ultimately cause to loved ones –– an experience that resonates with all human beings, Jews and non-Jews alike.
But, equally important, is the observation that if we don’t understand history, we are in danger of reliving it.