“Paul and Lily”

by Leslie Zurla

This is a guest post written by my friend and colleague, Leslie Zurla. She was inspired to write it after seeing this simple picture – four people standing on a wood pile. But this one included my mother and her brother, taken circa 1916 somewhere in Germany. That this simple photo could inspire such feelings . . . that’s what I find beautiful about it.

Paul & Lily Rehfisch on the left. The woman and boy are unknown.
Paul & Lily Rehfisch on the left. The woman and boy are unknown.

“Try to remember the kind of September

When life was slow and oh so mellow

Try to remember the kind of September

When grass was green and grain so yellow

Try to remember the kind of September

When you were a young and a callow fellow

Try to remember and if you remember

Then follow . . . ”

I first heard this beautiful lyric when I was not much older than Paul1 and Lily Rehfisch2 , the two on the left in the old photo. The tune is from THE FANTASTICKS, which became the longest running show in New York.  It was conceived by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, while they were still students at the University of Texas in the early 50’s. This “class project” had its modest premier as a workshop at Barnard College in 1959, and the rest is history.

Whimsical, poignant, and romantic, THE FANTASTICKS is an allegorical story that focuses on two young lovers, their meddling fathers, and the journey we all must take through adolescent thrills – the growing pains of hurt and betrayal; the highs of passion; the challenges of distance and the agonies of heartbreak – before we can discover how to truly love.

My friends and I were in the throes of passion about…well, everything, and the FANTASTICKS was our “go to” refuge.

We couldn’t wait to go to NYC and get cancellation tickets, so we could see it again…and again.

Although Paul and Lily’s youth took place generations before mine, and a world away, I can feel the beautiful energy and dreams of this brother and sister as they entered their adulthood, probably just as awkwardly as I did.

I was introduced to them through an amazing documentary called FOR THE LIFE OF ME – The story of Peter Vanlaw’s discovery of his true heritage, when in his 50’s he discovered he was a Jew.

The stories he found about the family he never knew he had in pre and post war Germany are profound.

Lily Refisch was Peter’s mother and Paul, the uncle he never knew.

His film actually began as a “class project.” which grew from a writing class Peter was participating in. Hence I used the parallel of THE FANTASTICKS which had similar beginnings.

For a brief time, Paul and Lily experienced the wonderful adventures of cheeky youth. Lily was quite the coquette and enjoyed taking 16mm films, showing off her charm with her cousin Bari in all the hottest places  – and Paul, though not as flamboyant as Lily, was a charmer, with a smile that could melt an iceberg. They had that beautiful belief of “happily ever after”.

But sadly for them it was only for a brief time. The devastation, destruction and unthinkable atrocities of Hitler’s Germany stole their lives in so many ways. Their stories and many others are told in FOR THE LIFE OF ME.

I’ve gotten to know so many of his relatives, not only through the film, but the time line photos as well, so brilliantly displayed on the website.

I have great affection for them and I want to honor them by helping find distribution for this film.

The profundity of it has touched me deeply. Now, more than ever I’m convinced that the civility of all relationships and the future of humanity depends on our knowledge of the Past.

Only then can our collective consciousness hope to combat the hatred and ignorance that’s out there!

“Try to remember, and if you remember . . . then follow . . . ”

  1. Learn more about Paul Rehfisch
  2. Learn more about Lily Rehfisch Vanlaw


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