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Director's Statement - Jake Boritt

This is a story that must be told. My connection to the subject will enable me to produce a documentary that no other filmmaker can make. As the son of my subject, I will be allowed access to moments of anger, or sadness, or happiness, that someone only shares with a loved one. I was raised in Gettysburg, and have been immersed in history for my entire life. I have spent my adult years working in filmmaking, developing the skills necessary to tell this story onscreen. I am passionate about telling real stories in the documentary form, and this project offers me the opportunity to craft a rich, compelling story of a celebrated historian confronting his own troubled history. Equally important is the chance to tell this story: my father’s story.

The process of making this film, as happens with most good documentaries, has already taken it down a drastically different path than I first envisioned. Conceived as the story of a man rising from Hitler’s tyranny to make himself an expert on Lincoln, it has evolved into a much more volatile tale. In 2003, my father and his sister, Judith, returned to Budapest. It was the first time they had both been in Hungary for more than a few days since they escaped almost a half century earlier. I tagged along, bringing my digital video camera, expecting to capture family stories for posterity’s sake. As Gabor and Judy dug into their gnarled and troubled roots, emotions quickly rose—sadness, anger, guilt. As a brother and sister explored their shared past, their conflicting methods of dealing with that past became dramatically evident on camera. Judy, a psychiatrist practicing in Boston, seemingly examined every nuanced emotion, childhood memory and impulse, trying to come to terms with her own feelings. Gabor, the historian, looked at his past as over and done with. He had moved on long ago, and saw little use in drudging up that pain. What ended up being captured on camera was the drama of a historian beginning to come to terms with a history too powerful to ignore.

My father has been less than enthusiastic about doing this film. Sometimes he has been downright hostile toward the idea. I’ve pressed on, keeping in the back of my mind a story my dad told me several years ago:

Gabor has always lamented that his own father, Pal (Paul), never told him about his own experiences during the Nazi and Soviet eras. Gabor has put together pieces of Pal’s story. Pal was responsible for fending off the pro-Nazi thugs who regularly terrorized the Jewish hospital. He helped feed thousands of starving Jews. He frequently disguised himself as a doctor and pulled people from trains bound for Auschwitz. Laszlo Tauber, a doctor who worked with Pal during World War II, called him “the bravest man I ever met.” But Pal never spoke about his experiences. He died in 1985. Shortly before his death he made an audio recording at Gabor’s request and sent it to his historian son. The next day he called and requested that Gabor send the tape back immediately. Like a dutiful son, he now says ‘a stupid one,’ Gabor did as his father wanted. He returned the tape, never having listened to it. He never saw it again.

When Gabor returned that tape, he closed the clearest window we had into his father’s feelings and experiences. As a professor, my dad has taught many, including me, to learn from history. He may prefer that I not take his lesson so seriously. Unlike my own father, I refuse to be the dutiful son. I want to open that window. I will hold on to that tape.