The Museum of Jewish Heritage - a Living Memorial to the Holocaust Now Showing 'The Number on Great-Grandpa's Arm'

The Museum of Jewish Heritage - a Living Memorial to the Holocaust Now Showing 'The Number on Great-Grandpa's Arm'

The documentary tells the story of 10-year-old Elliot and his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack, a Holocaust survivor.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is currently showing the HBO documentary The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm with an accompanying installation through April 29.

First premiering at the museum on Jan. 21, the 19-minute documentary tells the story of 10-year-old Elliot and his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack, a Holocaust survivor. When Elliot asks about the number tattooed on his arm, Jack begins to tell him about what it meant to be Jewish in Eastern Europe during the Holocaust.

The project began when Sheila Nevins, the film’s executive producer, was visiting the museum, according to Miriam Haier, director of strategy and engagement of the museum. While looking through the museum’s library, Nevins found a children’s picture book titled The Number on My Grandpa’s Arm by David A. Adler, published in 1987. Nevins came up with the idea of documenting such conversations with the next generation, survivors’ great-grandchildren.   

Nevins later began seeking out survivors willing to tell their story to younger audiences interested in Holocaust history, which was when she came across Elliot and Jack.

Using hand-painted rotoscope animation—meaning that the animated sequences viewers see are based on actual archival documents and footage—were illustrated by artist Jeff Scher. The museum’s installation of the same name features the film playing on loop, 24 original artworks by Jeff Scher, and 400 digitally reproduced images from Scher’s sequences for the film.

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Haier notes that both the film and the installation are produced with young viewers in mind. The animation helps soften disturbing images associated with Holocaust history, while it also creates a new opportunity for emotional connection to Jack’s story and to deepen peoples’ engagement with the film.

The responses to the documentary have been incredible, Haier says. People with Holocaust history in their family find the film to be relatable, and even viewers with no personal affiliation to Holocaust history were moved by the idea of how a child can learn from an older family member, she says.

The goal of this documentary is for people, especially younger people, “to continue to have access to the history even when there are eventually no survivors left. It’s a great opportunity for younger audiences,” Haier says.

 

Photo: In a still from The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm, on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Elliot looks at pictures with his great-grandfather Jack.

 

Courtesy HBO