HISTORY IN YOUR HAND
It was obvious from the beginning that the story of Inge’s flight from Hitler’s Germany was remarkable, but despite hearing of her life, both from her and from her family and friends, it was a single moment that made everything in the documentary real: when Inge handed the production crew her passport. The texture, the photograph, the Nazi stamps, the large red J with the date scrawled in the shaft, knowing what it symbolized and who had had it in their hands and what they represented, struck a chord with those who were on the set that day. It was like touching a piece of history.
Early on in the editing process, the question of narration or no narration came up. Inge’s story was the personal side of one of the most analyzed and tragic historical events in the twentieth century and a narrator navigating this complex issue and filling in the broader historical perspective would have been an effective technique; however, since Clay was able to get Inge’s story in her own words, it could have come across as interference. Going with no narration and only telling Inge’s story through the interviewees meant that we needed to have at least two accounts of the events to adequately describe it for the audience. This presented challenges during Inge’s early years and eliminated several intriguing stories that simply had no secondary reference.
Even at 86 years old, Inge still swam regularly. In looking for an anchor to tie the film together, the idea of photographing Inge swimming became the perfect visual metaphor to symbolize the obstacles in her life and her determination to face them head on and to continue. After shooting several sequences, including some with an underwater camera, the simple shot of a single lap towards the camera seemed to best encompass all of the qualities, visually and metaphorically, of her life’s journey. The section was broken into segements and inserted throughout to give the feeling of swimming slowly and steadily and taking life as it came.
World War II is probably the first of the well-documented events in the twentieth century and the footage has been seen by nearly everyone in some form or another over the past sixty-plus years. We weren’t going to be breaking new ground by including historical footage, but we also knew that excluding any footage could diminish the relevance of Nazi Germany. Few men in history bring up more emotions when seen on screen than Adolf Hitler, so as a shortcut and maybe pale reflection of what Inge was facing in Germany, scenes of Hitler and the Nazi regime were included in the editing and – even for the brief seconds that they were used – helped immensely in solidifying the authentic natural feelings of danger and truly horrifying circumstances that Inge’s family faced.
From the first time we learned of Inge’s story, we knew it was a story that had to be told. Knowing that Inge was one of the exceptions of Hitler’s Germany in that she and her mother and father got out together literally on the last ship as the Nazi’s were rounding up the Jews was so compelling and full of drama that the story of her escape had to be preserved. But as the tapes of the interviews began to pile up, it was clear that Inge’s accomplishments after coming to the United States were even more remarkable. Her influence on the hundreds of teachers that she worked with, as well as the thousands of students whose lives she had touched in her sixty-plus years of educational service, exemplified the spirit of someone who had overcome atrocities, but didn’t let it ruin her life forever. The recognition that the community has given Inge is unique in that it truly is a thank you for a job well done for a woman who only wanted to do a good job.