‘Exodus 1937’, by Abigail Matthew, who set off on the trail to explore her great grandfather, Wilhelm Hellmeister’s instrumental part in the escape of two Jewish families escape Nazi Germany, has been premiered at Staffordshire University and followed by a cinema premiere in Derby, along with being part of a multicultural event hosted by Staffordshire County Council in Hanley.
The film has also been shown in and around Germany including as Part of the Anne Frank exhibition “Yours, Anne” in the Museum of Cultural History in Osnbrück, Cinema Arthouse, and Nussbaum Museum.
It all started in June 2015 during a class discussion about the Jews in Osnbrück when Abigail was 14 years old, where her class presentation grew into a 93 minute long film created by herself, along with family and friends, and improvising with their filming equipment including using decorator’s lamps as film lights.
Manager of the Multi Culture network and History Society at Staffordshire University, Birgit Allport added: “Myself and my husband Colin, have a special connection to the documentary, as I originally lived in a town near to the city where it was filmed.
“It began with a friend sharing a post on Facebook, and quickly we arranged with Abigail’s father that Staffordshire University host the UK Premiere which the Students Union and Colin Allport sponsored.
“The film is different to others, because of the incredible effort of the young people who created it. There were no professional film maker and no big budget. Just friends researching a family history.
In October 2016, the film was awarded €1,200 by the Osnbrück Citizen’s Foundation for sponsorship of young talent in the “I am a child of Osnbrück” competition.
Abigail has also been awarded the Student Peace Prize 2017, where during the presentation the State Education Minister, Frauke Heiligenstadt, acknowledged the film as "An outstanding and unique achievement".
Abigail commented: “I remember all the thoughts that came to mind during the research for the project. At first I had thought that the Jews were different - they looked different, they had different manners and customs, and wore different clothes. A minority thus stood out, and so it was also easy for the Nazis to pick them out.
“During the research someone made a cynical joke - Someone says "The Jews are to blame for everything". A second person retorts "And cyclists too".
At that the first person says in surprise "Why cyclists?" - and the second person comes back "Why the Jews?" Perhaps not a great joke, but in fact the tragedy of it is that people really had thought like that, and it had led to the mass-murder of the Jews.”
Birgit added: “It is important that we never forget the history and ensure that history does not repeat.
“At the premier at the university, there was an older gentlman who was actually in Osnbrück with the army during the war. We also had a 14 year old boy at the premier, and his mum told me a few days later that he was so inspired by the documentary and now he wants to research his own family history.”
"We are so grateful for the support from everyone involved and we are very honoured to be part of this incredible project."