Filmmaker claims women survivors given short shrift

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Oakland filmmaker Doniphan Blair is an awfully big man to have doors continually slammed in his face.

But the 6-foot-5 documentarian has gathered his share of splinters from people he's approached for funding on his Holocaust project.

"Nobody wants to hear about Jewish women associating with Nazi men," Blair said last week. "It's a concept that's verboten in the Jewish community."

It's also a little-discussed reality of the Holocaust, according to Blair. The important role Jewish women played in preserving the Jewish people amid horror forms the subtext of his documentary, "Coming of Age at the End of the World."

"It's the hidden 'herstory' of the Holocaust," said the filmmaker, who has raised about a third of the $200,000 he needs to finish the work.

Parts of the documentary, which is still in the editing process, will be shown during the Jewish Arts Renaissance, the East Bay open-studio event on Sunday, Nov. 21.

Noting that public thirst for Holocaust information hit a peak in the early '90s — "there's no business like Shoah business," Blair said — the filmmaker hopes to spin a different take on a story that hits close to home.

His own mother's story serves as the documentary's template.

"This story is in my blood," said the raspy-voiced Blair in a baritone Bronx twang. "My mother is a Polish Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, and my father was an American-born filmmaker who served as fighter pilot during World War II."

Blair noted that his mother was young and extremely beautiful during the time she spent in labor camps. His mother's attributes did not go unnoticed, Blair said.

According to Blair, the Nazi director of a factory where his mother performed forced-labor constantly required "delicate feminine hands to reach something that had fallen into a gap." That task would invariably fall to Blair's mother, the filmmaker said.

"At one point, my mother told me that the [factory] director started to dance this crazy jig, and talk about how wonderful it was that their relatives were being slaughtered and how wonderful all the killings and bombings were. To this day, my mother is convinced that it was code speak for his attraction to her."

Such situations were not uncommon, Blair asserts, adding that many Jewish women were forced to use "feminine wiles" to stay alive.

"Look," he said, "do you really think Oskar Schindler was purely altruistic? I'm willing to bet there was a beautiful Jewish woman whispering in his ear, pleading for help."

Blair's mother — unlike other Jewish women — was never forced into sexual slavery.

The sexualization of Jewish women has a long history in Germany, Blair contends. "It was [Chancellor Otto von] Bismarck who said that every German stallion deserves a Jewish mare," he said.

The role of the "exotic other," he added, was attached to Jewish women right up to the early days of the Nazi regime.

"Germany has always been a martial state," Blair said. "Their family names often translate into 'ax-carrier' or 'shield-wielder.' So it's only natural that such a war-like tribe would be attracted to intelligent, refined, sensual women."

Perhaps even more importantly, Blair said, was that women provided hope in a time when there was little to be had.

"My mother was a nurse in the middle of the greatest death machine in history. She held people's hands as they died, mopped their brows, provided them with water, anything she could do to keep people's spirits alive."

And, at war's end, the filmmaker believes Jewish women performed a mitzvah they weren't given proper credit for.

"Jewish women nourished the souls of the men whose bodies and minds had been broken by the war. If these women had decided that the world was just too ugly a place to bring children into, what would winning the war have accomplished?"