They survived the horrors of the Holocaust and came to America to put the past behind. For decades they kept their awful memories secret, even from their children. But their silence ended when a band of neo-Nazi thugs threatened to march in their quiet village of Skokie, Illinois "because that is where the Jews are."
Surviving Skokie is an intensely personal documentary by former Skokie resident Eli Adler about the provocative events of the 1970s, their aftermath, his family's horrific experience of the Shoah, and a journey with his father to confront long-suppressed memories.
Jack Adler, Holocaust survivor and son, Eli Adler, at the Auschwitz Gate 68 years after Jack was imprisoned during World War II.
Photo: Monise Neuman
“NOT HERE. NOT NOW. NOT EVER AGAIN.”
...they said, forever transforming themselves
from victims to activists.
Curiously, the neo-Nazi villain of the story, Frank Collin, is—like Adler—the son of a Holocaust survivor. Rejecting his father, Collin became a virulent anti-Semite, but his right to demonstrate in Skokie is nevertheless defended by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ever-venomous Collin tells his lead counsel, a Jewish lawyer, "Don't think just because you are representing me free of charge that when we take over this country you won't be the first one to go to a gas chamber."
As community leader and survivor Aaron Elster says in an interview: "The neo-Nazis accomplished something... they were the stimulus of the survivors getting together and saying hey, we've got to do something."
And what they did was to end their years of silence, become truth tellers, and speak out so that their painful stories would not be forgotten.
In Surviving Skokie, the filmmaker's father, Jack Adler—a Polish Holocaust survivor—confronts his own past, returning to Poland with his son to tell the stories of family members who perished in the ghetto and death camps. They visit Pabianice, Poland, Jack's ancestral home and Auschwitz—retracing the steps of Jack's horrifying journey.
Surviving Skokie is the story of a community's battle against the voices and gestures of hate, of a quiet village and its once-turbulent history. It is a universal story about the importance of speaking up and out. And it is the personal story of a quest through which a man and his father rediscover their pasts.