Imagine a book
... That is so toxic that rigorous hand-washing is required after coming into contact with it. This book in question is a 1938 copy of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler's political manifesto. Karen and Fred Mandell, the matriarch and patriarch of the Mandell family in Boston, have displayed this book upside down on their bookshelf for more than 40 years.
"It was like this is a loser book. Like you’re not right side up," said Karen Mandell, 64, whose relatives perished in the Treblinka death camp in Poland during World War II.
This copy of Mein Kampf came into the Jewish Mandell household at the end of the Second World War, when Fred's uncle - Eddie Cohen - brought it home from his military service in Europe.
The book, while repugnant, has a hold on Fred in particular. He didn't want to get rid of it so he displayed it - always upside down - alongside his Jewish history books.
"I was repulsed by it on the one hand. But on the other hand I didn’t want to let it go because it would have been a way of surrender," he said during filming this past fall. "It would have been a way of having Hitler say to me that he triumphed, that I didn't have the courage to hold this book."
Confronting family lore and myth
Hinda Mandell, Karen and Fred's daughter, grew up with the story that her great uncle, Eddie Cohen, killed a German soldier in battle and took this copy of Mein Kampf from the German soldier's backpack. This film investigates the accuracy of family legends and ultimately seeks to build bridges between two different families - one German Protestant - the original owners of the book - and one Jewish American, the current and unlikely guardians of Hitler's tome, one of nearly 10 million that circulated in print in Germany during World War II.
The inscription and the original owners
In 2010, Hinda wrote two pieces for the Boston Globe about tension in her family regarding what to do with the book. Should they take it down from the shelf and donate it? Or keep it as an unusual family heirloom? (You can view the articles here and here.) When the Boston Globe photographer came to the Mandell home to photograph the Mein Kampf, he opened up the book - something the Mandells never did - and found an inscription.
The Mandells didn't realize it at the time, but this inscription opened up a new set of possibilities of what this book would mean to them.
Thus began an international investigation to find out about the original owners of the book and to locate their children. We won't give anything away here. You have to stay tuned to find out what happens!
"The Upside Down Book" documentary is in production. Once completed, the film will be 15-20 minutes and entered into film festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe. Filmmakers Matthew White and Hinda Mandell (a husband-wife duo) have completed filmed interviews of the genealogists, Luebeck city archivist Jan Lokers, Karen, Fred and Hinda Mandell. Matthew White has also captured B-roll footage throughout Luebeck, Germany, the city where this copy of Mein Kampf originated from, as well as Normandy, France, where American troops landed in Europe on D-Day in 1944. The filmmakers have two more interviews to complete before editing the footage. In addition to the contemporary interviews, the finished film will also feature archival footage from World War II and home video from 1942. The documentary was filmed in Boston, Luebeck (Germany) and Normandy (France).
About the director
Matthew White, the film's director and editor, is the founder of 4th Coast Productions. He is the director of four historical documentaries. "Coming Home Alive," which chronicled his grandfather's prisoner of war experience during World War II, won best Human Interest Documentary at the New York International Independent Film Festival in 2006. His film "Little Ditch: The Black River Canal" was broadcasted on the Documentary Channel and on PBS stations across New York State. His most recent film, "Fort Drum: The First 100 Years" is currently being shown in theaters throughout New York.
Your generous support will allow Matthew White to work full time for two months to complete the editing of "The Upside Down Book." This will allow us to show the film to the public by spring 2013. Films have the reputation of taking years to complete. With your support we can finish this film in a fraction of that time because Matthew White will be able to devote full-time work to ensuring its completion. We are so appreciative of any financial support you can put behind this film. As the filmmakers we are passionate believers that history is not relegated to dark corners of our memory. Instead, history is still roiling around inside of us today. And "The Upside Down Book" documentary takes the optimistic approach the we can build bridges between families who might have been "enemies" 70 years ago.
Why get involved?
More than 700 American veterans of World War II die each day. It's up to us to carry on their legacy and honor the stories they brought home.
History continues to shape the way that we interact with our world today. Not only does history affect our identity but it also affects how we see our place here on earth. A cataclysmic event, like World War II, not only impacted millions of people 70 years ago, the effects of that impact - in the form of memories and stories - continue to trickle down to us today. What we do with these stories - and the legacies they leave on our families - is up to us. As filmmakers interested in memory, we know that every family has lore that shapes it. By supporting this film, you're demonstrating that we should not view history in a passive way, but as a topic we should engage in today. Thank you so much for your support! We welcome any questions you may have. Please get in touch!
Risks and challenges
Filmmaking is a slow-moving process. So our biggest challenge is to have our short documentary completed by May 2013. The project began in February 2010, so we are committed and ready to complete it this spring. That way our film will be ready for many of the summer deadlines for film-festival submissions. Matthew White is a fast-moving editor. (He completed the trailer in less than a week.) So we are confident that we're on-track to meet our spring completion date. But if we don't, we won't leave any of you hanging. We will post updates along the way so everyone will know well ahead of time if we encountered a serious obstacle to meeting our obligations.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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