The International Campaign for Real History

There have been hundreds of horrific stories from the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other Nazi camps.

"While Gabbai was in Auschwitz, he worked as an inmate moving bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoria.

"'You can never forget these things,' Gabbai said."

- Dario Gabbai to Lawrence Ferchaw, News Editor for UCLA's Daily Bruin

Holocaust survivors write book based on their lives

By Lawrence Ferchaw []

WITH their Academy Award in hand, producers of the film "The Last Days" gathered with some of those featured in the documentary to launch a book, of the same title, based on the experiences of Holocaust survivors.

Three survivors - Bill Basch, Renee Firestone and Dario Gabbai - signed copies of the book at a fund-raiser hosted by California Pizza Kitchen in Westwood on July 20.

For Firestone, the book and the movie will continue to tell what happened to her and her family after she can no longer tell the story.

"The film means a lot to me because (it) will be sharing my story when I'm not here," she said.

Firestone and her family lived in a town in Hungary until they and other families were rounded up and taken to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland. She survived the experience, but her mother and sister did not.

The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation was founded by director Steven Spielberg in 1994 with the goal of chronicling the experiences of survivors, eyewitnesses and liberators of the Holocaust.

By the beginning of July, the foundation had gathered more than 50,000 testimonies, amounting to more than 116,000 hours.

The testimonials and firsthand accounts of the Holocaust offer historians and others something they can't find elsewhere, said Michael Berenbaum, the foundation's chief historian.

"You learn something from every survivor," he said. "You learn something you can't find in documents."

Part of making the movie and the book meant being faithful to their memory, Berenbaum said.

"The survivors have bequeathed their memories, we must be equal to this respect," he said.

Dario Gabbai said he and other survivors still suffer from what they saw and experienced during the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews and millions of others were killed during the Nazi occupation of much of Europe.

"It's a very painful thing," Gabbai said. "We didn't know from one day to another if we were going to survive."

While Gabbai was in Auschwitz, he worked as an inmate moving bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoria.

"You can never forget these things," Gabbai said.

"We'll always be suffering from the atrocities we saw during our days in the concentration camps," he added.

The book and the film act as a way to put a human face on one of the century's tragedies, Berenbaum said.

"They respond to dehumanization with rehumanization. They give suffering a face, a voice and a memory," he said.

The event at Westwood's California Pizza Kitchen filled the restaurant and the outdoor courtyard, where the three survivors signed copies of the book along with Berenbaum; Geoffrey Clifford, the photographer for the book; James Moll, the film's director and June Beallor, the film's producer.

California Pizza Kitchen restaurants regularly play host to charity events, with each restaurant hosting an event when it first opens, said restaurant co-founder Larry Flax.

"A restaurant is really a community-based business," Flax said. "We relate to our customers on a personal level."

Hosting charity events is one way for the restaurant to remain part of the community, but still be part of a chain of restaurants, Flax added.

"We don't want people to think we're part of a chain," he said.

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