The 80-minute independent documentary Forgiving Dr. Mengele, released on DVD April 17, 2007, explores the question of who benefits most from the act of forgiveness: The victim or the accused?
“Obviously there have been a lot of Holocaust-themed movies and books in the last few years, but I don’t believe anyone has made a film about forgiveness and the Holocaust,” director and co-producer Bob Hercules says. “The idea is a very different take on the Holocaust. It’s a very rich, very powerful subject.”
Image of Auschwitz Twins
Forgiving Dr. Mengele began when Cheri Pugh, a film archivist who co-produced the film, was cataloging Holocaust footage and became intrigued with an image of twins marching out of Auschwitz at the liberation. During an Internet search for more information, she found the same image at the Candles Holocaust Museum website. When she called the phone number listed on the website, she found herself speaking to one of the twin girls (Eva Mozes Kor, now a woman in her 60’s) featured in the photograph.
Pugh contacted documentarian Hercules of Media Process Group to collaborate on a film about Eva’s life. Originally they planned the documentary as a study of human guinea pigs for medical experiments conducted by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. During the four and a half years that Hercules and Pugh followed Kor around the world for her presentations, however, the film’s subject evolved into the specific idea of forgiveness.
Idea of Forgiveness and Dr. Mengele
The shift in focus reflects Kor’s own metamorphosis. She began her travels to learn more about the experiments conducted on her ailing sister, Miriam. After her sister’s death, Kor began a different mission: spreading the word of forgiveness all over the world. Often this mission was met with anger.
“The idea of forgiveness regarding the Holocaust is an idea that is rarely explored,” Hercules says. “People rarely think about what forgiveness is doing for Eva, but instead what it does for the perpetrators.”
Hercules, an award-winning producer-director of broadcast programs and documentaries for more than 15 years, says that capturing so much emotion on film was a daunting task. “We all suffered through the emotional highs and lows of Eva through this journey,” he says. “Listening to the horrible stories at Auschwitz and then visiting the gravesite of her sister were difficult for all of us and brought out lots of emotion.”
Financing the Documentary Film
Many potential donors were hesitant to contribute money toward another Holocaust project or anything that linked forgiveness to the Nazis, although grants from the Jewish Documentary Film Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, and a few small foundations offered some financial support.
Forgiving Dr. Mengele originally was shown as a work in progress at the 2004 Independent Filmmakers Conference in Chicago and screened as a rough cut at IFP (Independent Features Project) market in New York in 2005. The film had its world premiere (60-minute version) at the 2005 Florida Film Festival, and a later screening of the 80-minute documentary at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival, where it won Special Jury Recognition for Best Documentary Feature.
Seeking Film Distribution
Years of filming, editing, entering festivals, and seeking distribution can be draining for anyone. If you’re not passionate about your project, you might even give up during the process. Hercules recommends that all filmmakers exercise caution when selecting subject matter for their films.
“You must be absolutely passionate about it because it will engage you for several years,” he says. “To give the project some depth, you need to stay with it...and explore it from every angle.”