Never a Bystander
Lessons from the Holocaust
by Shelley Daily
Four years in the making, the documentary Never a Bystander premieres this month at the Michigan Theater as part of the Jewish Film Festival (see Films, p. 73). First-time filmmaker Evelyn Neuhaus (Ann Arborites, January 2012) raised $30,000, mostly from individual donors, to complete the thirty-minute film that celebrates the life and work of retired U-M professor Irene Butter--Holocaust survivor, human rights activist, and co-creator of U-M's Wallenberg Medal and Lecture.
The film traces Butter's German Jewish family through exile in the Netherlands to their imprisonment in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Butter's survival, and her subsequent activism.
Neuhaus, whose own parents fled Nazi Germany, met Butter as her student at the U-M in the 1970s. She lost her mother to the debilitating genetic disorder Gaucher's disease when she was seven. Neuhaus also has the disease and uses a wheelchair, so she had to hire people to assist her with camera work; she also got help with editing. Between the logistical and financial challenges, she admits, at times she "wasn't all that certain" the project would come to fruition. Now, she hopes audiences will be inspired by Butter's example of how "a person can suffer as a child and still build a life of love and social activism."
For her part, Butter hopes the film will encourage people "not to be passive and silent when they face wrongdoing. I want students to realize there are problems in the present-day world. Genocide, prejudice, discrimination, and hatred have continued ... It's a wake-up call."
[Originally published in May, 2014.]