Objects tell unlikely Holocaust stories

Facts: Johan Palmgren

Born: 1967 in Uppsala, raised in Lund.

Live in Stockholm.

Background: At the end of the 1980s, together with a friend, ran a carpentry shop in Lund, which burned down. With the insurance money, he bought a movie camera, which was the starting point for his career.

Occupation: Documentary filmmaker who has made a long series of films, including “Slusseländet” (2020 – currently showing on SVT Play), “Benny and Culture House” (2021). In 2007, together with Åsa Blanck, received a Gold Bagge for best documentary film with “Vikarien” about the teacher Folke Silvén, 74, from Lund who comes to Hallonbergen to help his younger colleague and former student deal with a messy upper secondary school.

Johan Palmgren’s films are widely shown, not least on SVT, including “Benny och Kulturhuset” about the former theater director Benny Fredriksson. But the most shown is a short film that he made a little with his left hand. “Spårviddshinder” depicts private drivers who had their cars destroyed by a traffic barrier that the city of Stockholm set up near the Old Town.

— I stood there filming. It’s a bit of a giggle and has been screened at over 160 international film festivals.

Now he receives this year’s scholarship of SEK 350,000 from Micael Bindefeld’s foundation in memory of the Holocaust for one of his ongoing film projects. What started for Johan Palmgren as a practical documentation assignment for the Forum for Living History developed into a project of his own.

Diploma from Hitler

“The memory of the Holocaust is encapsulated in the very simplest of things,” states the jury for the Bindefeld scholarship and Johan Palmgren tells roughly the same thing. Among the filmed objects that people submitted to Sweden’s Holocaust museum is a medal that was given to German Max Rothschild after battles during the First World War. The diploma itself was signed by Adolf Hitler.

A few years later, the same Max Rothschild died of a heart attack after learning that the homeland for which he had gone to war would now deport him to concentration camps because he was Jewish.

His grandchildren in Sweden not only had their grandfather’s medal, but also a beautiful coffee set that their grandmother – when she understood that their lives were threatened – had carried over to her best friend at night.

Against all odds

70 years later, the survivors in Sweden returned to the small German town where the grandparents had lived. A local journalist wrote about the story of the Swedish visitors, which led to them receiving a phone call when they arrived back home in Stockholm.

— The person who called had read the article and told me that the tableware had been saved for all these years, even though the odds were almost zero that anyone would return. The person had even received an offer to sell it, but said no.

Already after one of the first documentation assignments for the Forum for Living History, Johan Palmgren understood that he could make a film. In Malmö, he was to film a striped jacket that was to be handed over to the new museum. The owner, Kiwa Zyto, told how he had survived several concentration camps and finally arrived in Malmö.

— It became very emotional, then I felt that if I am touched like this, maybe I can convey this in a film about these stories. They can always be told.

Johan Palmgren is making a new film based on stories that he believes can be told over and over again.

He does not yet know how many objects – and stories – will come, new things happen all the time that Johan Palmgren wants to capture. For his help, he has, among others, archive expert Jonas Goldmann, who illustrates the stories with historical images and films. The Bindefeld grant is crucial to the film now being made.

— There is a lot of research behind it and it will be a foundation plate that will get us off to a good start.

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Deborah Acker

I write epic fantasy; self-published via KDP. Devoted dog mom to my 10 yr old GSD, Shadow! DM not a priority; slow response at best #amwriting #author.

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