On Sunday, January 11, the Ann Arbor Jewish Community Center (JCC) will sponsor a free public screening of Never a Bystander, a short documentary about Holocaust survivor Irene Butter’s extraordinary work with school children. Butter is a contemporary of Anne Frank who has spent nearly 30 years visiting middle schools and high schools with a message of forgiveness, hope, joy, and empowerment. Butter and filmmaker Evelyn Neuhaus will answer questions following the 4 p.m. screening in the JCC’s Newman Lounge at 2935 Birch Hollow Drive.

The 31-minute film is already being shown in school and university classrooms to teach student leadership and Holocaust history, but the January 11 screening marks the first time since its premiere in May, 2014, that the general public will have an opportunity to view Irene Butter’s remarkable story and meet the woman who inspired the film.

“Its message transcends the Holocaust. This film is for anyone interested in finding positive meaning in the aftermath of devastating loss,” Neuhaus said. “I am happy it appeals to so many audiences because Irene’s life is truly a healing message for our troubled world.”

Besides her work in schools, Butter is also a co-founder of the Arab-Jewish women’s dialog group, Zeitouna. Additionally, she helped establish the Wallenberg Medal and Lecture series honoring modern heroes at the University of Michigan, and is herself the recipient of several humanitarian awards.

Butter’s interactions with students and their reactions to her philosophy are prominently featured in the film. It includes letters from children who pen heartfelt messages such as, “You said one person can change the world. You have changed my life!”

The film also depicts:

  • Butter’s poignant connection to Anne Frank
  • Her childhood experiences in two concentration camps
  • Her work to honor modern heroes by co-founding, at the University of Michigan, the Wallenberg Medal and Lecture which celebrates the theme, “One Person Can Make a Difference.”
  • Her role as co-founder of Zeitouna, an Arab-Jewish women’s dialog group

“Irene Butter manages to address some very challenging themes without overwhelming young people,” Neuhaus said. “I’m glad we were able to capture that in the film.”

In addition to serving as a resource for classes on Holocaust history and leadership, the film will be piloted in an anti-bullying program for fifth graders at the end of the 2014-2015 school year. Video clips and more information about the film can be found at http://neverabystander.com.

Never a Bystander’s release in 2014 coincides with the Michigan state legislature’s consideration of a bill requiring genocide education for 8th-twelfth graders. If it is adopted, Michigan will join California, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in mandating public school instruction on genocide, including the Holocaust.

In February, Never a Bystander will screen at the 25th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival, where it will be featured as part of the JOYCE FORUM, a juried competition for short films.

Evelyn Neuhaus is a filmmaker and retired health care administrator who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Irene Butter lives in Ann Arbor and often accompanies Neuhaus to screenings for Q-and-A sessions with audiences. The Ann Arbor Jewish Community Center strives for excellence in cultural, education, social, and recreational programming that not only enhance Jewish identity but also embrace and involve the entire community.

Photo credit http://www.ggg-laupheim.de/