Memoir of Behrend, witness to ‘Kristallnacht,’ to be turned into film

At his Voorhees home, 92-year-old Fred Behrend, who authored the 2017 book “Rebuilt from Broken Glass,” which is slated to become a documentary thanks to a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Cherry Hill, holds up a Seder plate from 1710 whose image is featured on the book’s front cover.

Cherry Hill resident and former journalist Larry Hanover spent seven long years with Voorhees resident Fred Behrend, recording the 92-year-old native German’s experiences with the Holocaust, his journey to, and eventual success in, the United States.

Their effort yielded a book, called “Rebuilt from Broken Glass, A German Jewish Life Remade in America,” which was released two years ago. Now, Hanover plans on bringing Behrend’s story to life on screen, and just received a kick where it counts: in the purse. 

The Jewish Community Foundation Inc., awarded a $3,000 grant to Broken Glass Media, LLC toward continuing fundraising efforts for a documentary based on Behrend’s memoir.

“I’m thrilled that JCF felt the same way and has made a significant contribution to help make this a reality,” Hanover said.

Local officials, leaders of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, and fundraising partner Arts Guild New Jersey gathered to watch the premiere of the film’s teaser on May 16.

“On behalf of the JCF’s Board of Trustees, Grants Committee, and staff, we are excited to support ‘Rebuilt from Broken Glass,’ and we look forward to seeing this documentary come to fruition,” said Milt Gottschalk, president of the JCF in a release announcing the grant.

The documentary will be based on the memoir of Behrend, who had a miraculous reunion with a fellow survivor last November, exactly 80 years after they last saw each other on Kristallnacht.

The infamous “night of broken glass” occurred on Nov. 9, 1938, throughout Germany, Austria and what is now western Czechia, where Nazi sympathizers damaged, looted and destroyed Jewish businesses, homes and houses of worship while also arresting Jewish males.

Behrend was just 12 years old, witnessing the devastation the morning after while walking to school in Cologne, seeing shattered glass and synagogues aflame. Soon after, he and his family fled Nazi tyranny to Cuba, before they established themselves in Brooklyn. He attended school with Henry Kissinger and Fred Westheimer, future husband of Dr. Ruth.

As a young soldier in the Army, he taught democracy to German POWs and was assigned to watch Wernher von Braun, a Nazi rocket scientist considered the father of  the U.S. space program. Behrend later ran a successful air-conditioning business that often catered to New York elite.

“It was the reunion aspect, meeting that friend again from Fred’s childhood at Kristallnacht, which was a miracle. It just seemed to be a thing that wanted to happen,” Hanover said about what in the book he thought would translate to film. 

Joe Fab is slated to serve as co-director with Hanover. Fab may be best known for his work on the Emmy-nominated 2004 Holocaust documentary “Paper Clips,” for which he served as writer, producer and co-director.

Hanover said he received a lot of positive feedback from the teaser, and recalled an episode from a recent book signing with Behrend in Moorestown, when two older ladies approached them and said they had tears in their eyes from watching, and they couldn’t wait to see the finished product.

Recalling how long it took to compile and check the information before the book was released, Hanover said the release of the film is still a long-term project, but with a finish line in sight on the horizon.

“If all goes well, I would say two to three years. We’ve got to get a budget, find locations and shoot it, so it’ll take some time,” he said. “Fred isn’t going anywhere, and I think by the time the film is done, he’ll be alive and more than kicking.”

Hanover also revealed there wouldn’t be any book signings in the immediate future, but hinted that a special anniversary celebration for Behrend might be on tap in the fall.  

“I have lived so long and I have seen so much in 80 years, let alone 92. One of the things I never thought I would have to do is educate the younger generations that things like anti-Semitism and prejudice against immigrants still exist, and have always existed. I am fortunate to still be able to speak about it,” Behrend said.

Participation of the nonprofit Arts Guild New Jersey means any contributions to the project will be tax-deductible. The documentary’s fundraising website can be found at https://www.artsguildnj.org/rebuilt-from-broken-glass/.