Friday, May 20, 2022

A life ‘Rebuilt from Broken Glass’

Book, film profile pair whose friendship survived the Nazis

Eighty years to the day of their separation in 1938, Fred Behrend and Henry Baum were connected through a phone call and reunited at the latter’s home in Florida in 2019. As it turned out, Behrend and Baum had been wintering 15 miles apart in Florida for decades.
Voorhees resident Larry Hanover directed and produced a documentary adapted from a memoir he co-wrote with Fred Behrend. “Rebuilt from Broken Glass” tells the story of the latter’s childhood friendship with a fellow German Jew he left behind when he escaped to England during the 1938 Nazi pogrom Kristallnacht, known as The Night of Broken Glass.

“Eighty years after escaping Nazi Germany, a miracle awaits.”

That’s the story behind a documentary from Fred Behrend and Larry Hanover that will  premiere on May 17 at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees. “Rebuilt from Broken Glass” is  adapted from the pair’s 2017 memoir and tells the incredible life story of Behrend, who fled Nazi Germany at 12 and left behind life as he knew it. 

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Also left behind was Behrend’s best friend, Henry Baum. Like thousands of other German Jews, he was forced to leave his country during Kristallnacht – the 1938 Nazi pogrom against Jews known as the NIght of Broken Glass – and was sent to England without his family.

Baum and Behrend both assumed their friendship had ended then, until 2018, when Behrend spoke about his friend at a Jewish school on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The school’s principal left the room for 10 minutes and returned later holding a cellphone: On the other line was Baum. 

Years before the pair’s reunion, Hanover attended one of Behrend’s speeches at a Voorhees school and approached him about telling his story in a book. For Hanover, a career journalist, writing the book wasn’t difficult; furthering the story and adapting it to film was.

 

“In the spring of 2010, Fred was speaking to the Hebrew religious school at our synagogue and my son was in the class,” Hanover recalled. “The parents were invited and I decided to go.  [After hearing him], I was mesmerized by his story. I had recently finished an 18-year run as a newspaper reporter and was hungry for something to write.

“ … I had to talk him [Behrend] into it a little, but obviously it worked out.”

Hanover and Behrend had no intention of creating a film after writing the memoir, but when the former heard of Behrend’s reunion with Baum, his creative instinct kicked in. It was decided people needed to hear the second part of this story. 

“All of a sudden, my phone starts buzzing like crazy and it’s [Behrend’s] daughter telling me that he had this reunion with Henry Baum,’’ Hanover said. “They had not seen each other (for) exactly 80 years to the day [since Kristallnacht) and we had dismissed the thought of a documentary, but this was meant to be.”  

Hanover and Behrend said the documentary ended up being a continuation of the memoir, as the latter had no shortage of stories to tell.

“This was so different; I had no background in film,” Hanover acknowledged. “Fortunately,  through my work, I knew Joe Fab, who happened to be an Emmy-nominated director … He walked me through it.

“We had to act quickly because [Behrend and Baum] wanted to see each other,” added Hanover, though COVID briefly halted production. “We wanted to get this on film while the moment was still [fresh].” 

Behrend, now 95, is grateful for the opportunities that came with writing the book and making a  documentary, but events in the Ukraine have triggered emotions he has not felt since childhood. 

“Within the last six months, some memories have come back, and they really bother me, even when I am sleeping,’’ he recounted. “When I wake up, I say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I really went through these things’ … 

“It’s just amazing reading the news today and comparing my experiences to what’s happening today [in Ukraine].” 

Behrend served time in the U.S. military, where he assisted in a DeNazification program in Virginia. The German-speaking 19-year-old also taught German POWs in classes on American-style democracy. Behrend now resides in Voorhees, after retiring from a successful career as an air-conditioning and television repairman. 

“Being 95 years young – underline the young – I sit on the porch with nothing to do and I think about the things I have seen, in the period of my life,’’ he noted. “Not the bad things, but the new ones … 

“This is all possible in a country as great as this country.”

Rebuilt From Broken Glass Premiere Screening

Registration for the film is listed above.

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