Her husband’s 8-month Fulbright grant in 2008 afforded McCauley the opportunity to spend plenty of time getting to know Germans and their country.
“I was impressed by the gravity of their history and curious about how they engaged the Holocaust,” she said. “I’m not Jewish, and I’m not German. But this is just a topic that really resonated [within] me.”
As she got to know the residents of Tuebingen, a university town in the south, she’d broach the subject, but many were reluctant to talk. Eventually people started opening up to her and agreed to be interviewed. Some were very emotional, even tearful when they recalled their experiences.
Normally a writer for a variety of publications, McCauley originally planned to write an essay about what she was learning. However, the project took on a much larger life as McCauley progressed. As time passed, she thought, “I’ve got to get these people on film.”
Her close friend came to mind because she is Jewish.
“I invited her to come visit us in Germany, but her response was visceral. She just couldn’t,” she said.
“So I began thinking in terms of creating more understanding between Germans and a North American Jewish audience.”
But there was just one problem. She had never made a movie before.
She interviewed 23 Tuebingen residents ages 18 to 84 and logged 36 hours of film on the video camera she’d bought when her daughter was a baby. She spoke with Germans and members of a budding Jewish community within the town. She asked her half-German husband, Charles Bambach, and others for input on the types of questions she used. But basically, she just “asked people about the things I wanted to know.”
Three years of editing later and a self-taught crash course on Final Cut Pro movie software, she debuted her work entitled, “Facing the Nazi Era: Conversations in Southern Germany.”
The world premier was at the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival last November to a primarily Jewish audience in Canada.
“It blew me away,” McCauley said. “One lady I’d interviewed in the film came over from Germany to attend the screening and talk with the audience afterward. They were all so grateful and thanked her for being brave enough to take their questions.” She added that they thanked her as well, saying the film helped their healing process, even more than 65 years after the Holocaust and the end of WWII.
The next screening was a month later at the exhibition site of the former concentration camp at Hailfingen-Tailfingen, Germany.
“It held up in Germany, too,” McCauley said. “Germans don’t easily reveal themselves to each other, so to see other people on screen voicing their feelings and perspectives was very cathartic. For some of them, it was the first time they had ever said, ‘I feel this way, too.’”
Last month, the United States premier played to a sold-out theater of 150 attendees at the Angelika. Although it was presented by 3 Stars Jewish Cinema, there was a variety of viewers in addition to those with Jewish or German ties.
McCauley, who is also the mother of Lakewood Elementary student Hannah Bambach, said she was thrilled for Dallas to host the screening just a few miles from her home.
Bart Weiss, artistic director of the Dallas VideoFest and an award-winning independent producer, director and editor, was instrumental in getting screen space at the Angelika. McCauley also credits Director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program Rick Halperin for his key contributions.
As past Chair of the Board of Directors for Amnesty International, U.S.A, Halperin has long been passionate about human rights. He now uses her film in three of his courses. “Many Americans may shrug at the Holocaust because it was a long time ago and [they] think we should just ‘move on,’” he explained. “But many Germans and Europeans haven’t and can’t.” Halperin added that the lessons from World War II are relevant today, as atrocities continue even as you read this story.
“This film strikes at the central nerve of the relationship between human beings and bad behavior. I mean, what’s our problem? How much more does the world have to learn before we stop doing this to each other?” he said in exasperation.
George Mason, the head pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church, also praised the film and echoed Halperin’s call to use its lessons.
“We can apply (the Germans’) lessons to our settings. For example, how much culpability should one generation feel for the sins of another in the matter of slavery and its continuing effects?” he asked.
In August, McCauley and her family will return to Germany for a year while her husband has a research sabbatical.
She is pleased to have been asked by the Hailfingen-Tailfingen community to make a documentary about their town and its role in the Holocaust.
For McCauley, the entire experience has made her believe in life’s evolving possibilities.
“I always wanted to do something with film but never had the time or money to learn,” she said. “But I wanted not just to make a film – I wanted to make one that mattered.”
“My goal was to build bridges of understanding and healing,” she continued. “When my husband asked the audience at the Angelika who they thought this film was for, both the Jews and Germans in the audience said it was for them. They both felt understood by watching the movie. That’s how I measure success.”
For copies of the film, see the order form on its Facebook page, “Facing the Nazi Era.”