Destination Unknown

What: Destination Unknown
Where: At a cinema near you
Who: Documentary about survivors of the Holocaust
When: Opens nationwide today
Why: It is an important documentary that tells the horrors some of the survivors endured during WWII

Twelve Holocaust survivors tell their moving stories in the excellent documentary “Destination Unknown.”

These survivors tell, in vivid detail, the horrors they suffered in the concentration camps during WWII. These men and women were lucky enough to have lived through, and survived, the suffering and the horrors in the Treblinka, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. They tell about losing their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, and how, now 70 years after the liberation of the camps, they are still haunted by the memories. We get to meet Ed Mosberg, who was 13 years old when the war started, and who lost all of his family, and how, 70 years later, him and his wife, who is in a wheelchair, visit Mauthausen Camp for the first time since they were liberated, with Ed wearing a prisoner’s outfit. His wife bittersweetly tells him that he never really left the concentration camp.
Then there is Polish Eli Zborowski, who survived the war by being hidden by a local family, and Stanley Goglover, who had to remove his Auschwitz tattoo to completely erase the memories of his time in the concentration camps. Roman Ferber speaks in perfect english as he remembers when he was three years old that all of a sudden his Polish nanny disappeared only because she was not allowed to work for a Jewish family. The memorable story of couple Victor and Regina Lewis, who knew each other before the war and who, after the war, being the only members of their families to survive, ended up reconnecting and eventually getting married. Plus some of the lucky survivors who ended up on Schindler’s list and who thus were not sent to the camps get to tell their harrowing tales. “Destination Unknown” just doesn’t concentrate on death, the documentary also highlights these people’s amazing lives after the war, how they got married, had kids and even grandchildren, and how they created their own families after the horrible horrible crimes against humanity that took place under Adolph Hitler’s short but devastating regime.
Outside the Block 11 (Breath block) in Auschwitz
“Destination Unkown,’ completed in 2016, uses rare unseen archive footage from the war, as well as the participant’s own home video footage, to tell their individual stories of fear, hope, survival and courage. After 14 years of tracking down and talking to survivors, Producer Llion Roberts, along with Director and Editor Claire Ferguson, have made a documentary that is both memorable and still necessary, with an incredible and moving soundtrack. Sure there have been dozens and dozens of books, films and documentaries on this subject, but it’s a subject matter that still needs to be told for each survivor has their own story to tell, unique, frightening, courageous, and just as important, perhaps even more so, than anything in the news today.
“DESTINATION UNKNOWN” is in cinemas 16 June
Photos from AR-PR
Review by Tim Baros

Glamour in the turmoil of the Cuban revolution

Written by: Cyriaque Griffon
Photographs: Solange Podell
Illustrator: Hilal Ashour

 

We are taken on a journey to a land where time has stood still, evoking the era of Frank Sinatra or Ava Gardner’s time there. Trapped in a time-warp, Cuba and all its mesmerizing scintillating cars remind us of emblematic figures of the 1950swhen the islandwasAmerica’s tropical playground.In a world of movie stars, mafia-runglamorous hotels, casinos and night clubs of pre-revolution Havana, the incredible true story of a Cuban counterrevolutionary named Fernando Pruna sounds like a classic golden era Hollywood movie.

Fernando was a good-looking young man and, before the Revolution, he led the life of a playboy in the trendiest places frequented by the jet society in both Havana and New York. He met socialites, models and actresses, among them Hollywood golden erascreensirens. Fernando was seen going out with Jayne Mansfield, eating out with Joan Collins, dancing with Jackie Kennedy at the fashionable club El Morocco in Manhattan.He would go to the Embassy Club at the Ambassador Hotel and would regularly run into Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, who would come over to his table to exchange hellos.One balmy night, as he was enjoying a drink at the terrace of a fashionable Havana restaurant, he was mesmerized by a drop-dead-gorgeous young woman. She was the French then actress Solange Podell. Fernando and Solange began a relationship that she wished to keep platonic, since she was married.

If Fernando’s storyindeedstartedlike a musical, ityetturnedintothrillingcounter-revolutionaryconspiracies and noirishtwists and turnsafterFidel Castro hadsweptinto power with the Revolution. Spiesstartedhatching plots and outmanoeuvring the enemy in the tenseatmosphere of the Cold Warwith theBay of Pigs invasion, the Soviet missiles crisis, anti Castro movements, secret messages intented for the FBI, darkjails and terrible fortresses, tortures… In the wake of JFK or Che Guevara, the biggesticonic figures of a fascinatingera intertwinedwiththe life of a successfulyoung entrepreneur wholed a playboy’s life beforebecominga Cubancounter-revolutionary…Some of themwould change hisdestinyforever.

Fernando grew up in Cuba. Hisfatherwas a prominentHavanalawyerwhohadamonghis clients the former CubandictatorFulgencio Batista, at a time when the mostpowerful American mobsterslike Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficantewouldrun the most profitable businesses of all times in Cuba thanks to theirfriendshipwith Batista and hiscorruptedgovernment. As a child, Fernando oftenwent to the Floridita barwithhisfather. The latter would have a chat with Ernest Heminwgay. Fernandostudied in Columbia University in New York. Hehad a flair for entrepreneurship and return to Cuba in the late50s to start a business relationshipwiththe U.SmovietheatertycoonEMLoew. At the same time, hegot involved in politics and ran for Congress. In the history of the Republic of Cuba,hewasthe youngestperson tobeelectedat the House of Representatives,atage 23,whileBatista’sregimewas on the verge of collapsing.

Following the revolutionled by Fidel Castro in 1959, Fernando founded an anti-Castro resistancemovement. He wasarrested for conspiracy and plottingagainst the new regime. He wassentenced to death by a firingsquadafterbeingaccused by hisenemies of being a CIA agent. He wasmiraculouslysavedtwo hours before the scheduled execution.The death sentence was overturned and he was condemned to thirty years ofhard labor. For seventeenyears, humiliations and interrogations wouldbethen part of Fernando’s everyday life in the terrifyingfortress of la Cabana or on the Isle of Pines, untilhemanaged to flee to Miami.

The French actress and bombshell Denise Darcelleft France justafter the Second World War and headed to Hollywood. Sheacted in a dozen US moviesamongthemhermostfamous film, Vera Cruz, starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. Shethenstarted a career as a singer in the clubs circuit, including the opening of the mob boss Meyer Lansky’sSans Soucinightclub and gambling casino in Havana in 1955. Whileperforming in Havana, Denise met Fernando Pruna and, afterhaving a briefaffair,theybecamevery close friends.

He also met her sister Hélène Darcel. Hélène was a talented chanteuse and hadlaunched a brilliantsingingcareer in the USA. She sang mainly in the mostelite and prestigioushotel establishments and nightclubs of New York, Washington DC, Miami Beach and other major US cities. Fernando started a seriousromance with the singer whichlasted a few years. “Hélène was also the most honest person that I have ever met and indeed the most fantastic singer that you could possibly hear. She had the voice of an angel and was very professional as a chanteuse; incredibly sophisticated. To hear her with a string orchestra of violins and piano was an amazing experience” Fernando recalls.
In mid December 1957, Fernandoreceived a call from Denise Darcelwho said to him :“Mon chéri, I have a dear friend at the Riviera Hotel in Havana and I want you to do me a favor. She is the hotel’sopening night headliner and she will be there for a few weeks. Poor dear, she is terribly alone and I want you to call her and take her out to dinner and be nice to her. I have already talked to her on the phone and told her that you would be calling her.” He replied, “No problem Denise, I will take care of her.” And that he did.That night, whenMeyer Lansky’s Riviera was inaugurated,Fernando danced with Denise’sfriend.“She was like a feather in my arms. She could dance anything and do it fantastically. I went out with her multiple times, I showed her Havana at night and by day. I was overwhelmed by her fame and status; I could not get over it. I was invited to see the show just about every night of the week and she never allowed me to pay the bill. We only drank champagne. As the days passed I realized that she was beginning to get too attached to me and at that time I was still in a relationship with Hélène who wanted to come to Havana to spend a few days with me. I must shamefully confess, I made love to her on my father and mother’s big, delightful bed. The shame is for using the bed not for making love to her who was charmed with the performance. My relationship with her ended with the arrival of Helene to Havana.”He was 23 and she was 46. She was the actress and dancer Ginger Rogers.Hélène and Fernando had started thinking of getting married but the Cuban revolution would change the lovers’ plans forever ;Fernando’s politicalinvolvementswouldland him in a prison as a politicalprisoner for close to twentyyears. He was able to locate and contact the Darcel sisters only almost fifty years after but they would never be able to see each other again.

Solange Podell was in Havana on 1 January 1959. Shewitnessed the very first moments of the RevolutionwhenBatista fled in the middle of the night. After Fidel Castro’s coup, Solangewanted to help her friend Fernando. She tried several times to contact and write to Castro through different connections such as the famous Cuban model Natalia Menendez aka Norka. But all her efforts through well-placed friends in Cubaas well as the French Embassy and Norka’sex-husband, the photographer Korda – who was one of Castro’s official photographers – would ultimately fail. Fernando lives today in Cuba and Solange lives in Monaco. More than 60 years after they met, they are still in touch,this time via another revolution : the digital one and Facebook !

Cyriaque Griffon (anecdotes from the book Havana 505)