Lewis Gittler Brought Refugee Lives to Screen

Decade Before 'Exodus, 'The Earth Cries Out' Told Heroic Tale

By Suzanne Ruta

Published September 28, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The first time I saw Wendy Gittler, she was carrying her husband, Henry Tylbor, in his wheelchair down a narrow, crowded flight of stairs at the New York Studio School, on East 8th Street in Manhattan. Tylbor was the youngest survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He had known Majdanek and other concentration camps. He reached New York in 1948. He was an independent scholar who studied linguistics and neuroscience at the Sorbonne in the 1960s. By the time we met, he was in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease, so we never really had a conversation. But that first glimpse of him and Gittler said a great deal about their long marriage and the character of this energetic, courageous woman.

Tylbor died in 2009, leaving behind a sheaf of intimate and to-date unpublished short stories about Warsaw before and during the war. Gittler remains indefatigable. A painter, art historian and writer, she is currently preparing a lecture for the Art Students League of New York, in Midtown and a show at First Street Gallery, in Chelsea. On October 10, at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, in Manhattan, she will be offering a rare screening of her father’s little-known 1949 movie “The Earth Cries Out.” Casa Italiana director Stefano Albertini and Primo Levi Center director Natalia Indrimi imported the film from Italy and provided English subtitles.

Made more than 10 years before “Exodus,” Lewis Gittler’s film dramatized the plight of Eastern European refugees trying to reach Palestine in 1947. Gittler, a Life magazine correspondent and a U.S. Army Military Intelligence veteran, was an adventurous, resourceful, Chicago-born grandson of a family of Orthodox rabbis and entrepreneurs from Silesia. After studying at the University of Chicago, he wound up in Berlin. There, for most of the 1930s, he and an older sister wrote for Berlin Topics, an English-language paper popular with the Anglo-American community. After 1933, they smuggled money and valuables out of Germany for Jewish families, and canvassed consulates for immigration visas. At the start of the Spanish civil war, in 1937, Gittler went to Spain, hoping to work as Emma Goldman’s secretary. The plan did not pan out.

In the United States in 1939, Gittler contributed to the groundbreaking study “German Psychological Warfare,” edited by historian Ladislas Farago. When the United States entered the war, he was recruited into the Office of War Information. He was then sent to Washington, D.C., to Britain and finally, in 1944, to Normandy on the heels of the invasion.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.