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.
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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Tylbor died in 2009, leaving behind a sheaf of intimate and to-date unpublished short stories about Warsaw before and during the war.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.


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