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

(page 3 of 3)

Director Duilio Coletti and male romantic lead Andrea Checchi were well-known veterans of Fascist-era film. But the cast consisted of mostly non-actors. In fact, Jewish refugees, Holocaust survivors from Central and Eastern Europe, were interned in a camp outside Bari, waiting to emigrate. Because of heavy bureaucracy, they had to be smuggled out of the camp in order to play the role of refugees about to be smuggled into Palestine.

“I wanted to let the facts speak,” Lewis Gittler said on the occasion of the film’s first showing in the United States, in New York during the summer of 1949. He aimed to present the positions of the British colonist, the Irgun terrorist and the Haganah soldier with maximum clarity and accuracy. For a scene in which an Irgun terrorist is tried in a Palestinian court for planting a bomb at British military headquarters, Gittler managed to get a hold of the records of Mandate military trials and culled them for quotes.

In search of authentic dialogue for a bitter argument between the Irgun terrorist and the nonviolent Haganah member, Gittler and Salvatori invited representatives of the two warring Jewish factions to dinner at a restaurant in Rome. The two groups, not generally on speaking terms, were ready to get up and walk out. Salvatori, playing the diplomat, convinced them that that would look bad in front of the other diners. They sat down and waited until the crowd thinned out, and then pursued their argument, “the same battle between opposing philosophical and political positions” that are fought in Israel today, Wendy Gittler notes.

When “The Earth Cries Out” opened near Times Square in August 1949, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave it a mixed review but conceded that “the countless ‘bit’ players and extras, many of them actual soldiers and émigrés, are wonderfully vivid and authentic. The integrity of the picture owes much to them.” Note the delicate use of the word “émigrés” for refugees, displaced persons and concentration camp survivors.

Gittler never made another full-length film. In 1949, after returning to the United States with his family, he worked in public relations, traveled widely and collected 20th-century European art. He made a few short documentaries, including one about Konrad Adenauer’s friendship with the Austrian painter Oscar Kokoschka. He created a magazine, German Cultural Review, for the German Information Center, his last employer. Gittler died in 1974, at the age of 60.

Wendy Gittler talks about the film with passion and filial piety, as if it were her father’s autobiography: “It’s the culmination of my father’s years in Europe. After experiencing the rise of Hitler, anti-Semitism, the Nazi mind as revealed in the interrogation of German POWs, after plowing through battlefields strewn with corpses, after the death camp. His film about the struggle for the creation of a Jewish state came out of his own heart.”

Suzanne Ruta is translator, book critic, and author of the novel ‘To Algeria, With Love’ (Virago, 2012).


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!
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • 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.