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Bearing Witness: Filmmaker Tells Story of Diverse Nazi Victims Branded by “Triangles”

October 17, 2014
by Martin Snapp

The horrors of the Holocaust have inspired countless films, but award-winning documentary filmmaker Ann Meredith thought she had something unique to offer. She wanted to tell not just the stories of the millions of Jews who were killed, but also those of the lesser-known victims of the Nazi death camps, including Gypsies, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

The resulting documentary “Triangles: Witnesses of the Holocaust” is scheduled to premiere in Los Angeles next month.

Meredith, an art history major who earned her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1970, has a long career in film. She has served as a documentary juror for the Academy Awards. Her works are part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution and her career body of work is at Harvard University’s Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women.

She says she got the idea for “Triangles” in 2012, shortly after moving from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. She attended a classical music concert at a synagogue in Brentwood and found herself “sitting next to this adorable elderly couple, Josef and Joann,” she says. Soon Josef disclosed to her that he had survived not one but six concentration camps.

“I respectfully asked him if he had worked with anyone to help tell and share his story,” she says. “At first I thought I would simply do a short documentary only about Josef, but my life’s career body of work has emphasized women’s and LGBTQ culture.” Soon, she began collecting the stories of others who survived the concentration camps, including some of the last known gay and lesbian survivors.

Money is always scarce for documentaries, so Meredith says she assembled pro bono crews in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, secured no-cost publication rights for images from museums, archives and private collectors, and reached out to family and friends for donations. She adds that her old sorority at Cal, Pi Phi,  “has been very, very supportive. Their grants enabled me to continue my work.”

“Triangles” tells the personal stories of 17 people. Its title refers to the triangles that Holocaust victims were forced to wear – yellow for Jews; blue for immigrants; pink for male homosexuals, rapists and pedophiles; black for lesbians, beggars, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, pacifists, the mentally ill, and the disabled; brown for Gypsies, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses; and red for liberals, communists, anarchists and political prisoners in general.

Marginalized people are a theme that runs through Meredith’s documentaries, which include “Our Right To Marry – The Right to Love” (2006), “Strap ‘Em Down! The World of Drag Kings” (2004), “Tall In The Saddle – Cowgirls, Ranch Women & Rodeo Gals” (1999), and “Until That Last Breath! Women With HIV/AIDS” 1997). She says she empathizes with people victimized by others because she was herself traumatized and abused as a child. She also says she’s still applying the lessons she learned at Berkeley, home of the Free Speech Movement: “Every time a film of mine is shown it brings communities together to promote change, and that’s what’s most important to me. I learned that at Berkeley. And I still use those principles every day in my life.”

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