Jud Newborn, a Huntington-based Cinema Arts Centre curator and Holocaust expert, was “deeply moved” to learn he is this year’s Spirit of Anne Frank Human Writes Award honoree.
The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wants to not “simply promote the story of Anne Frank but the human rights events she would have fought for,” Newborn told HuntingtonNow. “I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
Previous recipients include civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof. This year’s honorees include Amy Poehler, recognized with the center’s Youth Empowerment Award.
“When I got the call, the way a Nobel Prize winner gets a sudden call, I was surprised,” said Newborn, the founding historian and co-creator of the lower Manhattan-based Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. “I was told ‘We think it’s about time you were honored’.”
Newborn, Poehler and the other honorees will be recognized at a dinner and awards ceremony on June 12. The event distinguishes deserving students, educators, citizens, peacemakers and role models who advocate all that Anne Frank embodied: hope, justice and equality.
“As my younger brother called it – I do not – it’s the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for the Holocaust,” Newborn said, with a laugh, before adding, “it’s a tremendous honor.”
Newborn, who tracked down SS officers and Nazi perpetrators for interviews in the early 1980s, has been instrumental to the Huntington arts scene since 1986, having worn many hats at the Cinema Arts Centre where he is now curator of special guest programs. In his tenure at Cinema Arts, he’s brought in speakers that include Nobel laureates, Kennedy Center honorees, and Academy, Emmy, Grammy Tony and Pulitzer Prize winners.
“There are those New Yorkers who think there’s nothing between Manhattan and the Hamptons,” he said. “I feel sorry for them. Huntington is the cultural capital on Long Island, with the wealth of museums and entertainment, the finest restaurants and beautiful location, and history going back to the 1600s.”
He said the Anne Frank honor comes at a time of highs and lows.
This year, Oneworld Publications released a special edition of “Sophie Scholl and the White Rose,” a book Newborn co-wrote with Annette Dumbach. The book’s third edition somberly marks the 75th anniversary of the arrests and executions of five Munich university students who “launched one of the most daring resistances against Hitler,” Newborn said. Once Hitler Youth, the students rejected the movement and went on to lead the “only public protest by Germans ever to be staged,” Newborn said.
The book garnered accolades from Elie Wiesel, Norman Lear, Joel Grey, Alan and Arlene Alda, The New York Times, Peter Yarrow and others.
Yarrow, in particular noted: “the book alas is not just a reminder that we must continue to ‘sing out danger’ and ‘ring out a warning.’ It carries an urgent and immediate message to all Americans as we face attempts to divide us… to speak out now, clearly and defiantly.”
Newborn is commemorating this anniversary through his multimedia lectures, op-eds, interviews and special events. He’s focused now on Hans Scholl, Sophie’s brother, who was convicted of being in a gay relationship, and was then released because of his stellar record with Hitler Youth.
“For him, it was a turning point,” Newborn said about the trial, adding that it led the others to become active resisters.
Now, Newborn is working on the first major Hollywood motion picture to tell Hans’ struggle.
“I’ve got a film concept and treatment, and am in discussion with several major figures in Hollywood,” Newborn said.
There’s urgency to Newborn’s work, falling against a backdrop of anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League reported in February that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 rose 60 percent, the largest increase it has seen since it began tracking this data in the 1970s. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has pointed in part to President Donald Trump’s Twitter activity.
“The president’s retweeting of white supremacists and anti-Semitic memes during the campaign and, more recently, sharing tweets from a UK racist group — those are alarming,” Greenblatt told reporters.
And while anti-bullying and anti-bias training can go a long way towards prevention, increasingly, there are obstacles.
Newborn – he did not vote for Trump, but three of his relatives did – has seen these obstacles up close.
After being invited in October to deliver a lecture at a university in Tennessee, and signing a contract, the offer was withdrawn, Newborn said.
The woman running the event recently told Newborn on the phone as they discussed last-minute details that he could not mention Charlottesville and the “Alt-Right” without mentioning the “Alt-Left,” Newborn said. According to Newborn, she told him “what the North did to the South during the Civil War was just as bad as the Holocaust.” And his mention of the 20th-anniversary of the “crucifixion-like murder” of Matthew Shepard prompted a “dead silence” from her, he said.
“I realized I would need to not mention anything about current events,” he said. So he suggested speaking only about the White Rose story, and the woman agreed. But a week later, he said he was told via email that the contract was withdrawn, and the event cancelled.
This experience prompted fresh concern given the rise in authoritarianism and concerns over fascism in parts of Europe, and a time in the United States where Newborn said “Trump emboldened white nationalists to feel comfortable.”
Still, he said he shares hope that citizens will ward off that behavior, and “catch it before it’s too late – something Hans Scholl and the White Rose were unable to do.”
Shortly after the cancellation of his at the university in Tennessee, the Anne Frank center called Newborn about the award.
“It lifted my spirit 30 feet high,” he said. “It became more important to me to continue efforts to raise the consciousness of human rights.”
He is equally inspired about plans for his film.
Pointing to the relationships he’s fostered in his work across the world, and in Huntington, Newborn said, “I have the resourcefulness and determination to make this a reality.”
Photo credit: Harvey M. Birnbaum