My documentary "Bagels Over Berlin" celebrates Jewish veterans of the United States Army Air Corps who flew bombing missions against our enemies in World War II. Many Jews fought in the war and several veterans of the air war look back 75 years in the film to describe their life-altering experiences.
The project began as an idea following the night my wife's uncle, Donald Katz, told us stories at the dinner table about his experience as a nose gunner aboard a B-24 bomber. We were fascinated by his description of a bombing raid over the Ploesti oil fields in eastern Romania where many planes were shot down. Neither his wife nor his children had ever heard him talk about the war - Donald came home at the end of the war, hung up his uniform and enrolled at Ohio State University. I decided shortly thereafter to produce a film celebrating our WWII Air Corps veterans. I am pleased that Donald lived to see the premiere of the film (in which he appears) though he died at age 95.
Donald repeated his story for my camera and a childhood friend of his, Irwin Stovroff, shared a riveting story about his experience as a POW. Irwin was shot down on his 35th and what was to be his final mission before qualifying to go home. Over time, word of the project spread and I began to find Air Corps veterans living in my home base in South Florida, and also in Phoenix, Philadelphia, New York City and my childhood home in Buffalo. Many hours of interviews were amassed over a three year period and only one veteran referral turned down my invitation to speak about the war. He tearfully explained that the horror of the war was still too raw an emotion even after 75 years.
I was fortunate to find nonagenarians who were lucid, eloquent and had very good recall. We focused our conversations on comradeship, stories of survival, discrimination that some experienced as Jews and even some of the war's 'lighter' moments that contribute to an authentic story of men at war.
What was it like knowing they could be shot out of the sky with the possibility of falling 20,000 feet to their death? Could they parachute safely from a burning aircraft before it exploded - only to be met by angry farmers whose homes and livelihoods had just been destroyed? One veteran told me about a B-17 tail gunner who was shocked to see the tail section of a bomber from above floating past him as it fell toward earth. It had been blown from the fuselage of a bomber and a tail gunner who was still trapped in his seat - unable to escape his fate. The eyes of the two tail gunners locked for a brief moment as they passed close by, instinctively exchanging salutes. A moment seared forever in the mind of the lucky survivor, including the serene expression on the face of his doomed fellow countryman - an American soldier who had served his country until he could do no more.
I learned that Jews comprised a large percentage of the armed forces in WWII compared to their share of the country's population. Despite a history of exclusion and discrimination, Jews responded to the Japanese sneak attack on their homeland with a determination to fight for the country they loved. Jews served in the US military in impressively large numbers with a many volunteering for the Air Corps. —the the branch of service with the highest mortality rate of all the services during the war - more than the navy and marines combined. After much deliberation I then decided to narrow the film's focus to stories of the Jews who fought for America in WW II.
The film has been seen at film festivals, community centers, theaters, synagogues, and residential communities. The film was also broadcast on PBS in the Buffalo and Toronto markets, where 'Bagels Over Berlin' was the highest rated program in the country in its time slot. My most satisfying experiences came from accompanying the veterans who appeared in the film as they attended many of the early screenings surrounded by their families and friends. It is difficult to describe the overwhelming love, appreciation and applause the men received at every event. The vets were proud to contribute their personal stories following 75 years of modest silence. They shared their war stories for future generations of Americans who will remember them not only as proud veterans in the film but also as the young and patriotic soldiers who fought to save our democracy. I will never forget these American heroes with whom I developed a close bond. Wonderful men who enriched my life beyond description.
Today, I work to raise funds for the acquisition and training of Service Dogs who provide valuable aide to active and retired veterans of our military who suffer from injury and disease related to their years of active duty. Prominent among these injuries is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - a serious and debilitating condition that often remains with sufferers the rest of their lives. Service Dogs can be trained to provide emotional and physical help. If you wish to help the vets in this way please contact me at the email address below.
Click on the 'Photos' tab above to see pictures of the vets from their youth and then 75 years later taken at the first screening. Finally, to experience how these gentlemen were revered - be sure to click on the 'Videos' tab above, and watch the last video about Murray Moore. I was overwhelmed by the love and appreciation he experienced (at age 101) when he was introduced to the audience at the premiere of a documentary about the Boca Raton Air Base where Murray trained in WWII. I pulled out my phone to capture the moment and it gives me chills every time I watch this short clip.
Following is an excerpt of an email I received following one of the first screenings that took place in Boone, NC.
Reproduced with permission:
Yesterday I was treated to a moving and occasionally humorous documentary that was filmed in Florida but [partially] edited at Appalachian State University here in Boone. The film maker Alan Feinberg was in attendance as was one of the cast members, a 90 year old WW II Jewish Airman. The film features 18 Jewish men who flew bombing mission after mission in the European theater of the war. One of them was a POW in Germany and each one has a riveting story to tell. The peril, the pathos, the comradery, the anti-Semitism they faced, the funny incidents they remember merge to make a compelling, heart-stopping and often heart-warming film. All of these men are in their 90’s and Alan wanted to capture these memories NOW. They all are articulate and tell the stories so very well. ....... I remember those war days when people said the Jews would never fight for their country-well this film refutes that idea beautifully! The film is titled Bagels Over Berlin …and the reason for the title is revealed in the film...........Our overflow audience loved every minute of the film and the discussion as well.
Alan Feinberg 7/24/2021