Marty Geller: Sparking a Fire

Marty Geller, lighting a candle with his parents, Malcia and Israel, at his Bar Mitzvah.

Marty Geller, lighting a candle with his parents, Malcia and Israel, at his Bar Mitzvah.

On the last day of Chanukah, I sat down to interview my uncle, Marty Geller, the founder of this family documentary project.

The day before the interview I saw my cousin, Fay Brandwein. When I told her that I’d be interviewing Marty the next day, she was curious as to what I’d be discussing with him. I told her how I’d ask him about the deep rooted impacts of being a child of survivors.

Fay responded humbly, “I understand. I’m a child of survivors too.”

It was a simple point but something I had never thought about before. Fay, as many of the survivors that I interviewed, not only carried the weight of their own experiences but also the experiences of their parents. In many cases, only one parent survived, which packed a whole new punch of pain, guilt and regret.

Moreover, I was fascinated by not only how a child of survivors recognized the resonating aftermath of the Holocaust in their parents, but also how those effects rippled through the child’s life as well.

I listened intently to my uncle bring that thought to life, as he told one of the most prominent stories of his childhood: the murder of his grandfather, Mordechai Tau, who was shot while running from the Nazis.

Marty explained how the story’s effect took different forms as it trickled down through the generations: his grandmother’s reticence toward her husband’s absence, his mother’s outward pain that constantly led her back to discuss her father’s death. And for Marty, hearing that story over and over, the topic of the Holocaust eventually became too traumatic to discuss.

“I think I just got so burnt out,” Marty admitted, “I just couldn’t take to hear about the pain, the anguish. I would listen but I would probably just start blocking things out.”

Marty explained how it wasn’t until his parents passed away that he began to open up about his parents’ experiences. He no longer looked toward the pain of the Holocaust and its residual effects but how to take those unfathomable experiences and use them to heal, grow and become stronger than ever. And with that strength came the drive to preserve our family’s history and with it our identity- as a family, as survivors, as Jews.

Watch the clip below as Marty discusses one of the first sparks that led him to create the family documentary project.