Washington Jewish Week

by / Thursday, 24 February 2000 / Published in Press Covarage
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Washington Jewish Week

(February 24, 2000)

‘It can happen here’
Local man makes film on Balkans warfare to educate Americans

by Aaron Leibel

Leon Gerskovic has a message for the people of his adopted America: Violence, hatred and war could even happen in this country.

“I want to show Americans that war is not so distant from here as people think,” says the 26-year-old Jew who grew up in Croatia.  “When I lived in the Balkans, we would watch newsreels of wars in Africa or elsewhere in the world and say ‘That couldn’t happen here.’  But it did.

“People need to understand how hatred can develop and grow.  They need to know that one day a person can be your best friend and the next, your worst enemy.”

He hopes to spread the word through a documentary film, Crucible of War, that he has produced.

Gerskovic, who now lives in Gaitherburg [Maryland], comes from an area of the world — the Balkans — that, at least during the 1990s, has come to embody ethnic hatred and warfare.  He grew up in Catholic Croatia in an assimilated Jewish family that never denied its ethnicity, but was not religiously observant.  He says his father’s father lost most of his family during World War II in concentration camps run by the Ustashe, the Croatian puppet government of the Nazis.

During the early 1990s, he worked as an interpreter for foreign journalists who had come to cover the warfare in Croatia, following the dissolution of Yugoslavia.  He had learned English during a four-year period of living in Britiush Guyana courtesy of his father’s diplomatic tour of duty in that country.

Gerskovic didn’t encounter anti-Semitism as a child, but says Franjo Tudjman’s rise as Croatian leader stirred anti-Semitic prejudice.

In 1994, Gerskovic came to the United States.   Then, two events — the conflict in Kosovo and the film The Last Days – helped lead Gerskovic in the direction of producing his own documentary.  The Last Days, produced by the Shoah Foundation, focuses on the end of the war and the efforts of the Nazis to kill Hungary’s Jews before they lost the war.

“It [the film] touched me,” says Gerskovic, “because the story was told by ordinary people who explained how they survived.”

He decided to use that technique in Crucible.   Gerskovic and his co-producer, Rob Shire of Wheaton, spent six weeks last year in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro (they purposely avoided Kosovo, he explains, becauses that was a hot spot where news was being reported;  his film aims to get behind the headlines, not report them) interviewing teachers, housewives, workers, priests — ordinary people, he stresses.  By telling their stories, he thinks he can explain the conflict in the Balkans — and maybe more — to the American people.

For maximum exposure, he would like the film to be shown on PBS.  However, Gerskovic says, it is tough for an independent producer to receive funding , and he needs financing to finish the project.  He has raised some money to cover expenses from family and friends, but he needs an infusion of capital to finish editing the documentary.

To that end, the Washington home of Stewart Mott, has donated space on Capitol Hill for a fund-raising event.  At the March 16 event, which is open to the public at no charge, Gerskovic will show a short film with scenes from Crucible of War and what he hopes to accomplish with it.  There will be musicians and dancers performing Balkan folk music.  He will also be showing and selling pictures by young photographers from the Bosnian town of Mostar.

The producers of Crucible of War will have an open house on Thursday, March 16. 6-10 pm, at the Washington Home of Stewart Mott at 122 Maryland Ave., NE., Washington.  For further information, call 301-527-0861.


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