“Your number was your name…that’s all he was to them.”
That’s what 10-year-old Elliott said to his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack Feldman, pointing to the number tattooed on his arm, A-17606. Jack is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Poland before he was sent to Auschwitz.
Elliott is the narrator of a new HBO documentary directed by Amy Schatz, The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm, which debuts Saturday, January 27 on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the 19-minute film, the young boy explains what his great-grandfather’s life was like right before, and during, the Holocaust.
There are many sweet, tender moments between Elliott and Jack, who clearly share a special and deep bond, often holding hands while talking and going through Jack’s old photographs. Elliott mentions how Jack loves buying hats, is a great storyteller, and how they talk about everything. Jack was born in Poland to a big family before the war, and enjoyed watching soccer games after school when he was Elliott’s age. His own father was successful in the hat business in Poland.
But this isn’t just any Holocaust documentary — it explores the love between a grandparent and great-grandchild, while also explaining the history and trauma of the Holocaust to children. In many ways, it’s the perfect way for kids to learn about the Holocaust, considering it’s narrated by a kid. The documentary also includes animated illustrations by Jeff Scher that appear as Elliott explains the history of the Holocaust, working cleverly as a way to engage young kids without dumbing it down.
It’s heartbreaking to hear Elliott explain how Jack was kicked out of school because he was Jewish, and then sent to the Sosnowiec ghetto where 15 or 20 people would sleep in one room. While walking with his friends one day, 14-year-old Jack was taken away by Nazis, never to see his father or mother again. He was then sent to Auschwitz.
His love of hats, which at first just seems like a cute anecdotal detail, actually turns out to be the reason Jack is still alive. His father ended up giving him a hat with hidden money inside, which he was able to give to the guard in exchange for extra food.
After the war, Jack briefly lived in Germany at a displaced persons camp, got married, and went to America — where he opened up a fish market in Rochester, New York.
Elliott ends the documentary saying, “He’s my family’s hero.” He added how Jack’s story “has changed a lot of people. You need to know it to understand and stop it from happening in future generations.”
Jack is still changing lives, using his fish market to give generously back to the community. A customer at the fish market attests to Jack’s kindness, saying, “This is his number right here. And he knows exactly what it means to be hungry. Therefore, if there’s anybody hungry, he’ll feed them.”
It’s Elliot who gives us the biggest reminder of all — to cherish these stories and hold them with us forever:
They say that in like a year or two there won’t be any survivors left. So we’re trying to get all their stories … before they pass away.
Watch a preview of the documentary below — and you can catch the documentary on HBO: