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The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance is sponsoring the  showing of the film An Unknown Country at Temple Shalom on Tuesday evening, June 14. 

An Unknown Country is an independent film that tells the story of families who fled Europe during World War II, escaping the Nazi terror to find refuge in the unlikely destination of Ecuador. 

Filmmaker and Emmy winner Eva Zelig’s family was among those who found sanctuary in the small South American country, barely known at the time.

Zelig’s parents arrived in Ecuador in 1939 from Bratislava, in former Czechoslovakia. Her father opened a restaurant in Guayaquil, but it soon burned down.  The family stayed in Ecuador for 10 more years, living off profits from a small bakery. Zelig said that her parents “were never happy, always depressed, and couldn’t adapt.”

Zelig’s adventurous life alone is movie material.  When she left Ecuador and moved to the United States, Zelig did menial work for a year in Florida, but as she had been a ballet dancer with the National Ballet of Ecuador, she moved to New York City, where she still resides, and spent two years auditioning and taking ballet classes. Eventually she gave up dance and got a job at ColumbiaUniversity, where she was able to take advantage of free evening classes to earn a degree in French literature. 

After working for several years for a company that produced medical videos, she decided to follow her dream of broadcasting and took an internship at Channel 13. She was hired to do research for science and technology series where she got a chance to produce shows.  Her productions have appeared on The Learning Channel, New York Times TV, ABC, and National Geographic Channel.

Through first-hand accounts and documented archives, “An Unknown Country” reveals the terrifying escape to the small country who had agreed to take the fleeing Jews when so many had turned them away.  Still, Ecuador had few resources and many of the refugees found new struggles in the unfamiliar land. Many made a living farming.  One refugee sold fabric door to door. Some immigrants were able to eventually create businesses that provided pharmaceutical products and other necessities.

They also influenced Ecuadorian arts and the film highlights the contributions the immigrants made to the economic, artistic, and social life of their host country.

Zelig began working on this project in 2010 and eight months into it, she traveled to Ecuador to reunite and interview exiles, their children and grandchildren, both there and in the United States.  

“In the refugees’ poignant experience I found a lesson in survival and perseverance,” Zelig said. “I was reminded that it's more important than ever to capture and preserve the stories of those who witnessed and endured one of the most harrowing periods of the 20th century.” 

Temple Shalom is located at 6930 Alpha Rd. in Dallas.  Beverages and Bites will be enjoyed at 5:30 p.m. with a 6 p.m. film screening.  Questions and answers with Ms. Zelig will follow the film. 

RSVP to Deanne McElroy at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, 469-399-5210 or dmcelroy@dallasholocaustmuseum.org

Museum supporters Jerri and Fred Grunewald are sponsors of the event.

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