Mystic shawl at heart of family documentary

Moses Sterngast with documentary filmmaker Pamela Asherah

A new video biography, “The Black Shawl — Chana Fels’ Journey Remembered,” provides chilling details of Jewish life in Poland during the Nazi occupation. The story, narrated by Chana’s son, Moses Sterngast, follows the journey of two Jewish women, Chana Fels and her mother, Sara Fels, as they experience the horrors of the Holocaust.

As Sterngast tells it, one stormy evening there was a knock on the door of the home that belonged to his great-grandparents, Chava and Samuel Hiller. A stranger appeared, wet and shivering from the cold. Chava invited him in and left the room to bring him a warm meal. When she returned, there was no sign of him — not even footsteps in the snow. The only proof he’d been there was a black shawl left on the chair. Sterngast believes that this shawl, inherited by his grandmother Sara, was imbued with deep mythic and mystic meaning, woven into the fabric of his mother’s survival story.

The film is based on an article Fels wrote for the New York-based newspaper The Jewish Press and recorded interviews with her before her death in 2009. Her sons David and Moses teamed up with Pamela Asherah, a producer of family biography films in Tucson, after watching a production she created about her father, also a Holocaust survivor.

“What began as a family project is blossoming into a life of its own,” says Sterngast, who is in talks about the film with the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Holocaust education program.

The film will premiere on Sunday, Dec. 23 at 4 p.m. at Congregation Young Israel in connection with the “general kaddish day” for the victims of the Holocaust on Tevet 10, a fast day. A discussion with Sterngast and Asherah will follow. Refreshments will be served after the fast ends. Admission is free; for more information, e-mail Asherah at pasherah@q.com.