Fred Sondermann is a legendary name at Colorado College. He taught political science at CC from 1953 until his death in 1978. Those on campus during that time were fortunate to have known him; those who came later were aware of his lasting influence.
Both those who knew him and those who didn’t now have the opportunity to glimpse a small, but extremely moving, piece of Sondermann’s history. A Colorado Springs filmmaker has produced a film based on Sondermann’s journal and an article he wrote for the Summer 1970 issue of the Bulletin*, in which he describes returning to his boyhood home in Germany, which he fled 30 years earlier, just before the Nazis closed the borders.
The premiere viewing of “Return,” a 35-minute documentary film, was held at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 18 in the South Theatre in the Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center. The film also will be shown at the 2010 Homecoming and Parents Weekend, Oct. 8-10, where the filmmaker will be present to discuss the film and answer questions.
“I re-entered Germany with my wife, Marion, and our two sons and daughter exactly 30 years minus one day after I had left it.”
About eight years ago, Sondermann’s son, Gary, shared the Bulletin story with a friend, Cyd Chartier-Cohn. She was taking a Holocaust class at the time, and the seven-page article made a considerable impression on her. In the piece, Fred Sondermann describes a 1969 trip he took to Horn, Germany, a small town where he lived until he was 13. Writes Sondermann, “By sheer coincidence, I re-entered Germany with my wife, Marion, and our two sons and daughter exactly 30 years minus one day after I had left it – and at about the same time (9 p.m.) and at the same border station (Aachen) from which my parents and I had left just a few short days before the outbreak of World War II.”
Sondermann goes on to detail the impressions of that visit, and the memories and thoughts it evoked. He knew the journey would be emotionally difficult, writing “A former German Jew who now returns to Germany after an absence of 30 years carries with him a difficult legacy, which constitutes a heavy burden.”
Chartier-Cohn was fascinated by his writing, his journey, the vastness of his intellect, and the depth of his understanding. “I would periodically reread it, and each time my interest increased,” she said. She knew she wanted to tell the story of Sondermann’s return to Germany and his reactions as a German Jew. And she knew that film would be the best way to tell the story.
So she set about gaining the necessary skills, taking a variety of film production and editing classes. The most difficult part was “trying to determine the best way to tell the story,” Chartier- Cohn said.
She spent four years researching and working closely with Sondermann’s widow and grown children. She made two trips to Germany, one in October 2008 and again in October 2009. While there, she retraced Sondermann’s steps, interviewing people who had known him as a child or remembered his family.
She also shot footage of Sondermann’s boyhood home, the cemetery where many of his family members are buried, and the plaque that marks the place where the synagogue, in which his bar mitzvah was held, had once stood.
“I was walking in his footsteps,” Chartier-Cohn says. “I never met Fred, but I feel like I know him.”
Like Chartier-Cohn, CC Music Professor Ofer Ben-Amots, who composed the music in the film, never met Sondermann, but also felt a connection to him. As it turns out, Ben-Amots was a student in the music academy in Detmold, Germany, less than 10 miles from Sondermann’s hometown.
Ben-Amots describes the music as simultaneously nostalgic and declamatory, in keeping with the narrative of the film. The music is recorded by pianist Susan Grace, violinist Jerilyn Jorgensen, and cellist Katharine Knight, all of CC’s music department. Dan Wiencek ’91, of CC’s information management department, was the recording engineer.
The film is sponsored by the Greenberg Center for Learning and Tolerance, Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado College, and Colorado College Business and Community Alliance.
* see Sondermann’s 1970 Bulletin article here: http://www.coloradocollege.edu/communications/SondermannBulletinSummer1970.PDF