Spielberg commissions Czech Holocaust documentary

The Oscar-winning film Schindler's List, directed by Steven Spielberg, is probably the most powerful account of the Holocaust ever produced. Some criticised the film for being over-emotive, even ham-fisted, but most applauded Mr Spielberg for bringing home the chilling, harrowing reality of the murder of six million people to a world which is slowly beginning to forget. But Mr Spielberg is not satisfied with the success of Schindler's List. The Hollywood director announced at the weekend that he and documentary film maker James Moll had assembled a group of international directors to make documentaries about the Holocaust set in five countries. One of them is the Czech Republic. Rob Cameron has more

Czechoslovakia once boasted one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe. In 1938 there were estimated to be some 365,000 people of various nationalities adhering to the Jewish faith in Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. Today the Czech Republic - which had a pre-war Jewish population of 200,000 - has a community of around 3,000. The rest were either murdered, deported or fled.

Many of those old enough to remember the Nazi occupation may be physically infirm, but their memories of that time are still fresh in their minds. On a visit to the South Moravian town of Mikulov, I met Marie Sarkova, who lived, played and worked with Jews before the war. Now living in an old people´s home on the town square, her memory of the local Jewish community, and its gradual disappearance from her life, remains clear to this day.

"I used to play with Jewish kids. I never called them names or anything like that. There wasn´t any hatred, not from us. It didn´t matter what they were, Czechs, Germans, Jews, it was all the same. The Jews had their holidays and we used to go and watch them. I worked as a Czech-German secretary for a Jewish company - Klein and son. They were Hungarian Jews. They had a big wine business - they imported wine abroad. Then Hitler came and everything started changing. Then things started getting bad for the Jews."

Marie Sarkova remembers, but like many witnesses, she's now in her early 80s and in poor health. It's with this in mind that Spielberg and his Shoah Foundation have commissioned the documentaries, which they say are being made 'in response to many demands from educators all over the world to teach the history of the Holocaust, confront Holocaust deniers and racial hatred.'

The Shoah Foundation maintains an archive of testimonies of Holocaust survivors, and the five one-hour television documentaries will be shown in Poland, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Hungary, on television and in schools. Vojtech Jasny, who fought as a partisan after the Nazis deported his father to Auschwitz, is directing the Czech film.