HRTS Executive Member Spotlight: Andy Friendly on Discovery Channel Documentary ‘Liberation Heroes: The Last Eyewitnesses’

Still of Alan Moskin, One of the Surviving Liberation Heroes

As part of the USC Shoah Foundation’s 25th Anniversary commemoration, its “Stronger Than Hate” initiative and in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Discovery Channel will air the documentary “Liberation Heroes: The Last Eyewitnesses” on Wednesday, May 1. Producer Andy Friendly is a past HRTS Board of Directors President and current Board Member and I spoke with him in advance of the premiere.

Q: What was your inspiration to make this movie?
This was inspired by my work on the Board of the USC Shoah Foundation and by my father’s letter that he wrote to his mother in May of 1945 when he witnessed the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp. The letter inspired me to follow his admonition to continue to tell the story over the generations, long after he was gone. I joined the Board of the USC Shoah Foundation, which was formed by Steven Spielberg after his experiences making Schindler’s List in 1994. I learned that in their collection of over 55,000 testimonies there were hundreds of liberator testimonies. I started to explore some of them and was inspired and moved by them. I had the idea of making a documentary celebrating these heroes, many of whom are no longer with us though there are still a few.

I got together with the USC Shoah Foundation and in particular June Beallor, who is my partner and co-producer on this, and was the original Executive Director of the Foundation. June has worked with the Foundation since its inception, and the Foundation is now celebrating its 25th anniversary and its “Stronger Than Hate” initiative. We developed the project and pitched it to Discovery a couple of years ago. It was a long road to get it going, but in October of 2018 we got the green light from David Zaslav and Discovery. He and his team have been very supportive and he chose to air it on May 1st, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. We brought on a wonderful director in Vanessa Roth, an Academy Award-winning documentary director. Vanessa, June and I and our team had a lot of help from Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation, who is also an executive producer on the project. We have put together a one- hour documentary and are very pleased with the way it turned out.

It celebrates these last eyewitnesses to one of mankind’s darkest periods, and we let them tell their stories. They’re not going to be with us forever. These surviving heroes are in their mid- to late-90s and one of them in the film is 101. They tell their stories in very moving ways. They are true heroes and their message is that we have to stand up to hate. Their admonition is to continue to fight hate, since as we all know there has been a tremendous rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of hate such as Islamophobia and xenophobia all around the world.
Their plea is to stand up and fight it because if you don’t it can get out of control and can result in something as horrible as the Holocaust.

Q: What is the value of a network like the Discovery Channel?
David Zaslav and his team have given us a tremendous platform to tell our story. David felt it was important. Discovery is a vast network, it’s in 240 countries and territories around the world and so we have a tremendous platform to tell this important story to everyone in the United States and around the world. We couldn’t have a better platform and we’re very grateful to Discovery.

Q: What is the power of eyewitness testimony?
The power of eyewitness testimony is just what the words imply, there’s nothing more honest, more accurate or more indisputable than eyewitness testimony. That was what Steven Spielberg realized after he made Schindler’s List. That getting survivors and other witnesses on camera, recording their testimonies would be irrefutable. That Holocaust deniers around the world would not be able refute these testimonies. That is the power of eyewitness testimony. That is what the Foundation does and that is what we are doing. The Holocaust deniers will never win because these testimonies will last forever.

Q: We are not descended from fearful men?
That’s right. That was the great line from Edward R. Murrow and my dad, the line that Murrow said in his closing of their famous McCarthy program on CBS in 1954. You have to stand up to tyrants and you have to stand up to hate.

Q: What is a hero?
A hero is someone who puts aside their own fear to stand up for what’s right, to risk their lives in the process and stand up for a better world. It’s what these men and women in our documentary did when they were just starting their lives. Many of them didn’t make it home. The ones who survived continue to be heroes by bearing witness to what they saw with their own eyes and by telling their stories over and over again. They are continuing to fight hate and they are my heroes.

Q: In the end, good triumphs over evil?
I believe that is true, I believe that history has proven that. It’s a constant fight and we have to remain vigilant at all times and have courage.

Q: Anything you would like to add?
I hope everybody will tune in. If they can’t watch it on Discovery on the 1st of May then they can find it on different platforms and help us to spread the word to stand up to hate.