About the projectIn 1998 I started writing notes and a 'treatment' for the production of a documentary film about the Liverpool Jewish Community. My first theme was 'The Vanishing Community' due to its dwindling numbers over the years. The file gathered dust and later I saw a wonderful aerial photograph taken in the 1930s of the Victorian Workhouse which occupied a huge site at the top of Mount Pleasant and Brownlow Hill in Liverpool's city centre. It occured to me that the entire Liverpool Jewish Community lived in the shadow of this oppressive set of red brick buildings and chimneys. I wondered what effect this must have had on those living in the tiny terraced houses in the same neighbourhood and how this too could have been an ideal theme for my film. Again the file lay on my desk.
While on summer holiday in 2002, my wife and I stayed at the home in France of old friends from Liverpool, Leon and Beverley Bennett. In a conversation after dinner, we got onto the subject of moving hoarded junk and memorabilia from one home to another and I mentioned how I had to throw tons of stuff away when moving from our large house in the suburbs into our small flat in the city centre. Leon then produced from one of his store rooms a box of his own treasured memorabilia and souvenirs brought over from Liverpool. A copy of his first letter dictated when he was an articled solicitor, letters from his father, old school reports and other amazing family and communal memorabilia. Also in the box was a souvenir brochure (below) in pristine condition from a three day exhibition held at Liverpool’s St Georges Hall in 1938 which was called the Liverpool Palestine Bazaar. Leon explained how his father Sol Bennett was one of the organisers of the exhibition, the purpose of which was to raise the community’s awareness of Jews in Palestine. Imagine holding an exhibition today with a title like that. We’d have a minor riot on our hands.
The amazing thing was how this brochure was in itself a time capsule of what communal life must have been like in pre-war Liverpool. It indicated the size and strength of the community with numerous large committees including what must have been the local pioneering committee of what was to become the Jewish National Fund. The brochure contained several articles, reports about the stalls and exhibition stands, letters from distinguished patrons and even more amazing were the dozens of advertisements at the front and back of the book. Many companies long gone, but several still in business today. Modern gas cookers for £10, gleaming new cars for £100, newly built suburban semi detached houses for under a thousand pounds, and so on. There was also a photograph of a modern building about to be built in Palestine in typical white Bauhaus architecture.
As I turned the pages, I told Leon that this would make a marvellous presentation to the Liverpool Jewish Historic Society and I asked if I could borrow it and take it back to Liverpool with me. Leon was so flattered that he made me a gift of the brochure and wished me good luck.
When I got it home I realised that, better than simply sticking the brochure on an overhead projector and letting the pages speak for themselves, here was a perfect theme for a documentary video programme. I had always wanted to produce a documentary of some sort on the history of the Liverpool Jewish Community but never found an interesting enough theme. This brochure would make a perfect theme as it offered several fascinating topics from typography to demography, architecture to domestic appliances plus the comment within its pages on the emerging development of a new state and the prospect of the Second World War just around the corner. Ironically within months of this very exhibition being patronised in relative comfort and security by this community, our fellow Jews in Germany would be witnessing and enduring the horrors of Kristallnacht.
And so I embarked on the arduous task of researching, filming and editing this amazing but important project. I realised that the best people to whom to make my first approaches would be those members of the community who could give me first hand accounts of the bazaar at the St Georges Hall for example, or people who served on those committees. The further they could recall the development of the community, the better. Immediately several senior citizens agreed to be interviewed on camera and filming commenced.
One or two strokes of luck helped me along. The archive collections of several members of the community like those of David Huddaly, Joe Wolfman, Mervyn Goodman were in the process of being donated to the Central Records Office at the Liverpool Picton Library (below). David Stoker the senior curator there had the foresight to realise the value of this wealth of material and recruited two full time young women to start cataloguing everything from letterheads to brochures, photographs to journals and numerous items of memorabilia and artefacts. So important was the task that the department won a grant for the project. Here was more material for my project than I could assimilate. Another stroke of luck was that my brother in law, Arnold Lewis (below, Michael standing, Arnold seated) who is another communal history enthusiast, the official Liverpool Jewish Communal Archivist and chairman of the Liverpool Jewish Historic Society, volunteered to assist the Library in their work. I convinced Arnold that in addition he should get involved with my documentary. He needed little encouragement and his help in the project was invaluable.
It has been a labour of love with so many members of the community agreeing to be interviewed or pass on information and anecdotes. Another friend Hilary Glassman who had produced a thesis on the community for a degree course let us use some of her material in my early scripts. Although it has taken almost five years for the film to be completed, in real time Arnold and I have spent the equivallent of four months working on it in between our other family, communal and business projects and work.
Telling the story of the Liverpool Jewish Community is an important project not only for its members today but for future generations to use as a reference and to learn about their families and communal heritage. It is even more important because during the production of the documentary, several people who we interviewed have passed away making their testimonies and reminiscences all that more valuable and unique. It was a privilege meeting and talking to them all.
To all the people who have helped in the production of this project, we wish to convey our most sincere thanks for their time, wisdom and enthusiasm. We only hope that some day in the not too distant future, using whatever capture and presentation technology is at their disposal, our future generations will pick up the story where we leave off and follow the progress of our wonderful community and this fantastic city.
Michael Swerdlow, Producer
THE MAKING OF THE STORY OF HAROLD HOUSE
Having made Chicken Soup and Scouse, I was left with lots of unused footage which came in useful. In addition I have been the keeper of the Harold House Archive for many years. Knowing Harold House was due to close down around 2013, it was important to find a permanent home for the numerous boxes of archive. Thankfully it has been adopted by the Central Records Office at the Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool who absorbed it into the existing Liverpool Jewish Community Archive. With having access to this I was able to use valuable material, letters, documents, photographs etc to help in my research writing the script and to illustrate the film.
I started making the film around 2012 but have only been able to spend short periods of time on its production due to my various other voluntary projects and work in the community.
Sadly several people who I interviewed in the making of the Story of Harold House have passed away and I dedicate the film to them.
The theme music used in the film was written and performed by Scandinavian jazz musician Viktor Nordberg who I met while he was a student at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Viktor graduated from LIPA but instead of returning home, he decided to make his new home and start a family in Liverpool. One of my other pursuits is the running of a not for profit organisation called LIVERPOOLJAZZ which helps raise the profile of live jazz performance on Merseyside and was able to support Viktor in the production of an album from which the theme music was taken. See www.liverpooljazz.org