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Every cloud has a silver lining


Escape from Elmshorn
Jonas Mekas Film-maker
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Nobody knew when the war will end and how long it will last. So, here we are, slaving and we had a friend who was a Lithuanian, but... and he was with us in Elmshorn, with us for some... for about two months, that he was a medical, advanced, like, medical student and Germans needed medical people. So he was taken out of the camp, and he was given a job in the hospital, but he also had quite... He had studied in Sweden and Denmark and he was very connected with people there so he knew, he told us that in Denmark, and he knew exactly where, the specific place, where we can contact some of his friends who had boats and we could escape to Sweden. So, I said, let's take... and this is also very naive, of course, we were naive, we took our chances. So I said, why don't we ask our, the factory to transfer, the fact... the... Germany was already beginning to run out of steel and materials and they were reducing hours in the factory, so I said, why don't you transport us to Kiel, which was another town closer to Denmark and where, you know, they had more materials and they knew that. So, they said, okay, if we want that we had to be there in the... they said, 'We will transport you to a prisoner camp or forced labour camp', they didn't call them forced labour camps, in Kiel. So I said, fine, so they gave us papers to go to Kiel and we crossed the canal there of Kiel and instead of reporting to where we had to, we continued to Denmark. We destroyed our papers and we were sort of caught before you enter Denmark; they stop you. So, we declared ourselves just as refugees from... there were already at that time, thousands and thousands of refugees coming from the eastern parts of Germany, that they... nobody could control. So, we mixed with the other refugees, genuine refugees  and if we could not... by mistake we took a wrong train, instead of going to Denmark and took us back to, towards Hamburg, but the next station we got out and we managed to find a place on a farm where they needed workers to work on a farm and that's where we, the end of the war found us, on a farm working as farmers for a German farmer. We did not, never managed to go to reach Denmark, but we escaped, you know, and the heavy bombardments of Hamburg and Elmshorn.

Jonas Mekas (1922-2019), Lithuanian-born poet, philosopher and film-maker, set up film collectives, the Anthology Film Archive, published filmzines and made hundreds of films, all contributing to his title as 'the godfather of American avant-garde cinema'. He emigrated to America after escaping from a forced labour camp in Germany in 1945.

Listeners: Amy Taubin

Amy Taubin is a contributing editor for "Film Comment" magazine and "Sight and Sound" magazine. Her book, "Taxi Driver", was published in 2000 in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series. Her chapter on "America: The Modern Era" is part of "The Critics Choice" published by Billboard Press, 2001, and her critical essays are included in many anthologies, mostly recently in "Frank Films: The Film and Video Work of Robert Frank" published by Scalo.

She wrote for "The Village Voice" weekly from 1987 into 2001 both as a film and a television critic. She also wrote a column for the "Village Voice" titled "Art and Industry" which covered American independent filmmaking. Her first weekly film criticism job was at the "SoHo Weekly News". Her writing has also appeared in "Art Forum", the "New York Times", the "New York Daily News", the "LA Weekly", "Millennium Film Journal", "US Harpers Bazaar" and many other magazines. She is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online.

She started her professional life as an actress, appearing most notably on Broadway in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", and in avant-garde films, among them Michael Snow's "Wavelength", Andy Warhol's "Couch", and Jonas Mekas' "Diaries, Notebooks and Sketches".

Her own avant-garde film, "In the Bag" (1981) is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and the Friends of Young Cinema Archives in Berlin.

She was the video and film curator of "The Kitchen" from 1983-1987.

She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from N.Y.U. in cinema studies. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in both the undergraduate and the MFA graduate programs, and lectures frequently at museums, media centers, and academic institutions. In 2003, she received the School of Visual Arts' art historian teaching award.

Tags: Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Kiel, World War II

Duration: 3 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008