WATCH | This 100-year-old Holocaust survivor shares her story of love over hate

If you walked past Ella Blumenthal on Cape Town’s Sea Point Promenade, you’d be mistaken for thinking she’s another local on a stroll.

At 100 years old, she’s one of the last Holocaust survivors. Her story is one of resilience, acceptance, and determination. Jordy Sank only began to understand the true gravity of the Holocaust after meeting Blumenthal.

At a dinner with family and friends, Sank heard her recount her horrific experiences, while still radiating strength and positivity. As a filmmaker, he knew he had to share Blumenthal’s message of hope.

In 1939, Blumenthal was 18 years old when her life was irrevocably changed.

“When the war broke out, I was forced into the Warsaw ghetto with my family and I lost them one by one under the Nazis,” Blumenthal recalls.

She survived years in the ghetto before becoming a prisoner of three concentration camps.

“The journey was unfortunately a very unhappy one,” Blumenthal says. After the war ended and she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, she met her husband and left Europe to start anew in South Africa.

Despite facing years of oppression and inhumane suffering, Blumenthal bears no resentment.

Sharing her stories with her grandchildren and friends, Blumenthal only speaks of her pain in order to shed light on the dangers of prejudice.

In 2021, Sank released the documentary I Am Here about Blumenthal.

“I directed the film to ensure Ella’s story is never forgotten,” he says. “All the hate that she experienced growing up in her lifetime, she’s almost remedying it by filling the world with abundant love and hope, and trying to connect people and get everyone to understand one another.”

Using animation to depict her past interspersed with footage of Blumenthal today – quick to make a joke, an avid swimmer, and dedicated mother and grandmother – his film conveys her experience of the Holocaust and her will to thrive.

“I did not lose hope,” Blumenthal says. “I lived with it, and I am living a happy life because I managed to put my past in the past.”

I Am Here was named the Best South African Documentary at the 2021 Durban Film Festival and won the Audience Award for the Best Documentary at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

Honouring Blumenthal’s fortitude, Sank’s film is a call against discrimination.

“I don’t know what hatred means,” Blumenthal says. “I love every person whether white, brown or black or any colour. We are all the same.”

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With anti-semitism on the rise in many parts of the world, Blumenthal is determined for history not to repeat itself.

She and Sank have connected across generations to preserve her story, ensuring love will prevail.

“Never forget not to hate,” Blumenthal says. “When we understand each other I am sure that the hate will disappear.”

Footage by Jordy Sank from I Am Here and photos by Micha Serraf were used in the creation of this film.