By The Hollywood Times Staff
Photos Rubber Ring Films
Los Angeles, CA 12/2/23 – With so much antisemitism happening, educating people about Jewish identity and history is more vital than ever before. This is why a film like “Fioretta” is so relevant–genealogist Randy Schoenberg (grandson of the famous Jewish-Austrian composer, Arnold Schoenberg) and his 18-year-old son Joey, journeyed through Vienna, Austria, the Czech Republic, Venice, Italy and Prague, to reclaim what their family has been through in the last 500 years.
Seeing the father/son explore several synagogues, cemeteries, archives and documents, talking with people is fascinating; for any Jewish person, Randy and Joey’s quest to comprehend what happened to their family’s ancestors will deeply resonate.
“Although I was not brought up in an observant home, I have always had a pretty strong identification with my Jewish background, Randy told Aish.com. “See for example, the last paragraph of my high school essay from 1983, that I put at https://schoenblog.com/?p=810. Perhaps the knowledge that all four of my grandparents were forced to flee from Europe because they were Jewish was the root of it.”
One of the most riveting scenes in the vividly visual documentary was when the father/son visited Vienna’s Central Cemetery, which sadly was vandalized after the October 7th attack on Israel.
“As our history shows us, there is never a safe place from antisemitism,” acknowledged Randy. “The vandalism and arson perpetrated on the Vienna Central Cemetery was in the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) Gate 4. This is just several yards away from the spot where, in the film, we located one of my family’s oldest gravestones in Vienna, a stone commemorating Dr. Elia Chalfan, one of the first Jews to be permitted to settle in Vienna in the beginning of the 17th century.”
That stone had already been removed from another older Jewish cemetery in Vienna during the Nazi period and buried in the new Jewish cemetery to keep it safe, Randy said.
“My great-grandmother Kamilla Zeisl and her parents Michael and Rosa Feitler are also buried in that cemetery. Vandalism of Jewish cemeteries is unfortunately not a new phenomenon in Austria. As former Austrian Jewish Museum director Johannes Reiss mentioned in our film, it was the vandalism of the Eisenstadt Jewish cemetery several decades ago, that led him to want to identify all the graves there and put QR codes on them so people would know who was buried there. Or as retired sea captain, Aldo Izzo, says of the damage done to the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Lido in Venice, ‘they did not want us as their neighbors, even dead.”
It’s no wonder Randy has expert genealogy sleuthing skills-he is a famous litigator based in Los Angeles, California, who specializes in legal cases related to the recovery of looted or stolen artworks, particularly those by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.
Schoenberg succeeded in recovering renowned artist Gustav Klimt’s famous painting known as “The Woman in Gold,” and other works of art after a nearly eight-year struggle against the Austrian government. Actor Ryan Reynolds starred as Randy and Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, the rightful owner of the painting in the 2015 movie, “Woman in Gold.”
“My genealogical skills helped me with the Maria Altmann case, as I was already familiar with documents from the Nazi era and how to locate them,” Randy explained. “The Altmann case brought me often to Vienna and allowed me to form friendships with many of the people we interviewed in this film. Without their help, I could never have hoped to go back as far as I did.”
Randy is the executive director of Holocaust Museum Los Angeles and is also a curator for the Jewish genealogy website Geni.com, where he focuses on the family trees of Holocaust survivors and their families.
Watching father/son bond during the film was very special to watch. It’s extremely poignant to see how a reluctant Joey slowly realizes the importance of knowing one’s roots.
“I had taken a bar mitzvah trip to the rededication of a small synagogue in southern Bohemia with my older son Nathan,” Randy said. “The ‘Fioretta’ journey with Joey allowed me to do something similar, to introduce him to the land of his ancestors and give him that feeling of connection that I have felt for so long.”
Viewers watching the transformational movie will come away with the empowering thought that Jewish people will persevere always, despite the numerous hardships they have dealt with. This aspect of the film is vital for people to remember, given what is currently happening in the world.
“My hope is that the film inspires people to explore their own family history, as I did, to learn a little something about themselves,” Randy enthused.
“The film has a light touch, but it never shies away from the weight of history, which permeates every frame,” added Israeli American filmmaker Michael Milshory. “A new generation of Europeans will have to decide what to do about their inherited history. Randy has sought to reassemble and reunite family, known and rediscovered, genetic and created.”
Fioretta is having its Los Angeles theatrical run December 1st, at the Laemmle Royal — and will be at film festivals and released theatrically, and on streaming platforms next year.