“Father, don’t cry. Father, try to forget…”
“Forgetting hurts more than remembering, my child”
“Father I will never forget…”
This promise that Beatrice Saias – Magrizou gave to her father Joseph, when he told her in every detail the course of his life, the hell he experienced as a hostage in the camps of the Third Reich and also as a laboratory animal in the hands of the infamous doctor Josef Mengele , became a book. And the book was destined, years later, to make its way to the small screen.
In “Bracelet of Fire” (published by Kastaniotis), Beatriki Saias – Magrizou describes the dramatic journey of a Jewish family in the dark moments of the twentieth century, in a novel where true events skillfully combine with fiction to create a shocking story for those who passed through the flames and managed to get out alive and get back on their feet.
This story was singled out by ERT and is bringing it to the small screen this year, with the new period drama series “The bracelet of fire”, based on the book of the same title by Beatrikis Saias-Magrizou, with the directing stamp of Giorgos Gikapappa and the sensitive eye of Nikos Apiranthiti and Sofia Sotiriou, who wrote the script.
This new series was presented at a special event in Thessaloniki, organized by ERT SA, the Greece – Israel Friendship Association and the Israelite Community of Thessaloniki, in the “Emilios Riadis” multi-purpose hall of the TIF – HELEXPO. There, where, in addition to the presentation, there was also the exclusive first screening of the 1st episode of the new series, which will first be uploaded to the ERTFLIX digital platform and after the cycle of eight episodes will be transferred to the small screen.
The difficult narration of the father and the arduous process of writing
“I wrote the story of a family that has joys, sorrows, that lived like all people”, Beatriki Saias-Magrizou explained shortly after the screening of the first episode, with obvious emotion in her face and voice, turning her gaze towards the audience, among which stood out the figure of her mother, who could not be missing from this emotionally charged evening for the whole family.
“My father told me his story through a lot of pain and crying. He didn’t speak for the first few years. At one point, when I wrote my first book, he called me in Thessaloniki from Larissa, where I live, and said: “now come and let me tell you so you can write them”. And then he told me everything for the first time. I listened to him with a tight stomach, with a tight throat. We cried, we hugged, but he told me everything and I promised him that I would write it down. A few days later my dad died and I wrote this book because I promised him that I would do it”, said the author, thanking ERT for loving the heroes and embracing them and expressing the desire, “through the book, through the series, for people to take a journey to the truths and memories that we must have”.
Beatrice Saia-Magrizou’s father was only 16 years old when he was taken with his family, a family of Sephardic Jews from Thessaloniki, to the concentration camps of the Third Reich. “He was a guinea pig in the hands of Mengele, who subjected him to an appendicitis operation without anesthesia (p.s. the first episode begins with this scene). Side by side, he saw other, more difficult operations being performed, even on children. There they watched each other die… My dad endured and returned two and a half years later to a Thessaloniki deserted by friends and relatives. She endured and raised a family, carrying, however, the burden of memory but also a very fragile health”, recounted to APE-MPE, a little earlier, the author who vividly remembers her father’s anxiety that the atrocity of the Holocaust should not be forgotten.
“I am not afraid to die. I fear that while I live, there are people who question the Holocaust. Imagine I die…”, he told his daughter and she promised him, not to let the Holocaust survivors experience a second death.
The story that we will see unfold through the ERTFLIX platform or then on the small screen through the frequency of ERT, turns the time back to 1917 and the great fire of Thessaloniki, which forces the family of the Jewish businessman Mois Cohen (Nikos Psarras) to seek refuge in a gypsy camp. There, his wife, Benouta (Elisabet Moutafi), gives birth to Joseph (Christos Loulis and Dimitris Arianoutsos at a young age), a child literally born in the fire.
The story of fire, which sometimes creates and sometimes destroys, seems to follow Joseph throughout his life. His family lives through Campbell’s arson, the father’s bankruptcy and the flight of his older sister, Jacqueline (Nefeli Kouri), from home in order to live her forbidden love with the Christian Konstantinos (Spyros Stamoulis).
The Second World War “burns” everything that Joseph had known until then, with a tragic ending in the transfer of the family to the hell of Auschwitz. And yet, through it all, there is one material that still endures. Where no fire can melt it, but instead makes it even stronger.
Speaking to APE-MPE, the author of the book explained how she involved the gypsies with a fictional plot in the story as she understood after a personal experience that “when you know an unknown minority, something unknown to you, you are not afraid of it. You deal with it differently.” She had fallen into her hands an album of graduate students, with the title “Gypsies” which made her approach a family of gypsies in Nea Smyrni and get to know them. They opened their home to her and made her break down any prejudice one might have about that particular group of people. “It was then that I knew what I wanted to write”, she explained, pointing out that through her book she wanted readers to get to know the Jews of Greece, “Greeks to the bone”, as she characteristically pointed out, but also to fulfill the promise to her father and to all the victims of the Holocaust that “their memory will not be forgotten”.
ERT embraced “The Bracelet of Fire”
With personal references about his relationship with Thessaloniki, the president of ERT AE Konstantinos Zoulas opened last night’s special event, explaining how public television embraced the Bracelet of Fire from the first moment, “a fictional story based on real events”.
“It is the first time that in a television series all the sufferings of the Jewish families of Thessaloniki and of the whole of Greece will be captured and will be captured in a cinematic way,” said Mr. Zoulas, pointing out that the new ERT series will brings the history of this city to the screens.
Explaining why the promotion of this series is important, the president of the Greece-Israel Friendship Association Gianna Panagopoulou referred to the duty of memory and strengthening the historical consciousness of the younger generations. “Irrationality cannot be banned, but it can be defeated”, noted Ms. Panagopoulou, underlining -among other things- the importance of education to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. “The knowledge of the Holocaust of our Jewish compatriots as well as of their centuries-long presence in the Greek area must be passed on to the education and culture of today’s Greeks,” he pointed out.
The president of the Central Jewish Council of Greece and president of the Israeli Community of Thessaloniki, David Saltiel, congratulated the author of the book, Beatrikis Saias-Magrizou, as well as ERT for the truly excellent effort of the director and the other contributors to the series, and noted that we owe it to the memory of all the victims of the Holocaust to commemorate them either with events like today’s and in sequence or through education.
On the occasion of the recent events of the desecration of the monument to the old Jewish cemetery on the campus of the AUTh and the mural about the Holocaust on the eastern fence of the city’s railway station, he pointed out that anti-Semitism is not ending. We are there, the government is there, it is reacting, and he expressed the hope that one day everyone will understand that anti-Semitism is not something that is directed against the Jews, it is against the Republic.
Kelly Alkhanati-Papouli, head of fiction and entertainment at ERT, shared with the large audience of the event her excitement about the transfer of the story of Beatrice Saia-Magrizou’s book to the small screen, who recalled that she only needed a day to read the book , when 17 years ago (the book was published in 2006) it fell into her hands. Since then, he said, he believed that “it would speak strongly to the hearts and minds of viewers, regardless of religion or nationality.”
The new ERT series stars an excellent cast of actors, including Elizabeth Moutafi, Nikos Psarras, Christos Loulis, Spyros Stamoulis, Michalis Tabakakis, Nefeli Kouri, Dimitris Arianoutsos, with the first two appearing at last night’s event. The original end credits music is signed by Minos Matsas.
After the end of the projection, Elisavet Moutafi did not hide her excitement for participating in the Bracelet of Fire. “For the first time I am moved by something so much… We are not only carrying the story of the family, we are carrying History”, she said, while on the same wavelength, her co-star Nikos Psarras declared that he was very proud of this series. “I believe her, I love her, I feel very moved,” he emphasized.
The event, which lasted about two hours, in the packed Emilios Riadis hall of the TIF, was attended by – among others – the Minister of the Interior (Macedonia – Thrace) Stavros Kalafatis, MPs, representatives of the consular corps, the Local Government, the general director of ERT3 Filios Stagos etc.