On August 9 of last year, film historian Ronny Loewy died. He was a remarkable person and a friend of this museum, who supported and inspired our work from the beginning: it was Ronny who selected many of the film excerpts that appear in our permanent exhibition or appeared in the special exhibition “Home and Exile”. He also published, among other things, Tereska Torrès’s film diary Unerschrocken: Auf dem Weg nach Palästina (Unafraid: On the Way to Palestine) about the illegal emigration of Displaced Persons to Palestine in 1947 and 48. Ronny was a colleague and friend, with whom we not only worked but also shared many experiences and much laughter, who constantly opened our eyes to the new and unusual, the forgotten and overlooked, little details from films, and above all to the people behind these moving pictures.
We therefore wish to dedicate space on this blog today to remembering him and his life, one year after his death:
Cilly Kugelmann, Program Director:
“Ronny was an enthusiastic follower of soccer, politics, and film. He rescued Yiddish cinema from obscurity and revived it worldwide, through film programs, lectures, and two documentaries. He introduced Israeli film to Frankfurt with a number of retrospectives. The probably most visible and important achievement of the Fritz Bauer Institute is Ronny’s ‘Cinematography of the Holocaust,’ the most extensive databank on this subject in the world, in which every last shred of film is documented and described, even the censorship records of lost films.
With his work, he carried forward his father’s project to create a memorial to German Judaism by researching and archiving this specific aspect of film history. Like his father’s research on exile, Ronny’s work on the beginnings of Israeli cinema (to which many ‘yekkes’ made essential contributions) constitutes a sweeping appreciation of the creativity of secular German Judaism. While studying the cinematic history of Jewish Palestine, Ronny examined and documented the influence that this group had on Israeli society as it was first forming itself in the Yishuv. His own family had a peripheral role in this process: an uncle, a graphic artist from the Rhineland, provided the final artwork for the Israeli flag and state standard, which Ronny was also proud of in a self-deprecating sort of way. We displayed this material in the exhibition ‘Home and Exile’.“
Mirjam Wenzel, Media Department:
“Ronny Loewy was one of the first film experts and enthusiasts that I contacted when I was obtaining my doctoral degree with research for the first volume (Kleine Schriften zum Film, or Short Pieces on Film) of the new edition of Siegfried Kracauer’s work. He aided me by, among other things, identifying two films that had been shot by the Keren Kayemeth Le-Israel in the Yishuv. They could then be furnished with a country code for British-mandated Palestine, according to the standardized film specifications of our edition. When faced with the question of whether we would abandon our own standardization guidelines and take up the abbreviated form “Palestine” or use a politically correct code, which was authorized, as it were, by Ronny, we ultimately decided for the latter. We gave the film specifications with the erratic sign “P9” and an explanatory footnote – without knowing that we were publishing a random country code that had only been used until then in the offline version of the databank, ‘Cinematography of the Holocaust’. Later Ronny often commented sardonically on the orthographical progress of this sign: it was finding its way into other publications.”
Signe Rossbach, Events Curator:
“Through his passion and enthusiasm, Ronny Loewy could actually sometimes lift off and fly – and with that mischievous spark in his eye. We were together in Paris to interview Tereska Torrès, the writer and wife of Meyer Levin, for the book Unerschrocken. On the way there we happened to walk along the street where the last scene of Breathless was filmed. Re-enacting the way Belmondo was shot in the back while running, Ronny took off down the middle of the street, doubled over, stumbled, at the same time pointing right and left to the roofs of the houses where the cameras had been positioned, allowing Godard to capture the scene from many different angles. I’ve never had a more vivid lesson on one of the great moments in film history.
Quite some time later, I was searching the internet for documents about my American grandfather, who had been the ‘Voice of the New York Times’ on WQXR radio in New York City in the 1950s and 60s. The very first search result brought me to the databank of the ‘Cinematographie des Holocaust’ and a short propaganda film about the nascent Jewish State in Palestine, Gateway to Freedom, 1946, Director: Paul Victor Falkenberg, Narrator: Albert Grobe. One more click, and my grandfather’s full, melodious newsreel voice – they don’t make them like that anymore! – filled my office in Berlin. It felt like a personal present from Ronny, that he, without even knowing it, gave me back my grandfather and a small piece of my childhood in that moment.”
Dagmar Ganssloser, Media Department:
“Starting in the mid-1990s, first at the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt and later when I started working for this museum, I was in professional contact with Ronny Loewy. The most impressive thing was the generosity with which Ronny shared his knowledge: you only had to ask. And then you would receive a prompt, friendly, helpful answer. Just like that.
Our paths also sometimes crossed at the Berlinale: suddenly Ronny would emerge from the crowd, and if we were lucky, there would be time for a coffee together. Then – poof! – he would disappear again, off to new things.
For one year now, he has truly gone off; no one knows where. But one thing is certain, that he is very deeply missed. And that I always remember him gladly.”
Postscript: Only a few weeks later, on September 20, 2012, the unafraid Tereska Torrès Levin died in Paris at the age of 92 (see the article in The New York Times).