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HBO Doc 'The Number on Great-Grandpa's Arm' at NYC's Museum of Jewish Heritage

As world history gallops ahead in this era of upheaval, teaching children about the Holocaust might seem too great a task for parents and educators. But it is necessary to bring this piece of history to young people, with its messages about tolerance, human endurance, and freedom that remain vital to contemporary times. HBO and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York have sought to bridge the generational gap with the new documentary short, The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm.

The film screened on HBO on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will also play continuously at the Museum of Jewish Heritage from January 28 to April 29. The museum recommends bringing children age eight and older to see this special exhibition.

The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm shows us 10-year-old Elliott speaking with his great-grandfather Jack, who grew up in Poland and survived the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The number tattooed on Jack’s arm evidences how Jewish people were branded in the camps and how Jack survived. Along with documentary footage of Elliott and Jack, viewers will see rotoscope animation by artist Jeff Scher. Scher has painted watercolor animations, with evident brush strokes and beautifully vivid colors, depicting Jack’s pleasant childhood in Poland, the beginning of World War II, and other events from his story. 

number great grandpas arm

As part of this exhibition, The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm will appear alongside relevant art and other videos. Twenty-four of Jeff Scher’s watercolor paintings from the film will be featured in the gallery, as well as 400 still images from the film.

HBO has also produced two other videos that will play in the gallery: one about additional interactions between Holocaust survivors and children, and the other about Scher’s artistic process. His technique of rotoscoping involves painting directly on moving images, creating a new hybrid animation that moves like film but resembles a flipbook of paintings.

The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm was executive produced by Sheila Nevins. Amy Schatz directed and produced. The film draws from a book called The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm by David A. Adler. A renowned short-film animator, Jeff Scher has shown work in the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the New York Film Festival.

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The Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is located at 36 Battery Place. To buy tickets and learn more, call 646-437-4202 or visit mjhnyc.org.

About the Author

Merrill Lee Girardeau grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. The recipient of a BA in English and an MFA in Writing, Merrill Lee teaches English to college students and lives in Brooklyn.

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