Murder of a Hatmaker
A film by Catherine Bernstein
We recommend this film for special screenings on International Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan. 27) and HaShoah Day (Apr. 18).
Between her birth, on the 2nd of July 1901, and her deportation to Auschwitz on the 18th of July 1943, Odette Bernstein’s life left few traces except those found in the administrative archives. This young and independent woman, from a well-off family of Neuilly-sur-Seine, was the filmmaker’s great aunt. Before World War II, she created her own hatmaking business, and changed name at the same time, becoming Fanny Berger.
She set up on rue Balzac, near the Champs Elysées. German occupation didn’t stop immediately her booming business, but anti-Jewish laws from Vichy government would quickly get hold of it. The noose tightened around her: contacts with her clients were forbidden, as well as the opening of a bank account. She was under obligation to get her name registered and to hold the yellow star. But Fanny Berger tried to escape to the free zone, got caught and was interned in Drancy camp. In the meantime, French administration managed to make “Aryan” most Jewish firms, and Fanny Berger’s hatmaking business was sold, supervised by a temporary administrator. in 1942, Fanny Berger found herself with no home, no business and no rights.
About the Filmmaker
Catherine Bernstein was born on 1964 in Tours and considered as one of the leading Documentary Directors in France. She was recognized for her talent in her Trilogy of three documentaries that deal with German guilt.: “Oma” , “Les Raisins Verts” “Les Absentes”. Her films reflect life in Europe today and have been screened on Major TV stations in Europe; Arte, France 2 and France 5, and received many prizes at Film Festivals in France, Israel & Russia.
Festivals And Screenings
NY Jewish Film Festival
Best documentary “Jewish Eye” Film Festival Ashkelon Israel”
Prize for best Creation “Trace de Vie” festival, Clermont Ferrand, France
“Les rendez-vous avec l’histoire” Film Festival in Blois France
“Les étonnants voyageurs” Film Festival in Saint-Malo – France
1st Prize “The Star of the Scam” French Documentary Author Society 2007
Musée Judaïsme –Paris
Mémorial de la Shoah – Paris
Alberta University (Canada)
Augusta Jewish federation, (GA)
Bingham Young University (Ut)
Colby University (Ma)
Harvard Jewish Library (Ma)
International documentary Library, Nanterre – France
Jewish Video Library (Seattle Wa)
National Library – Paris, France
Ottawa Jewish PL (Canada)
Ottawa Jewish Public Library
Pennsylvania University (Pa)
Princeton University (Nj)
Rennes University – France
Ryerson University (Canada)
Toulouse University – France
Wisconsin University (Millwaukee)
Yale University (Ct)
Beth David Connregation, Gladwyne PA
With the precision of a forensic scientist, Catherine Bernstein researches the life and death of her great aunt Fanny Berger, a successful fashion designer in Paris, who was ultimately deported to Auschwitz. This highly personal documentary sheds light on Vichy France’s insidious collaboration with the Nazis. — The New York Jewish Film Festival
Catherine Bernstein’s Murder of a Hatmaker turns the life and extermination of the director’s aunt, Odette Bernstein (a.k.a. Fanny Berger), into an incisive chronicle of the Vichy regime. Bernstein traces the swift progression of Jewish genocide in France with the delicacy and precision befitting her subject: a beautiful and successful Parisian hatmaker. Jewish on her father's side and of French aristocracy on her mother's, Odette (nom de chapeau: Fanny Berger) was estranged from both parents due to her choice to live independently and pursue a career in couture. Though the visual record of Odette's life consists of only a few photographs, meticulous Nazi paperwork documents her demise (and that of 87,000 other French Jews), the forced sale of her business, as well as the money that was confiscated from her before she was sent to Auschwitz. Some of these details are related in a chillingly detached account by two French archivists, who, as the official custodians of the Vichy regime's census data and Nazi records, bear the burden of history with a disdain that seems equally directed at the Jews as the Nazi occupiers. It is an attitude that provides the subtext for much of what unfolds in the film, including the bizarrely self-reproaching admission of an elderly aristocratic acquaintance of Odette's, who claims he has no recollection of serving as a witness to the mandatory sale of her business to a gentile “Aryanized” hatmaker, because, as he says, “to send a person to her death, I think I would remember.” — The Village Voice
I saw another film at the New-York Jewish film festival today. it was called “murder of a hatmaker” . it is the story of a French Jewish high fashion hatmaker who ultimately met her death in Auschwitz. it was a beautiful film . it showed life in France for Jewish people before the war. what was wonderful about the film is that one got to really see what kind of life this woman led and get a sense of her beautiful creations before finding out her ultimate fate. I think that its important to celebrate the lives of those who unfortunately lost their lives during the holocaust besides just recounting how they perished. both aspects are equally important to be remembered. after the film the filmmaker who is the niece of the hatmaker spoke. she resembles her deceased aunt very much. my most favorite , yet chilling response the filmmaker gave was that she did not feel that there is much anti-Semitism in France nowadays, when asked about the current state of anti-Semitism in France. I hope her opinion is correct, but i'm not quite sure where the truth lies. — Blog by Frum Single
Piece apres oiece, Catherine Bernstein montre cliniquement le processus d'aryanisation de l'economie et de la societe, et eien ne taisse indeifferent dans ce film. Tout a une presence. Du moindre tout de papier aux personnes qul untervienment. Remarquable. — TELERAMA
About the Film
87 Min, French with English Subtitles
Director: Catherine Bernstein
Producer: Catherine Bernstein
Research: Catherine Bernstein
Collaborator: Nico Di Biase
Music: Christophe Chevalier
Narrator: Fejria Deliba
Documentary – Holocaust, World War II, France, Fashion History, Oral History, Jewish & Women Studies
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