During his senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, Samuel Goldberg, an Upper West Side native, day school graduate and English/filmmaking major in college, was weighing a career in philanthropy or entertainment.
Then he saw “The Last Survivor.”
The documentary-in-progress, which told the stories of the survivors of four genocides, the Holocaust among them, was being made by 2006 Penn graduate Michael Pertnoy through Righteous Pictures, a production company he helped found. He sent Goldberg an early, 20-minute excerpt of what would become a full-length documentary.
Goldberg was sold. He called Pertnoy and offered to work with his old college friend.
Now 24, Goldberg, who had directed a few student films in college, is a co-producer of “The Last Survivor,” which won several awards on the film festival circuit last year and became available in time for World Refugee Day — which is marked on Monday this week — on snagfilms.com, a website that offers thousands of documentaries for free.
Goldberg, who is Orthodox and lives in Midtown, calls his work for Righteous Pictures a “perfect marriage” of his two career interests.
Through the independent production company (righteouspictures.com), which is now working on a documentary about “technology, interdependence and the Internet,” Goldberg is raising awareness about contemporary genocide and steps people can take to combat it.
“The Last Survivor” follows the lives of individuals who have lived through the Holocaust and three more-recent genocides — in the African countries of Rwanda, Darfur and Congo. All the survivors featured in the film work within their respective ethnic communities and with outsiders as examples of how to suffer grievous losses without being bitter.
Goldberg calls their spirit of reconciliation and hopefulness the documentary’s theme. “If they can be hopeful,” despite losing members of their families to hatred, and fleeing their homeland as refugees, “why can’t we” — people who have suffered less-dramatic losses — “be hopeful and active?”
The documentary grew out of its initial focus on Hedi Fried, a Transylvanian-born survivor of several work camps and concentration camps who later settled in Sweden, where she has worked as a psychologist and psychotherapist and established therapy groups for fellow survivors and their children.
In “The Last Survivor,” Fried’s description of her family’s fate during World War II, and of her attempts to reach out to others after the Holocaust, flows seamlessly into the narratives of African-born survivors who are Christian and Muslim, black, 60 years younger than she.
The experiences of all the profiled survivors “are very similar” — they understand each other’s pain, Goldberg says. This comes through strongly in the film’s scenes of meetings between Holocaust survivors and young Africans in Israel, where some 30,000 refugees from African genocide now live.
The Africans were added “serendipitously” to the documentary when their stories became known to the producers, Goldberg says.
“The Last Survivor” (thelastsurvivor.com) has no narrator and little historical footage. “We didn’t want to focus too much on the past,” he says “We wanted the voices of the survivors to speak for themselves.”
Goldberg says his day school education at the Ramaz School, where he learned much about the Holocaust and about Jews’ “communal responsibility,” sparked his interest in the topic of genocide. “We were imbedded with the sense ‘Never Again.’ Simply remembering is not enough. The values of Torah create a sense of communal responsibility.”
Ramaz will screen the film later this year, he says.
The documentary’s title — “The Last Survivor” — is a symbol of hope, Goldberg says. Genocide has not ended. “We hope,” he says, “in our time we will see the last survivor of genocide.”