Ten Minutes with Elliott Saiontz
A storyteller and at the heart of the HBO film "The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm"
Elliott Saiontz is not only a local sixth grader, but he is also the central storyteller of The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm, an HBO short film that was created to gently introduce the Holocaust to young audiences and recently screened at Fox Lane by The Bedford Playhouse. Elliott’s great-grandfather Jack Feldman was a teenager in Poland when the Germans invaded. Because he was Jewish, Jack was sent to concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and miraculously survived and immigrated to Rochester, New York.
What are some things that you like to do?
I like playing soccer and golf, and skiing in Vermont. I also love to read.
What kinds of books do you like?
Fantasy and nonfiction. I liked The Boy on the Wooden Box. It is a memoir by a man who was saved as a child by Oskar Schindler.
When did you first learn about your Great Poppy’s experiences?
I kind of figured it out. When I was about six, I started learning basic facts: there was a war and he was a prisoner. My knowledge kept expanding as I got older.
Was Jack open about what he went through, or was it difficult for him to talk about?
He never said anything to his son—my grandpa, but after my mom started asking questions, he started opening up about his story. I feel like he wanted to keep his kids safe, but your grandkids, you can tell anything, and I am his great-grandkid.
Was the plan always to make the film for younger audiences?
Yeah, because it was originally based on a children’s novel called The Number on Grandpa’s Arm. It’s about a girl who sees her grandpa’s number for the first time, because he had always hidden it. So, originally, we were just going to record us reading the book, and it would be kind of like an audiobook, but then the people at HBO heard about Great Poppy’s story, and they heard how much I had learned, and they wanted to do our story.
Did Jack hide the number on his arm?
I think he just did not let his kids notice it. Some survivors would only wear long sleeves. I know because Great Poppy had a poker club of Holocaust survivors. They played cards together when they were at the displaced persons camp in Germany, and they continued their game when they came to Rochester. They always wore long sleeves.
Has the movie had an impact on your daily life?
A lot of my friends have seen it. Most of them didn’t know what World War II was, really, until they watched it. They knew that there was a war and it was the Germans versus the Allies, but they didn’t know that deep into it. They didn’t know about Jewish prisoners or the Holocaust. But I mean, it is world history, so they should know.
Do you think that this movie has had its desired effect of raising awareness about the Holocaust?
As HBO documentaries president Sheila Nevins says, this is one of the first movies about the Holocaust that is aimed toward children, so kids are finally being educated about it. Even the people who knew a lot now know a little more. Getting more people to know what really happened, that’s the whole point.