“Return to Auschwitz” Filmmaker Speaks to Students

Vladimir Munk with filmmaker Julie Canepa. (Photo from “Return to Auschwitz: The Survival of Vladimir Munk”)

At a recent Monday Seminar, Northwood School experienced an enlightening talk by Julie Canepa on Vladimir Munk and his incredible story. The intention of this seminar was to inform and answer any questions that Northwood students and faculty had on Munk’s life story. To provide context for the seminar, students previously spent class time watching Return to Auschwitz: The Survival of Vladimir Munk in their respective history classes. This documentary is about Holocaust survivor Vladimir Munk, who returns to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp 75 years later.

The film follows Munk as he shares his story and experiences in the Holocaust. Throughout the documentary, Munk reflects on the horrors he witnessed and how they have impacted his life since. He also speaks about the luck involved in his road to freedom and how he found love amidst the turmoil. Most importantly, he talks about the life he lived beyond his time spent in the concentration camps. It gives a refreshing look into the adaptation of the human spirit. The documentary is a powerful reminder of the human casualty of the Holocaust and the importance of preserving its memory.

Julie Canepa lives and works in Plattsburgh, about an hour north of Northwood School. Humanities department chair Ms. Heather Odell noted that Canepa’s proximity made it possible for the filmmaker to visit Northwood and “provide us with a first-hand look at what surviving the Holocaust really meant,” Odell said.

“Return to Auschwitz: The Survival of Vladimir Munk” was shown on PBS and is available for rent on Amazon Prime.

Julie Canepa met Vladimir Munk at Meadowbrook Healthcare, a skilled nursing care facility in Plattsburgh where Mr. Munk lives. Ms. Canepa performed a mini concert there, and afterward, she learned that Mr. Munk was a survivor of the Holocaust. Ms. Canepa then revisited Mr. Munk to talk about his story, which soon became a regular occurrence. She began to learn more about Mr. Munk and formed a powerful bond with him. Fast forward, Mr. Munk received an invitation to Auschwitz for the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, along with a guest of choice. Mr. Munk was hesitant to make the long journey but agreed and invited Ms. Canepa to accompany him. She shared this emotional trip with Mr. Munk. She filmed it along the way, incorporating multiple informational points of view through the concentration camps with knowledge known to only Mr. Munk.

Ms. Odell and Academic Dean Ms. Noel Carmichael were the leading force behind making this possible. They believed in the necessity to bring light to this survivor’s story and continue the memory of those who survived the Holocaust and those who fought trying. Ms. Odell said the goal for bringing in Julie Canepa to speak about the documentary “was for students to be able to form a personal connection to the memory of the Holocaust. When historical events occur before students are old enough to derive meaning from their significance, these connections are paramount in keeping history alive.” Mrs. Odell talked about how her classes were affected by this experience and said, “Students have written Mr. Munk letters, inquiring about his favorite football club to what it was like to relive Auschwitz. The Northwood community has kept our conversation alive by engaging in conversations about what life was like during WWII and the Holocaust. Students have also commented on Mr. Munk’s energetic nature and what it takes to turn 98, which he will do at the end of the month.” Not only did Munk’s story alter some of the students’ previous perspectives, but it also affected Ms. Odell herself. “Mr. Munk’s story gave me an opportunity to revisit this impactful time in history. His life journey is astounding, and we have so much to learn from his courage. I’m in awe of his resilience, bravery, and intellect. There are no words to capture what Mr. Munk has endured. Listening to his narrative is a privilege.”

The events and specifics of Munk’s story were striking to many students. “It affected me quite a lot. I saw what he had to go through, and I empathized for him,” Mitchell Baker ’25 said. Baker also thought that Canepa coming to speak added value to the learning experience. “It made it more personal…her actually being there and telling the story made it feel like it was real, rather than watching it on just a TV or reading out of a textbook. It helped me engage more.”

Multiple other students also agreed that the inclusion of Ms. Canepa in the seminar added a realness to them. “It was a very eye-opening experience,” A.J. Etumnu, Jr. ’25 said.


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