A new local documentary focusing on the attempted neo-Nazi march in Skokie in 1977 is set to debut on Chicago Public Television outlet WTTW. The one-hour film – the first feature from the museum’s new film division, Skokie Productions – airs on Thursday, January 24 at 8:00 pm, with a rebroadcast at scheduled for 2:00 pm on Sunday, January 27.
Skokie Productions is dedicated to the creation of films which support the Museum's mission of fighting hatred, standing up to indifference, and promoting human rights. Its initial offering examines the personalities and issues connected to the historic events of 35 years ago that ultimately served as the catalyst for the foundation of the museum, making extensive use of archival footage and contemporary interviews.
Portraying the ensuing debate over First Amendment rights that inspired Skokie’s Holocaust survivors to become activists, the film was written and co-produced by Todd Whitman. NPR commentator Aaron Freeman, a stand-up comedian and long-time Chicago resident, narrates.
“Many aren’t aware that in 1977, quiet and peaceful Skokie, a haven for Holocaust survivors, was shaken to its core when a small group of neo-Nazis tried to march there. This attracted national and international attention, leading to landmark legal cases,” Whitman said. “It never ceases to amaze me when looking at the shocking scenes of overt racism demonstrated by the Chicago Nazi group, nearly ending in violent and tragic results.”
The Chicago suburb, home to an estimated 7,500 survivors at that time, was reputed to have the highest per capita concentration of Jewish holocaust survivors anywhere outside Israel.
The American Nazi Party’s application for a parade permit here set the stage for a clear-cut conflict between the organization’s First Amendment rights and Skokie resident’s right to live free of intimidation. Garnering international news coverage, the debate landed in court, where Jewish ACLU lawyer David Goldberger successfully defended the Nazis’ right to assemble in the village. The parade never took place.
Skokie’s holocaust survivors and their legions of supporters banded together under the leadership of community leader Sol Goldstein to launch a counter-demonstration. Though it ultimately proved unnecessary, the call to action from the town’s residents brought its many survivors together and spurred them to create the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, which will likely be the last institution of its kind built with the active participation of Holocaust survivors.
The American Nazi Party was, however, destined to finally take a stand in Skokie. On April 19, 2009, this Examiner, one of 12,000 attendees departing the museum’s opening day ceremonies to board shuttle buses to parking lots in surrounding forest preserves, noted 12 uniformed, placard -bearing American Nazi party members standing silently among the trees in the freezing rain.