A New Birth of Freedom

Maximilian Hodder - Hollywood, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, July 3, 2009
Maximilian Hodder
Photo illustration by Ed Schipul

From the 1950s series, European film writer and director Maximilian Hodder tells how his detention in a Soviet gulag nearly destroyed his faith in humanity. But when he found freedom in the West, Hodder regained his belief in the goodness of people.

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To state clearly and honestly one’s beliefs in a few hundred words is a large order in any man’s language, particularly so if one has been a victim of a number of very personal tragedies.

Ever since my adolescent mind began to comprehend the complexities of our daily life, I looked upon a human being as a personification of that great unknown with a very specific mission on earth to fulfill. I looked for perfection, for love, and understanding. I believe in human being.

Then one day from the world of a carefree, happy life of a young, up-and-coming writer/director in prewar Poland, I was thrown into the Nazis’ and, later, communists’ world of hatred, tyranny, murder, and destruction. Human being ceased to be what I believed it was destined for, and I became the raw material for a soap factory—an implement in a five-year plan, or a guinea pig in a biological laboratory. I lost my country and my family, and my belief in human being was crushed mercilessly. I became bitter and cynical.

Then came the third and, to me perhaps, the most significant period of my life so far, here in America. From the moment the immigration officer at LaGuardia Airport shook my hand and wished me good luck, I again began to see the sunnier side of life. I have made true friends and they have proven themselves when I needed them most. Food and clothing for victims of floods, a group of GIs adopting an orphan and sending him to school, neighbors building a new home for a victim of fire, Community Chest, Cancer Fund, Salvation Army, Alcoholics Anonymous, and a thousand other such acts or associations, all voluntary, collective or individual, left an indelible mark on me. It gave me a new lease on life. I again believe in mankind.

I now remember not only the days when people were chased from houses of worship with guns, but also those poor Russians who traded for food their most treasured possessions, but kept the holy icons. I now think not only of those who killed, but also of the kind Russian peasants who met our convoy to Siberia and, in spite of guys who chased them away, tried to share with us corned beef, a piece of bread, perhaps their last one. I also think of those gun-starved wretches who, after years of unendurable exploitation in forced labor camps, still had enough humanness left in them to sing or even joke occasionally.

I now, again, believe there is more good than evil; more of those who create, or wish to create, than those who destroy; more of those who love than those who hate. I firmly believe in an inalienable right of the individual to live the life of his choice, his right to work or rest, smile or cry, succeed or fail, pray or play.

The great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz said, “The nectar of life is sweet only when shared with others.” I therefore also believe that it is my duty to contribute, in whatever way I can, to the present struggle to bring hope to those still oppressed, so that, as a great American once said, “They also may, under God, have a new birth of freedom.”

Director Maximilian Hodder worked in the movie industries of Eastern Europe. While serving in the Polish Army during World War II, he was captured by the Soviets but managed to escape and went on to join the Royal Air Force. Hodder came to the United States in 1949 to work in Hollywood.