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Jewish Journal

Lilly and Felice’s Tale

by Naomi Pfefferman

August 10, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Maria Schrader and Juliane Kuhler.

Maria Schrader and Juliane Kuhler.

All afternoon, a despairing Max Fuberback paced his Berlin hotel room, drinking coffee and cognac. For three months the German TV writer-director had been holed up in the hotel, tackling the script of his debut feature film, "Aimée & Jaguar." Based on a 1994 book, the movie was to tell the true story of doomed lesbian love between Lilly Wust, a Nazi hausfrau, and Felice Schragenheim, a glamorous Jew-in-hiding in 1943 Berlin.

But suddenly, Fuberback, now 49, doubted that the story was true. How could the elegant, educated Felice, a member of the Jewish underground, possibly fall for the simple, bigoted Lilly? "I felt panicked," says Furberback, who began to read and reread Felice's love letters to Lilly. In the writing, he says, he discerned "the heart of Felice.""If the letters were true, the love story was true," adds Furberback, who went on to complete the final script 26 days later.

Ironically, when the best-selling book "Aimée & Jaguar" hit the stands, the director refused to read it. The married-with-children director felt threatened because he already had his own lesbian-themed script, prompted by a memory that had stayed with him since he had visited Paris alone at 15. At that impressionable age, he had been startled by an vision in a window across the way from his pension: Two bold young women, fully clothed, gazing together into a mirror for a very long time.

Around 1996, the director realized there was another reason he was avoiding "Aimée & Jaguar." "I was a coward," admits Furberback, who knew a lesbian story set during the Holocaust was bound to raise eyebrows. Ultimately, however, the saga seduced him. Furberback was captivated by a tale that broke every Holocaust film cliché and captured the chaos of 1943 Berlin, a place where "women put makeup on, looked attractive and climbed over corpses on the way to their rendezvous," he says.

Apparently, the award-winning "Aimée & Jaguar" pleased Wust, now 86, who hid two other Jewish women after Felice was taken off to Theresienstadt. "I gave my consent for the book and the film because I wanted to create a memorial to Felice," Wust has said.

"Aimée & Jaguar" opens today at Laemmle theaters in L.A. For informaiton, call (310) 478-1041.

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