In 1937, 9-year-old Britta Lion and her Jewish family escaped Nazi Germany and made a new home in Klamath Falls. The Lion family’s escape is the subject of the documentary film “Shattered: Journey into a Silent Past,” by German filmmaker Walter Wehmeyer. On Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m., the Klamath Community Foundation joins with the Klamath Falls Downtown Association and the Ross Ragland Theater to salute 91-year-old Britta Lion Franz as a Hometown Hero.
Aryanization policies aimed at eliminating Jews from the economy forced Britta’s father to sell his elegant clothing store in Germany. He never received payment. Fearing worse was to come, he helped his family flee for the United States.
Against a backdrop of war, Britta’s family supported not only their relatives trying to flee Germany, but their newfound home of Klamath Falls. Using all their savings, they managed to purchase LaPointe’s, a women’s clothing store located on the site of the current Mermaid Café. Not long after, LaPointe’s placed in a national window contest and was named one of 10 outstanding bridal shops in the nation by Brides-To-Be magazine.
Britta applied her business savvy to the arts, holding art exhibits at LaPointe’s. She brought the Vienna Boys Choir to Klamath Falls, where they sang to a standing room only crowd in the Oregon Tech gymnasium. And she produced a Ross Ragland Theater benefit featuring Johnny Cash. Britta started the Ross Ragland Theater’s Legacy Wall and sponsored the Donor Wall in the theater’s lobby.
Urging other business leaders to embrace the arts, Britta told the Statesman Journal, “To succeed, business must attract people and keep them stimulated … Arts make the difference. As a businesswoman, I see the participation and the entertainment that the arts provide as a wonderful way to contribute to and improve the quality of life. This will help attract new business ….”
“Britta is right when she says ‘the arts are essential to merchandise our [downtown],’” said Klamath Falls Downtown Association Executive Director, Darin Rutledge. “That’s why we started the Klamath Piano Project and Third Thursdays. A vibrant arts scene attracts people downtown, which helps our restaurants, shops, and businesses. So, Britta’s a hero in our book.”
Open to the public, the Sept. 24 hometown hero celebration at the Ross Ragland will include excerpts of Wehmeyer’s documentary, “Shattered: Journey Into a Silent Past,” telling the story of Britta’s family’s escape from Nazi Germany and how she found her place in Klamath Falls. Guest speakers, a Q&A with Britta herself, as well as a dessert reception and LaPointe’s goody bags, will round out the evening. The event is a fundraiser for the Ross Ragland Theater’s upcoming “Light the Tower” campaign. “We are honored to host Britta and her friends!” said Ross Ragland Theater Executive Director Theresa Silver. “What an extraordinary journey she has had.”
Klamath Community Foundation Executive Director, Heidi Neel Biggs adds, “That Britta’s family escaped Nazi Germany is miraculous. That she helped grow LaPointe’s from a single store in Klamath to a statewide operation with 150 employees is impressive. That she continues to give back to her hometown is something worth celebrating.”
Tickets for “Shattered: Journey into a Silent Past,” are $10 for adults, and $5 for students. For additional details and ticket information, visit www.rrtheater.org or call 884-LIVE.