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Documentary ‘Last Stop Kew Gardens’ to air April 22

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When Cornell professor Robert H. Lieberman returned to his childhood home of Kew Gardens after 50 years, he was returning to a place he had loved and at the same time always wanted to escape.

Lieberman, the son of Viennese refugees who fled the Holocaust, grew up in a world where most of his friends were children of Holocaust survivors or refugees from Central Europe who had many of their relatives perish in concentration camps. His own father had lost his mother, sister and brother−in−law in the war.

“It was a very tense childhood between my father’s sadness, and all around you is an environment where everybody has lost somebody,” said Lieberman, a physics professor at Cornell University. “On the other hand, it was a very vibrant place. It was intellectual. People were readers. People knew what was going on in the world.”

Lieberman tells the story of returning to Queens 50 years after he left for college in his most recent documentary, “Last Stop Kew Gardens,” which will air April 22 at 10 p.m. on WLIW Channel 21. Lieberman produced and directed the film.

The documentary, narrated by Lieberman, traces the stories of first−generation American children raised by German and Austrian refugees and survivors of the Holocaust in Kew Gardens, including talk show host Jerry Springer; television writer, producer and director Josh Brand, co−creator of “Northern Exposure”; NBC reporter Rona Elliot; and comedian Robert Schimmel.

The idea for the film originated after Lieberman wrote “Kew Gardens Remembered,” an article for the Web site kewgardenshistory.com. Lieberman began to receive an avalanche of e−mails from old friends who had seen the article and he decided to bring many of his old pals and neighbors together for a reunion in 2007 at PS 99, the elementary school Lieberman attended.

“I saw this incredible opportunity for a documentary,” Lieberman said. “These people were coming from all over the world for the reunion, and I had to film it.”

Lieberman also saw his aunt — his mother’s sister — his uncle and cousins who live in Flushing for the first time in five decades while making the documentary.

Lieberman, who lived on Metropolitan Avenue as a child, was already an experienced filmmaker when he began to shoot “Last Stop Kew Gardens.” He made a documentary on the famine in Ethiopia and more recently made “Green Lights,” a comedy.

“Out of all the projects I’ve ever done, this one was the hardest,” Lieberman says in the film. “… I wanted to escape this place. I couldn’t get far enough away from the stories and the pain.”

Lieberman has also published numerous novels, including the best−seller “Baby” and his latest book, “The Last Boy.” He now lives on a 120−acre farm in Ithaca, N.Y., with his wife.

For more information, visit kewgardensmovie.com.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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