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Bob Lind, Published May 26 2013

Lind: Fargo woman’s first documentary examines compassion between enemies during war

This Memorial Day, the nation once again honors those who died in military service.

It is something that hits home for Fargo’s Stephanie Manesis and her project.

Some time ago, Stephanie was working on graduate degrees in marketing and international business and in French studies, which led to her developing an intense interest in World War II. She also became interested in something that doesn’t square with the horrors of war: compassion between enemies.

It led to a project Stephanie now has in the works: a documentary dealing with that topic.

Stephanie, born in West Allis, Wis., moved with her family to Fargo in 1974, graduated from Fargo North High School in 1980, earned an undergraduate degree in French from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and then worked on her advanced degrees at New York University.

Since then, she’s been around. She’s studied twice in France, studied Spanish and taught English as a second language in Costa Rica, marketed products for Procter & Gamble in the United States, owned an advertising business and then an equine healing business.

She came back to Fargo four years ago. Today she tutors French and English, writes and is an independent filmmaker.

Neighbor was a Nazi

When Stephanie was a youngster, her family lived at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a Marine base where her father served as a Navy physician.

“The Vietnam War and my father’s work for the Navy made a huge impression on me,” she says, and she became interested in the military.

She became engrossed in World War II while at NYU. She learned firsthand of its tragedies through many close friends who were Jews, some of whom had lost many family members in the Holocaust. But she also heard of compassion between Americans and Germans.

Some years later, she heard a story from a neighbor who was a captain in the Nazi army under Gen. Erwin Rommel. He told her that when tanks from opposing sides came across one another in the African desert, but were not in combat, the crews would stop and share cigarettes and water.

That story, however, was disputed by an American who was in North Africa. He says that never happened, so take your pick on the truth of it.

On the other hand, Stephanie knows a story told her by a veteran from Fargo is true. He was about to be executed by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge when a German officer intervened, saving his and other prisoners’ lives.

“These stories stuck with me,” Stephanie says, “and I decided to write a book. This later segued into a documentary project that would later be followed up by another book.”

Seeking more stories

The documentary, her first film, is her major project at the moment. Its working title is “Compassion and the Battlefield in WWII.” She’s producing and directing it. Her director of photography is Jim LeDoux, Pittsburgh, who has extensive experience directing and filming documentaries and TV programs.

The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County is the fiscal sponsor of the project, which Stephanie hopes will eventually include documentaries about wars since World War II.

She’s already made a short documentary to build awareness of her project and to help raise additional funding. Prairie Public is considering it for broadcast.

Meanwhile, Stephanie continues to seek applicable stories. “Any stories that people know of, regardless of where the veterans live and in which war they fought, are of interest to me,” she says.

Stephanie can be contacted by calling her at (701) 429-8626 or by emailing her at dakotastephanie@gmail.com.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com