A riveting documentary that starts in a ninety-eight year old grandmother’s apartment and ends up in international intrigue.
There will be few times in the life of the documentary aficionado that a story as strange as Andrew Jarecki’s Oscar nominated “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003) comes along. However, that time has come. This story is every bit as strange and considerably more haunting. It is a spy story told through a series of flashbacks so brilliant a seasoned author could not have better worked them.
They are nothing more, or less, than the absolute truth slowly brought to life by a man and his mother. Arnon Goldfinger and his mother xx were as frightened of what they would find as they were determined to find it. In the end, it was worth every bit of the effort, although they were not completely ready for the truth. Neither will you be, when you watch this remarkable film.
The film begins when director Arnon Goldfinger’s grandmother passes away at age 98. Arnon is appointed by default to clean out the Tel Aviv flat she and her husband shared since fleeing from their German home in the 1930s. A bookseller is brought in to scour the hundreds of books for valuables. He finds none, but comments about how, repeatedly, he notices that Jewish immigrants’ books are all in German. “They never leave their homeland behind,” he notes.
Thus begins the troubled story of Arnon’s grandmother and grandfather, two Jews who barely escaped death at the hands of the Nazis while maintaining mysteriously close ties to a couple by the name of Von Middlestein. Mr. Von Middlestein appeared to be unbelievably highly placed in the Nazi hierarchy, especially in that part of the hierarchy having to do with the destruction of the Jews. Why would Arnon’s grandparents foster a strong friendship with the couple before, and after, the war?
The film begins with the discovery of luxurious, formal dress accessories. Grandmother was a lady who was used to consorting with persons of significance. In a short time comes the discovery of the mysterious coin bearing the Magen David on one side and the Nazi Swastika on the other. Who would make such a coin? What kind of person would receive, and keep forever, such a coin?
When Arnon asks his mother, who is helping him sift through the mountain of pictures, clippings and keepsakes in his grandmother’s apartment, what she remembers of her mother’s past, she says very little. Those were difficult years and many of the sons and daughters born to Jewish families immediately after WWII were discouraged from asking. Such questions were painful. Even worse, they are questions to which the Jewish survivors of the war had no answers.
Arnon’s grandfather was a decorated war veteran who had risen to the prestigious position of judge, prior to the Nazi pogrom. He was stripped of his judgeship on the eve of WWII, recognized the warning signs and fled the country. How does a person explain being threatened with death and rejected by the country that has been his home, and his family’s home, for centuries?
How does a German Cross war medal become a mark of disgrace? The couple lived twenty years as adults in Germany and far more in Palestine, yet all of their books are in German. Disgraced and ejected, they never gave up their cherished homeland. They were always looking for the explanation. Hoping to find that one “Good German” who could explain it to them.
These are questions that nobody has ever been able to answer. Although this film does not answer them, it encourages us to talk about such subjects even though the discussion is as painful as it is helpful. Arnon’s mother was told, directly and indirectly, that she was to ask no questions about her grandmother, who disappeared during the Nazi holocaust.
Her grandmother was simply a non-person, without even a grave. The fact that one’s family would do such a thing gives one pause enough. There is no choice but to find out the reason. What ensues develops into a story of the deepest betrayal, unexpected corporate interests, a friendship that crosses enemy lines and deeply repressed family emotions.
Riveting real-life interviews with the few remaining people in the world who have firsthand knowledge of the inner working of the Nazi machine, German policy and post-war holocaust politics. Co-hosted by Office of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel in New York. Additional support from the Israel Film Center.
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Directed and Written by: Arnon Goldfinger
Release Date: NA—Tribeca Film Festival
MPAA: Not Rated
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Country: Israel / Germany
Language: Hebrew / German / English