“What did his grandfather do?”
Does it seem odd that the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe is found in Berlin? When filmmaker Tal Recanati (a Jewish American) traveled to Germany and found a vibrant Jewish community that has grown in the seventy years since the Holocaust, she thought there was a story here that needed to be discovered. Germans & Jews is the personal stories of both Jewish and non-Jewish people living in Germany reflecting on the commonalities and differences they face.
The film includes a brief history of the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust, but for the most part, it is made up of individual interviews of mostly young adults who are two generations separated from those events. A few of the Jews are from families that returned to Germany right after World War II, others have come from Israel or Russia in more recent years. The gentile Germans have had an education that includes much information about the Holocaust as a way of dealing with their national past. With seventy years having passed, can these two groups coexist in their nation? Is seventy years long enough for such deep wounds to heal and trust to be established? Must new generations carry the guilt of their grandparents (regardless of their ancestors’ actual participation or non-participation)? Can there be reconciliation between peoples who have such a violent and oppressive history?
As an American watching the film, I felt a bit like an outsider. To be sure, the Holocaust is a part of our cultural awareness—but often just as a point in history that continues to have influences in world affairs. But for those we meet in the film, the Holocaust is an ongoing part of their culture whether or not they are Jewish. As more Jews move into Germany (although they still make up only 0.2% of the population) the relationship between Jew and non-Jew will continue to be a growing phenomenon. The key question is to what extent can these peoples find reconciliation and begin to live not just side by side, but actually be in community together? That is the question that seems to be central not just to the film, but may also be a question that the whole world needs to consider in the many ways national, religious, and cultural divides occur.
Photos courtesy of First Run Features