How can young Israelis decide to move to Germany or Austria, given the historical issues Jews faced there? Back to the Fatherland gives us a look at a few of those young people—and their grandparents—to try to find some insight into the possibility to finding a future that overcomes history.
The film opens with the words of Yochanan, grandfather of co-director Gil Levanon” “I don’t believe in Germany. They were bad. And they stayed bad and they will always be bad. I’ll also never make friends with a German who’s nice to my granddaughter. I can’t do that.” Yochanan, a Holocaust survivor, reflects how some continue to hold onto the animosity that grew out of their lives. But to Gil, the “third generation”, it seems that perhaps Germans are not as bad as her grandfather believes.
The genesis of this film goes back to when Gil met Kat Rohner, the other director, in college in the U.S. Kat too is “third generation”, but on the other side; her grandfather had been a Nazi officer. They realized that there was a generational disconnect that often made the decision to move more difficult.
The film follows three younger Israelis and their grandparents as they deal with the issue. It isn’t always as negative as Yochanan’s response. One of the grandparents is very supportive because they know the grandson will not be happy in Israel because of the political situation. (The grandson uses the term “apartheid” in reference to the treatment of Palestinians.) For some of the younger generation it represents an attempt to reconnect with their history.
The film doesn’t take a side. It recognizes the pain of the older generation and the animosity that they carry for the way they and their families were treated. Some lost all they knew and loved. They found a security in the state of Israel. But for those of the “third generation” it has created a historical void. They are well aware of the events of the Holocaust, and the personal stories of their grandparents, but they also know that things are different in Germany and Austria. Not perfect, there are nationalist movements arising again, but there has also been much done to create a more diverse atmosphere in those countries.
This film is not so much about creating reconciliation between those who suffered and those who committed the crimes. It is about trying to reconcile the pain of one generation with the new perspectives of another. Such generational gaps are common throughout history, but the divide between the Holocaust survivors and their grandchildren is especially sharp. Making this film gave those involved a chance to work through a bit of the process of coming to terms personally with that division.
Photos courtesy of First Run Features