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‘Back To The Fatherland’ (review)

Produced by Katharina Rohrer, Gil Levanon,
Matthias Kress, Anneliese Rohrer

Screenplay by Susan Korda, Anneliese Rohrer
Directed by Katharina Rohrer, Gil Levanon
Featuring Gil Levanon, Katharina Maschek,
Dan Peled, Gidi Peled, Lea Ron Peled

 

I went into this film after reading only the first part of the synopsis, that it was made by two filmmakers whose grandparents were on opposite sides in World War II: Gil comes from Israel, Kat from Austria. Gil is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Kat is one of a Nazi officer.

Instead of digging into what their grandparents’ histories in detail, the film is focused on the Israeli grandchildren from the “Third Generation” and how they feel about the Fatherland today.

For many of them, revisiting their roots is filling in the blanks.

Many feel more at home in Europe than they do in Israel, much to the horror of their grandparents, many who’ve sworn to never again set foot in Europe.

Among the people whom the film follows is Guy, who grew up in Israel. He doesn’t think he’ll be comfortable in Austria, where it feels – as he puts it, “it’s nothing but Arabs and Neo-Nazis, neither of whom want me there.”

Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Kathi, who is from Austria, was nervous about coming to Israel, which she views as a modern-day battleground. He keeps reassuring her on camera that what she calls “the war” is nothing but a “military operation.” She looks unconvinced.

They decide to visit Austria: If he feels uncomfortable, they’ll get the first plane back, they agree. Kathi looks on askance as Guy states that if Israel is ever bombed out of oblivion, then “the whole world is going down with it. Including Austria.”

Guy adds, “My generation is divided between the grandparents who never talked about it and the grandparents who wouldn’t shut up about it.”

His grandfather shared his stories, including one of being stopped on a streetcar because he was wearing a suit that was black, red and white – Nazi colors forbidden to a Jew. The story takes on new meaning for Guy as his grandfather tells it again while on a streetcar in Austria where it first happened.

Among the grandparents who didn’t share their stories is Lea, who still peacefully paints into her 90s.

Israel is not for her grandson, Dan, however. He moved to Germany, saying there was “too much apartheid” in Israel and that when he was there, he was “one of the perpetrators.”

He now lives in Berlin, where he feels completely at home. He only goes back to Israel to visit his grandmother.

The two, who are both artists, clearly share a strong bond: Lea, who was 14 when the war ended, relates how even the anti-Semitic teacher kept watching her paint in class. Obviously, not all her stories are so positive. But they seem far and few for her family.

As the family gathers over the dinner table, discussion of the past seems awkward. No one talked much about Lea’s experiences during the war, they agree. “If anyone asked, I answered,” she said. And her son adds, “But no one asked.”

She is finally persuaded to visit Dan in Berlin, where she revisits the apartment building where she and her family once lived. It’s a wonderfully healing moment, with Dan noting that he now feels very protective of her, like a big brother, as he imagines what she went through as a teenager.

At one point, several of the Third Generation Israelis gather in Berlin to discuss their complicated feelings about Israel, Germany and Austria.

One says he doesn’t identify as a victim and doesn’t know how to act when a German person apologizes to him for the Holocaust.

Another shares a story where, when a German asked her where she was from and she answered “Israel,” he quickly told her, “There were no Nazis in my family. I checked.”

The question for all of the people of this generation is, where is home? Where should it be? And how much guilt should they carry for the past, for what was done by – or done to – their grandparents?

It’s a thought-provoking film that should appeal to anyone asking themselves the same questions.

 

Back to the Fatherland is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, with a national release to follow.

 

 

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