Category Archive: American Gathering News

How the ‘Indian Oskar Schindler’ took in 1,000 Polish children during WWII

NEW YORK — The elegant ballroom of the Indian consulate general in New York has been the venue for many cultural and other events attended by Indian and American audiences. But on June 29 a special event brought two communities, Indians and Jews, together to witness a hitherto unknown chapter of history, captured in a documentary film called “Little Poland in India.”

The docufilm, which had a special screening in New York with the support of the Indian consulate general and the American Jewish Committee, looks back to the dark chapter of history during World War II when Hitler’s deadly war machinery rolled over Europe, spreading terror and destruction on the continent.

Orphaned Polish children — Jews and Catholics alike — faced an uncertain future, but in the midst of the gloom a ray of hope appeared when a kindhearted Maharaja (member of Indian nobility) in a princely state in Gujarat agreed to accept the Polish children and look after them.

The emotionally charged subject of children finding refuge in an alien culture is deftly handled in “Little Poland in India,” produced by enterprising Delhi-based female Indian filmmaker Anu Radha whose films generally deal with children’s issues.

As the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII unfolded in Europe, General Władysław Sikorski — the first prime minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander in Chief of the Polish armed forces — wrote to British prime minister Winston Churchill to plead for the safety and protection of the starving young children, the “treasure of Poland,” as he called them.

Though India was in the midst of an independence struggle against colonial British rule and faced a famine, the “Jam Sahib” (a nickname stemming from the words for “king” and “owner”), as Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja of Nawanagar was affectionately called, stepped in to help in the dire situation.

The Polish consulate in Bombay at the time had launched a drive to raise awareness in India about Jewish refugees, and had been arranging for their travel to India during the Holocaust.

A group of about 1,000 Polish children departed for India in 1942 from Siberia, where, lost and orphaned in the midst of death and destruction caused by WWII, they had been shifted after the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland. The children were welcomed by their benefactor, the Jam Sahib, but only after a tortuous journey.

The ships carrying Polish refugees from the former Soviet Union, including a large number of children aged two through 17, were denied entry when they called on ports while sailing through Iran to Bombay (Mumbai), then under British colonial rule. When the Maharaja, who was a member of the Imperial War Council, was made aware of the plight of the children in the gulags, he became concerned and established a camp in Balachadi, about 25 km (15 miles) from the capital city Jamnagar, for the Polish arrivals.

The camp existed until early 1946; subsequently, the children were transferred to the Valivade camp in Kolhapur.

“Little Poland in India” is the product of a joint Indo-Polish collaboration, and is the first documentary film based on the lives of WWII survivors who were given protection in India by the Jam Sahib. The film was jointly produced by Doordashan (India’s state TV channel), the Government of Gujarat and the National Audio-Visual Institute and Polish TV.

While the Red Cross, the Polish Army in exile and the colonial administration jointly helped set up the camps, it was the Maharaja who played the crucial role in the children’s welfare.

Professor Piotr Klodkowski, a former Polish ambassador to India, has gone on record as saying, “A fairly large school was established for the children at Balachadi, and the Maharaja is well remembered.”

‘You may not have your parents, but I am your father now’
Indeed, according to Polish sources, the Maharaja told the children, “You may not have your parents, but I am your father now.” The children, in turn, called him “our Bapu” (“father”).

Poland has shown its gratitude to the Maharaja in various forms. Warsaw has a “Good Maharaja Square” named after the Maharaja. Poland also named a school after the Maharaja, who was passionate about children’s education. The Maharajah was awarded the President’s Medal, Poland’s highest honor; filmmaker Radha was conferred Poland’s Bene Merito award.

At the consulate’s film screening, some of the Jewish guests were privately discussing that Israel could posthumously honor the Maharaja as it had done with Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who had helped save the lives of some 1,200 Jews in Nazi Germany.

The Maharaja’s help is all the more noteworthy considering that while the world was at war, India was fighting its own battle — a non-violent battle for self-determination and independence from British colonialism, even as a severe famine and drought ravaged India at the time.

“Little Poland in India” appeals to the heart and head. In an interview in New York, Radha explained how she became interested in the subject for her film.

“I was having a conversation a few years back with then-Indian ambassador to Poland, Monika Kapil Mohta, who asked me, ‘Why don’t you do this interesting story about an Indian Maharaja protecting Polish children?’” said Radha.

Seized by the idea, Radha began researching the subject.

“Having worked with cable television earlier, I had learned the ropes of the trade. The idea of making a film about Polish refugee children in India had set me thinking… cinema is my obsession, my passion. Being a screen writer is an added advantage because it enhances the creative power for the film,” she said.

But she acknowledged the help she received from the Polish embassy in New Delhi, which helped her get a hold of a book called “Poles in India: 1942-1948.” The book turned out to be a treasure trove of information about how the Poles exiled in Siberia made their way to safety and protection in India.
Producer and Director Anu Radha (Courtesy Anu Radha)

And she is “ever grateful” for the active support she received from “Jam Sahib’s” family.

“The doors to the palace were opened by Jam Sahib’s son… this was a rare opportunity which has never been granted to an outsider before,” she noted.

Radha reveals that she is making a commercial film about the second camp in Valivade in the state of Maharashtra.

“There were Polish refugee children in Valivade from 1943 to 1948. They moved away thereafter with the help of the International Red Cross and the Polish Red Cross which could successfully locate their relatives across the world, including in Poland. Depending on where they had relatives, some of the children left for the UK, others returned to Poland,” she explained.

Those who returned to Poland even formed an association called “Poles in India.” Both the Jews and Catholics, housed in the camps, became very attached to India, and often reminisce in their sunset years in other countries about that crucial phase of their lives there.

‘Terezin,’ a Play by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Jewish Great-Grandson, Now Showing Off-Broadway

The Tolkien family has writing in its blood. Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R. Tolkien, the famous author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, edited his father’s works. Christopher Tolkien’s son, Simon, went on to write historical fiction. Simon Tolkien’s son, Nicholas, also fulfilled his great-grandfather’s legacy—he wrote a play. In a sense, he has honored the legacy of the other side of his family, too. Nicholas Tolkien’s mother is Jewish, and his play, Terezin—named after the former military compound in the Czechoslovakia where the Theresienstadt concentration camp was located—is now playing off-Broadway through July 2 at the Peter Sharp Theater in New York.

Tolkien’s play follows two young Jewish girls, Alexi and Violet, who are trying to survive the horrors of the camp. When Violet goes missing, Alexi does everything she can to find her—including making a deal with a Nazi commander. She’s a beautiful violinist, and gives the Nazi violin lessons in exchange for his help in finding Violet.

The musical inclinations of Alexi touch on the historical character of Theresienstadt; some prisoners’ works have been commemorated through revivals and publications, such as performances of Verdi’s “Requiem,” and the children’s opera “Brundibár.” In fact, the books I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp and The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, drew Tolkien to the story of Terezin, and to the children who found an escape from the suffering around them through art.

The 27-year-old grew up in London, where he spent a lot of time at his Jewish-American mother and grandparents’ store, Steinberg & Tolkien. His grandfather Mark is the one who first taught him about Judaism. “My grandfather prepared me for my bar mitzvah,” he told Aish. “He was the one who introduced me to my faith, to the humor and the stories… He was always reading the Torah to me,” Tolkien said, adding that his grandfather was “the biggest Jewish influence I’ve had.” Now living in California, he expands on those lessons by studying Jewish texts, keeping Kosher, and observing Shabbat.

Regarding other patriarchs of his family, Tolkien said that his famous Catholic great-grandfather was an ally to Jews during the war. “He was one of the voices of reason in the British community and was one of Britain’s most pro-Jewish writers,” he said.

While Tolkien is pursuing the same endeavors of his great-grandfather, he’s also shaping his own legacy. He wanted to create something that would make audiences remember the atrocities committed in the past and to remind them what humans are capable of. “The reason I wrote this story,” the play’s website reads, “is to give a voice to the millions who were denied a chance to talk about their experiences during the Shoah, especially in Terezin—a place where the voice of an artist was their last hope of survival.”

Tolkien sees a greater purpose for his work than creating something for people to enjoy. “It’s the responsibility of the living to tell the stories of the dead,” he said.

Estonian politician vows to legalize Holocaust denial

An Estonian nationalist politician vowed in his election campaign to decriminalize denial of the Holocaust and outlaw instead revisionism on the Soviet domination of this country.

Georg Kirsberg, who is running for a lawmaker’s seat for the Conservative People’s Party in Estonia’s elections in October, was quoted as saying this on Wednesday by the Estonian National Broadcasting Company.

“We will decriminalize Holocaust denial and enter a correct teaching of the history of the Third Reich,” Kirsberg said.

His far-right party supports revoking he citizenship and deporting what it defines as “Russians hostile to Estonia” – a reference to Ethnic Russians or mother-tongue speakers of that language living in Estonia, including most of the country’s Jews. Last month, the party, which was founded in 2012 and currently has seven out of 101 seats in the Estonian parliament, submitted a bill proposing such deportations. It is likely to be defeated.

The party also supports a ban on the construction of new mosques and Orthodox churches.

Doing away with Estonia’s laws against denying the Holocaust is however not an official party position, Martin Helme, the party’s leader, told the broadcasting authority.

“He does not claim that it is the party’s position, it is only the thought of one person “, Helme said. Asked whether the party plans to sanction Kirsberg over his comment, Helme said he “‘sees no reason to do this.”

Expressions of anti-Russian sentiment have increased dramatically in prevalence the Baltic countries – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — and elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe, where Russia’s expansionist policies under President Vladimir Putin is reawakening bitterness over Moscow’s domination of that part of the world before the fall of communism. This development coincided with a wave of nationalism.

Estonia has a Jewish population of 2,500, according to the European Jewish Congress.

SWEDEN LAUNCHES PROGRAM TO FIGHT HOLOCAUST DENIAL AND ANTISEMITISM

ith surveys showing “lots of Swedish Jews are afraid of showing their Jewishness,” Stockholm has stepped up efforts to teach about the Holocaust as a means of fighting against antisemitism, the director of a government-run program targeting the issue said.

“The Swedish government is investing a lot of money to combat the phenomenon of antisemitism and Islamophobia,” Ingrid Lomfors, director of the Living History Forum in Sweden added, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this past week.

The Forum is a public authority established by Sweden some 15 years ago with the aim of “promoting democracy, tolerance and human rights using the Holocaust as a starting point.”

In November the government announced an additional 156 million Krona (NIS 65 million) stipend to develop a new national program for Holocaust remembrance, with the aim of combating antisemitism and racism.

“Our task is to teach Holocaust education but also to learn from history – to learn about the Holocaust and to learn from the Holocaust – what lessons can be drawn in terms of how we look at democracy, the risk of populism and racism, how do we find early warnings,” Lomfors said.

Lomfors, an historian who has devoted 30 years to studying the Holocaust, was in Israel this month seeking information from such institutions as Yad Vashem to help to build the Swedish program.

“I am very happy it [the government] gave us this opportunity but at the same time you can also say that in a way it is sad that it is needed – it says something about the world in which we live in,” Lomfors said.

“Combating antisemitism is something that you have been doing here for quite some time now and learning from the Holocaust,” she said of Israel’s experience in these fields.

“I can see lots of possibilities for collaborations to adapt programs in Israel to Swedish society,” she said. “I also think it is important for Israeli institutions to learn from us because cooperation is the only way to combat this phenomenon.”

According to Lomfors, the impetus for setting up the Forum over a decade ago was in part a nationwide survey which revealed that Swedes had very limited knowledge of the Holocaust, and that a large number of youths showed signs of Holocaust denial.

“This was really shocking to all of us,” she said, though adding that “at that time, around 20 years ago, we didn’t speak about the Holocaust.”

Another factor behind Sweden’s endeavor was renewed interest and dialogue about the Holocaust due to headlines surrounding Nazi looted art.

Lomfors described the situation in Sweden today as “very complex.”

“On the one hand you can see a trend that tolerance is increasing – young people today are becoming more and more tolerant and the country, demographically speaking is becoming more pluralistic,” she said.

“At the same time, you have an increase in racist ideas – hate speech and hate crime – as well as increasing populism.”

“I think there is a rise in antisemitism, and a rise in hate crimes which is true for many minority groups,” Lomfors said.

But she said international surveys suggested antisemitism in Sweden was not as bad as in other European countries.

“Lots of Swedish Jews are afraid of showing their Jewishness,” she said.

According to Lomfors, Holocaust education in Swedish schools is “not enough.”

She thought teachers needed more of “an opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust.”

The Forum she runs seeks to help educators by running educational and cultural programs, creating digital materials, holding regional conferences, and developing exhibitions about the Holocaust, she said.

“We are a fusion between a museum and an education forum,” she said. “Teachers are our major target group in the hope that they will use our tools to reach the students but we also reach out to student groups around the country.”

Lomfors said further that the Forum trains thousands of teachers and reaches several hundred thousand students every year through workshops and traveling exhibitions – all with a focus on both the past and present day.

The Holocaust provided a “tool for discussion” for programs focused on modern day antisemitism and racism in Sweden.

Lomfors said it was too early to gage the impact that growing numbers of refugees settling in Sweden may have on a rise in antisemitic attitudes.

“It will definitely reshape Swedish society and my institution has to take this into account when we outline programs. We have to learn more about the attitudes of newcomers,” she said.

“Antisemitism is global and if you really want to combat it you have to work in a global way – racism doesn’t have any national borders,” Lomfors said.

Museum to be built at Nazi death camp in Poland

WARSAW, Poland — Construction work will begin in the next few months on a new museum at the former Nazi German death camp in Sobibor, eastern Poland, one of the project’s managers told AFP Saturday.

“We hope the main works will be completed before the end of the year,” said Agnieszka Kowalczyk-Nowak of the project, which is being funded by Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Netherlands.

The Sobibor death camp during World War II was the site of crimes of Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk who was convicted in 2011 in Germany as an accessory to the murder of almost 30,000 Jews while acting as a guard at the camp.

Demanjuk died the following year, without a criminal record under German law as his appeals process was never finished.

After an uprising at the Sobibor camp in October 1943, the Nazis razed it and built a farm there in an attempt to conceal any trace of their crimes, which included the deaths of around 250,000 Jews over the previous two years.

During the prisoners’ revolt around 300 inmates managed to flee but most were later rounded up in the nearby forests and executed by Hitler’s feared SS secret police.

The new museum is expected to be opened to the public in 2019, according to Kowalczyk-Nowak.

Preparatory work on the site began in March, especially around the area of the mass graves where archaeological excavations had already been carried out.

A first, smaller museum at the former Nazi German death camp was shut down in 2011 due to underfunding.

The Nazis set up a string of death camps in occupied Poland where they brought Jews deported from throughout Europe.

The most notorious of these was the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which has become emblematic of the Nazi Holocaust. It was there that 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed from 1940 to the start of 1945.

The German officer who saved 13 Jewish ‘spies’ from the Nazis

Seeing the Nazi treatment of the Jews played a key part in Hans von Dohnanyi’s growing opposition to Hitler.

hans-von-dohnanyiIn the middle of the World War II, German jurist and military intelligence officer Hans von Dohnanyi conceived of a daring idea to help some of his Jewish friends escape the Nazis.

Abwehr Chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris encouraged the members of his German military intelligence unit to help save as many Jews as possible, and along with General Hans Oster, von Dohnanyi came up with Operation U-7, a clandestine plan to smuggle 13 Jews out of the Nazi Reich.

Seeing the Nazi treatment of the Jews played a key part in Dohnanyi’s growing opposition to Hitler, and he was more than willing to lead the humanitarian action.

In the fall of 1941, they devised a plan to disguise 13 Jewish refugees as Abwehr agents who were being disguised as Jewish refugees in order to smuggle them into the US in order to spy for the German government.

It took over a year to plan and to execute, including obtaining the permission of SS commander Heinrich Himmler, and on September 29, 1942, the Jewish “spies,” with special identity cards and passes traveled from the Berlin Zoo Train Station, arriving in Switzerland shortly after paying them an amount totaling about $100,000 drawn from secret military intelligence funds.

Von Dohnanyi, who had seen the work of the Nazis ever since their rise to power in the early 1930s, reached the conclusion by himself to help Jews and to try to cause the downfall of the Nazis, but he was also blessed to have an outspoken brother-in-law who was on the same the ideological path to martyrdom as he was.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who was an outspoken dissident of the Nazi regime, left Germany in 1938 to save himself from having to fight in Hitler’s army. He said that he must live through the war, otherwise he will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if he doesn’t share the trials with his people.

“Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization,” Bonhoeffer wrote.

During the war, the pastor spoke out against the persecution of the Jews and his Bethel Confession adamantly refuted the Nazis’ Deutsche Christen (German Christian Protestant group) doctrine, saying Israel’s spot in history can not be usurped and that no nation is obligated to avenge the Jews’ role in the killing of Jesus.

Dohnanyi wasn’t only interested in the present, however, and during his time in the Bavarian Justice Ministry he also tried to ensure that the Nazis would be brought to justice after the war would end.

“With cool-headed efficiency and rising outrage Dohnanyi began to keep a chronological record, along with supporting evidence and an index, of the regime’s illegal acts,” authors Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern wrote in “No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State.“ “These documents were meant to facilitate the prosecution of Nazi criminals after the end of the regime.”

On April 5, 1943, the Gestapo arrested von Dohnanyi, but he was soon after released, however, as the Nazis had a lack of evidence against him in the role he played in Operation U-7.

The experience didn’t deter him, and von Dohnanyi continued in his attempt to overthrow the Nazi regime. His efforts would culminate in the failure of the July 20, 1944 bomb plot – also known as Operation Valkyrie – an attempted coup d’etat led by Claus von Stauffenberg to assassinate Adolf Hitler and make peace with the West.

The Gestapo found von Dohnanyi’s records on the Nazis’ misdeeds, and a month before the Allied victory, in April 1945, he was hanged with piano wire.

What made Dohnanyi’s efforts even more remarkable was that he had a Jewish grandfather. While this fact was not able to discredit him from his positions, it did not help to relieve the suspicion of the Gestapo.

“In accordance with his racial composition – which indeed you cannot tell by his external looks – he has no understanding for the racial legislation of the Third Reich, to which he is internally opposed,” said Friedrich Arnold, a Jewish lawyer saved by Dohnanyi said of his beliefs. “Thus he expressed the view that the racist position of National Socialism is impossible because it contradicts the Christian view of the Protestant Church.”

In a ceremony in Berlin on October 26, 2003, Yad Vashem posthumously recognized von Dohnanyi as a Righteous Among the Nations for saving the lives of 13 Jews.

Prior to his death, Dohnanyi said that he did what he did because he was “on the path that a decent person inevitably takes.”

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Czech President accused of withholding state medal from Holocaust survivor

George Brady survived Nazi persecution, including the death camp at Auschwitz in Poland, where his sister and parents perished.

zemanCzech President Milos Zeman has decided against awarding a state medal to a Holocaust survivor after the man’s nephew, a Czech government minister, met exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama against the president’s wishes, the minister said on Friday.

The Czech Republic has been engulfed in political furor over the Dalai Lama’s meetings this week with Culture Minister Daniel Herman against the wishes of China’s government – which sees the Dalai Lama as a separatist – and Zeman, who has strongly pushed for a closer economic relationship with China.

The drive to focus on Chinese investment has met opposition from many corners of the EU member country whose post-communist policy set by the late leader Vaclav Havel strongly promoted human rights. Havel was a friend of the Tibetan Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Herman confirmed in a text message to Reuters that the president’s office had requested he cancel his meeting with the Dalai Lama or his uncle would not be granted an award.

Herman’s uncle George Brady, 88, was supposed to receive the honour for his lifelong campaign for Holocaust remembrance at an annual celebration at Prague Castle, the seat of the president, next Friday on Czech state day.

Brady survived Nazi persecution, including the death camp at Auschwitz in Poland, where his sister and parents perished.

“My uncle informed me he had been contacted by the president’s office with information that his award was being prepared. Now there is news that this has been postponed for this year,” Herman told Reuters.

Asked if he was given an ultimatum not to meet the Dalai Lama in connection with the award, he said: “Yes.” Herman later told Czech public television that it was the president, who tried to persuade him not to meet the Dalai Lama.

“The president directly told me that if I meet the Dalai Lama, my uncle will be taken out of the list (for awards), and that is what happened,” Herman said, adding the conversation took place in front of witnesses at a banquet held by Slovak Embassy in Prague.

A spokesman for Zeman declined to comment directly on Herman’s statement. He said the president had completed the list of nominees “some time ago,” and had not subsequently dropped anyone.

The office never releases the names of the recipients of the state medals before the traditional ceremony.

George Brady moved to Canada after the war. In 2000, a suitcase with his sister Hana’s name surfaced in a Tokyo Holocaust Museum, whose director discovered her relation to George. Hana’s suitcase later inspired a book, theatre play and a film.

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Guess who’s coming to dinner, in Germany

Most of the guests did not know each other; some of the non-Jewish Germans had never met German Jews before

Made by two longtime friends from very different backgrounds, documentary ‘Germans & Jews’ explores — over dinner — how the Holocaust still shapes German life

dinner-resized

In 2009, Tal Recanati visited Germany for the first time. She’s been many times since.

The daughter of an Israeli mother and American Jewish father who spent much of her childhood in Israel, she had always considered the country to be scorched earth — a no-go zone for Jews after World War II. Besides, any Jew who did end up Germany lived sitting “on packed suitcases,” ready to flee.

Recanati was, therefore, surprised to discover that some 200,000 Jews live in Germany today, and that it is estimated that 15,000 or more of them are Israelis.

Recanati returned home to New York and told her close friend of three decades, Janina Quint, about her discovery. Quint, too was shocked.

Born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, Quint had learned all about the Holocaust while growing up. But she had never met a Jew and never imagined there were any living among Germans in the post-war period.

This exchange was the genesis of “Germans & Jews,” a self-funded documentary film Recanati and Quint made together over the course of four years. It raised incisive questions and received positive reviews from The New York Times and others as it premiered this past summer in New York and went on to be screened in Los Angeles and other American cities. The film will be screened in December at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival.

Quint had experience making short documentaries in the 1990s, but Recanati was completely new to filmmaking. Serving as executive producer for the project, she was determined to tell this story and learned as she went along.

The women, both in their early 50s, wanted to understand how it could be that so many Jews choose to live in Germany today. The filmmakers’ initial interest was spurred by the numbers, but they knew there was a larger narrative to uncover and convey.

“I knew we would not just be telling the story of Germans and Jews. It was the bigger story of a culture or memory, reconciliation, and of how a country delves into its past, accepts it, and uses this to improve its society. Germany has such a strong civil society, and the Holocaust is always brought to mind when the country weighs possibilities and makes choices about what it will do,” Recanati told The Times of Israel.

“I don’t think people really know how much the Holocaust is so much a part of German politics, that it plays an implicit role in Germany’s wanting to always do the moral thing,” Quint added.

Although by necessity it could not be devoid of history, “Germans & Jews” is very much focused on the present and future. The film, shot mainly in Berlin, has barely any archival footage from the Nazi period.

“We wanted to bring the discussion forward to the second and third generations post-war, and not be stuck in the past. Holocaust images are always a conversation stopper, so we didn’t want to use them,” explained Quint, who directed the film.

The film is anchored by a dinner party in Berlin organized by the filmmakers and attended by a group of non-Jewish and Jewish locals in their 30s through 50s. Most of the guests did not know each other previously, and some of the non-Jewish Germans had never even met German Jews before. (This is not all too surprising, since Jews make up only .2 % of the country’s total population of 80.6 million.)

“It was one of the most memorable evenings. There was an incredibly lively discussion,” Recanati recalled.

The film comes back several times to the dinner party and the conversation around the long table. The talk centers on what is was like for those present to grow up in Germany in the shadow of the Holocaust, with the Germans and Jews sharing their divergent experiences with one another.

The non-Jews speak about the guilt and burden of being the descendents of perpetrators, their resultant eschewing of patriotism, and their guilt-driven imperative to build a strong civil society. Many of that generation, including the filmmaker Quint, don’t even know the German national anthem, or ever raised or waved the German flag.

The Jews born in Germany tell of never feeling truly German, and of a sense of mystery about the past and uncertainty about the future. They were never comfortable enough to wear their Judaism on their sleeves. Now parents of teenagers, they are astounded that their own children feel totally German and proudly don uniforms emblazoned with “Deutschland” to sporting events, including the Maccabiah Games.

By contrast, those Jews who immigrated to Germany from the Former Soviet Union with the fall of the Eastern Bloc in the early 1990s (these immigrants accounted for much of the huge boost to Germany’s Jewish population, which had grown to only 27,000 in the first five decades following WWII), did not carry the same historical and emotional baggage. For these Jews who had lived under Communism, Germany presented an opportunity to live openly as Jews for the first time.

The Israelis at the dinner party speak of how safe they feel as Jews in contemporary Germany — ironically safer than in the Jewish state. There are many reasons for Israelis, many of them young artists, musicians, writers and entrepreneurs, to flock to Germany. High on the list is the significantly lower cost of living highlighted by the “Milky Protest” several years ago which called on Israelis to “make aliya to Berlin.”

Between the dinner party segments, the film provides an engaging chronological history of the relationship between Germans and Jews in Germany from immediately after the war through to the present day. From the commentary of various historians, social psychologists, museum professionals, educators, and memorial foundation leaders, viewers first learn about the major milestones in the German people’s journey toward taking responsibility for the evil that was unleashed on the world by their country.

Close-up of Gleis 17 Memorial at Grunewald Station, Berlin. These are the tracks on which the trains deporting Berlin’s Jews ran. (First Run Features)

Close-up of Gleis 17 Memorial at Grunewald Station, Berlin. These are the tracks on which the trains deporting Berlin’s Jews ran. (First Run Features)

In the immediate post-war years, Germans, traumatized by heavy losses, were focused more on self-pity than assuming responsibility. Then in 1952 West Germany signed a reparations deal with Israel. Later the 1961 the trial of senior Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem proved a turning point. By the end of the 1960s, the counterculture student movement led to the second generation accusing their parents and grandparents of having been Nazis and fascists, pressing them to end the silence on what had happened during the war.

Jewish journalists and leaders of the Jewish community speak of the ambivalence they felt as they grew up in West Germany, and of their parents’ decision to stay despite not really being accepted by Germans. Now in their 40s and 50s, they grew up “sitting on packed suitcases” as they lived among perpetrators and survivors. Yet, the never felt threatened.

“We were looked at like a dying species that needs to be protected,” says one commentator.

The broadcast in West Germany in 1979 of the American TV “Holocaust” miniseries was a turning point. Twenty million West Germans watched, and many participated in call-in discussion programs about what they had seen. (Quint watched the series, but remembered her mother refusing to join her, citing her abhorrence for the idea of “Hollywood-izing” the Holocaust.)

By the 1980s, West Germany was fully engaged in a struggle with what it meant to be a modern, pluralistic democracy that confronts its past. By the latter part of that decade, public debates about redefining German identity in relation to the Nazi past were commonplace. These were followed by the erection throughout the country of monuments reminding Germans of the crimes of National Socialism.

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 forced West Germany and East Germany to integrate their opposing approaches to the past. The challenge was great given that the former was critical of the Nazis, while the latter had never felt responsible for the Nazi past and was instead critical of the Communists.

The question has arisen today as to whether Germans now over-identify with the Holocaust, causing them to see Jews only as spectral victims, instead of fellow Germans living among them. It’s been suggested that there has been an over-saturation of Holocaust education, and that it might be time to stop the ever-present discussion.

Then again, it may not at all be time to stop.

“Germans & Jews” was completed before the current influx of more than a million Middle Eastern refugees into Germany. One cannot wonder what a future sequel to this film might be like, taking into account that a significant percentage of Germany’s foreign-born population now comes from anti-Israel countries and anti-Semitic cultures.

Quint echoes the sentiments of many in the German Jewish community who worry that the power of the memory of the Holocaust might be dangerously leading Germany toward political naïveté.

“There needs to be a balance between good will and practicality,” she said.

It seems there would be good reason to reconvene the Berlin dinner party, as there would be much more to discuss in light of recent events.

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