LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “The Flat,” a documentary directed by Israeli writer and filmmaker, Arnon Goldfinger, uses a vacant Tel Aviv apartment as a jumping-off point for a journey through history, and a unique look at the way different generations view the Holocaust.
The film, which opens on Friday in New York followed by Los Angeles on October 24 and a subsequent national roll out, grew from a highly personal saga that Goldfinger never set out to document.
The result is a documentary about family secrets and the unlikely friendship between a high-ranking Nazi SS propaganda officer and his stylish wife, and a cultured German Jewish family who fled from Germany to Palestine before World War Two broke out.
“After my grandmother, Gerda, died at 98, I felt the urge to document her flat, because it was like a little Berlin in Tel Aviv, and I knew it would all vanish very quickly,” Goldfinger, best known for his 2000 documentary “The Komediant,” told Reuters in an interview.
“So I just set out to make a little short film as me and my mother and siblings went through all her belongings. It was just going to be a document of what someone leaves behind.”
But as the family slowly sifted through decades of memorabilia, photographs and letters, Goldfinger discovered a Nazi newspaper that proved to be the key that unlocked a dark family secret.
“There was this story in it, ‘A Nazi in Palestine,’ written by a Baron von Mildenstein, who turned out to be (Adolf) Eichmann’s boss and who worked for (Joseph) Goebbels, and who had toured Palestine with my grandparents in the thirties,” he recalled.
“They were good friends, even after the war, and I was a bit shocked,” he said.
Goldfinger said he was even more shocked when his own mother, Hannah, who he said “didn’t really want to be part of this film anyway,” expressed little curiosity about her own parents’ strange and curious past.
“It seems to be a generational thing,” Goldfinger mused.
“While I wanted to find out the truth about our family, her generation - and it’s the same in Germany - had never asked any questions of their parents, about what had really happened. But maybe, psychologically, they didn’t want to find out.”
In his quest for discovery, Goldfinger traveled to Germany where he met Edda von Mildenstein, the baron’s daughter, who, like Hannah, was happy not to confront the past.
The filmmaker discovered that Gerda’s own mother - Goldfinger’s great-grandmother - was transported to a concentration camp, where she was murdered.
“That was the most shocking thing of all,” he said.
“I knew our family was originally from Germany, but I never thought there was any connection to the Holocaust - that my own great-grandmother had perished in it. And no one ever asked about it, or talked about it.”
Although the expulsion and eradication of German Jews provides the film’s underpinnings, Goldfinger said he feels that his documentary’s “universal themes and emotions” touch all of us.
“After all,” he asked, “what do you really know about your family’s past? And what do you want to know?”
Reporting By Iain Blair; editing by Chris Michaud and Carol Bishopric