The documentary Germans & Jews explores the modern day relationship between Jews and non-Jewish members of the German population. The film also addresses a number of complex issues relating to nationalism, identity, and the way that a country’s history can continue to influence its present-day reality.
Director/producer Janina Quint gives viewers a fascinating portrait of life in Germany as the nation strives to move on to a brighter future, while at the same time acknowledging and honouring the victims of the Holocaust. Despite the ravages of World War II and the Nazis’ state-sponsored persecution of the Jewish population, it seems surprising that according to recent figures, more and more people of the Jewish faith are returning to Germany and that Berlin, its capital city, is now home to the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe.
Inspired by a conversation between a couple of friends, Germans & Jews focuses on the struggles faced by a new generation of Jews and German citizens who face the daunting task of confronting their grim history together. The documentary contrasts the differing perspectives expressed by the older generation of Jews who lived through the Holocaust with the thoughts and feelings of their grandchildren.
Early in the film, one man remembers his grandfather stating that there are only two types of people in the world- Jews and Nazis. This is in stark opposition to the mindset of a new generation of German Jews who now live and work in Germany, although it’s interesting to note that as one man in the documentary reveals, because he is a Jew, he does not identify as a German. It’s clear that the majority of these recent immigrants have chosen to live in Germany because of the country’s present day economic and social realities rather than out of some sort of historical connection. This new group of German Jews see their lives within the European nation through a filter that’s been tinged by ever-present memories of the horrors inflicted upon their community in the not-too-distant past. During a particularly powerful scene in the film, one Jewish resident relates his experience of seeing older Germans and finding himself wondering what role that person played during the war. Were they an active supporter of Hitler’s warped ideology, a member of the Nazi party, or did they simply stand by as the mass extinction of Jews and the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust unfolded around them?
One of the greatest strengths of the film is how the filmmakers are able to put a human face on complex socio-political issues. Part of the documentary features a dinner party gathering in which both non-Jewish Germans and Jews talk about their experiences and thoughts regarding past and present life in Germany. Contrasting with this up close and personal approach, the film also features archival material depicting the time in German history when the nation was divided into separate East and West states, as well as the role Jews fleeing Germany played in establishing Israel.
Germans & Jews addresses issues relating to the problem of how to reconcile the horrors of the past and move onward to a better future, while at the same time continuing to acknowledge and honour the victims of the Holocaust. It also ponders on how big of a role World War II monuments, plaques, and relics of the past should continue to play within modern day Germany.
This is an intelligent, thought provoking, and emotional documentary which is well worth a look.
Germans & Jews is available now on DVD.