'Germans & Jews': Film Review

Courtesy of First Run Features
A thoughtful and illuminating examination of a provocative subject.
6/10/2016

Janina Quint's documentary examines the complicated relationship between Germans and Jews in modern Germany.

The European city with the fastest-growing Jewish population is Berlin — that's one of the many startling facts imparted in Germans & Jews, Janina Quint's thoughtful documentary about the complicated relationship between the two more than 70 years after World War II and the Holocaust. Currently in limited theatrical release, the film should enjoy a healthy ancillary life, especially in academic settings.

Director Quint, a non-Jewish German, and executive producer Tal Recananti, an American Jew, have structured the pic like a conversation. Quite literally so, as it includes frequent segments shot at a dinner party where contemporary Berliners, both Jewish and not, discuss their thoughts on the subject. There are also frequent interviews with young people who describe growing up with the legacy of the Nazi crimes and such elderly commentators as history professor Fritz Stern, a German Jew who escaped the Holocaust and who feels that it's now time for the country to pay less attention to its horrific past.

Germans & Jews touches on such important events as the 1952 reparations agreement negotiated by Jewish David Ben-Gurion and Konrad Adenauer stipulating that Germany would pay Israel for material losses suffered by Jews during the Holocaust; the Eichmann and Frankfurt Auschwitz trials of the 1960s that intensified German public interest; the seminal impact of the 1970s American television miniseries Holocaust, a massive ratings hit in the country that once again brought the subject to the German forefront; and the 1985 speech by German president Richard von Weizsacker in which he declared that May 8, 1945, was actually "a day of liberation" for Germany. 

Some of the commentators offer particularly personal observations, such as when one observes that calling his/her parents Nazis or fascists was a "useful weapon for intergenerational fighting," while another marvels at the recent installation of a massive Hanukkah menorah in front of the Brandenberg Gate.

As if suffering from collective mass guilt, Germany has erected multitudes of monuments and memorials calling attention to its past atrocities, including the Topography of Terror, an indoor and outdoor history museum located on the former sites of the Gestapo and SS headquarters.

And yet the tide may be turning once again. Recent polls indicate that a majority of the German people think it's time to stop discussing the Holocaust, a notion with which at least some of the more than 200,000 Jews now living in the country may disagree.

Distributor: First Run Features
Director: Janina Quint
Producers: Maria Giacchino, Janina Quint, Tal Recanati
Executive producer: Tal Recanati
Directors of photography: Adolfo Doring, Amanda Zackem
Editor: Michael Culyba
Composer: Jonathan Zalben

Not rated, 76 minutes

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