Monday, June 10, 2013

History, Memory & Forgetting

The Flat Poster.jpg

We have been having lots of grey, rainy, cold days (save or a bout of warm sunshine yesterday) and today after cleaning the house I watched a documentary on Netflix, The Flat. The film follows Arnon Goldfinger as his family cleans out his grandmother's (Gerda Tuchler) flat in Tel Aviv. It is always sad seeing someone's life defined by their possessions tossed out as rubbish. I remember myself seeing it happen again and again during the early days of the epidemic as cherished items that were invested with meaning by the deceased were discarded by friends and relatives who didn't understand their meaning. These cocoon's of memory had no meaning for those who were left. It was heart wrenching to watch and yet life moves on for the living. It in itself is a process of forgetting that Goldfinger's film wants to understand. 

In the process of sifting through his grandmother's possessions his family discovers a friendship that existed between his grandparents and a German couple that began before the war and that continued after World War II. What is hard for Arnon to understand is that Leopold von Mildenstein, who was their German friend was a high ranking official in the Nazi party's ministry of propaganda. 

The film follows Arnon as he uncovers his grandparents life's, both in Israel and in Germany and their connections to the von Mildensteins. He travels to Germany to meet von Mildentstein's daughter who welcomes him warmly. In the process he discovers that history and memory are not always connected. He wants to discover what happened and how his grandparents remained friends with the von Mildenstein's, a friendship that his grandparents never discussed with their other friends or family. As other have discovered shaking a family tree causes it to dislodge branches that sometimes leave the young confused. Looking backwards things seem to clear, but as each of us knows the lived experience of daily life is never that crisp. 

The film is a fascinating study of not only family politics but how we relate to our own families and our family histories.Some chose to forget, some to never know or to ask, while others need to know. While interviewing his grandmother's best friend who he visits in a nursing home, she asks, "Why do only third generation Germans ask questions? The second generation didn't ask what happened. You don't understand, and I'm glad you don't understand."

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