Why Jewish Israelis Are Moving Back to Germany
About 80 years after the Holocaust began, Berlin is now home to the fastest growing Jewish community in Europe. The new documentary "Germans and Jews" shows how people living in Berlin deal with Germany’s history.
It premieres at the Greenwich International Film Festival on Thursday, and filmmakers will be there to share how their unique friendship inspired the documentary.
Director Janina Quint and Executive Producer Tal Recanati met about 30 years ago.
“I think I was the first German--non-Jewish German--she ever met,” Quint said. “That was something for her, to understand, and she was curious about me.”
Quint is German. Recanati is a Jewish Israeli-American. Recanati says befriending Quint changed the way she thought about Germans.
“The way I really had perceived Germans ‘til then was really through the lens of the Holocaust. My mother was a survivor. She was born in 1940 in Romania, and it was something very close to me and to my generation,” Recanati said.
Because of that history, she said she had preconceived notions about Quint.
“But very quickly we became very close, although I do believe that the theme of this sort of, in a way, common past always remained a part of the friendship.”
Recanati didn’t know she wanted to make a film about that common past until years later, when she took her family to Germany to visit Holocaust memorials.
“I think one of the things that just astounded me was this incredible culture of memory that developed in Germany,” she said. “I was incredibly touched and I thought you know most people don’t know about this, most people don’t know the process that the Germans have gone through.”
Recanati was touched by the public memorials installed throughout German towns. Especially the Stolpersteine--stumbling stones--thousands of brass cobblestones engraved with names of the Nazi victims and the crimes committed against them. The stones are inlaid in the streets in front of the victims' former homes.
Quint says the stones are at residences all over Europe now.
“It’s amazing. I think it’s probably the most powerful memorial because that is also the reminder, almost for everyday political life, look what happens if you become, I don’t know, super racist or you exclude a whole part of your society,” Quint said. “It’s a very powerful reminder.”
Quint and Recanati filmed at these memorials as a way to learn from the past by remaining in the present.
“The idea is to move this conversation forward in today’s life and not go back to show footage of the camps, where the images actually--if you really look at them--it’s a conversation stopper," Quint said.
The film shows how both Germans and Jews are moving forward. Quint said Germany wants to be a leader in human rights, and that’s attracting everybody from Syrian refugees to Israeli Jews.
“We were really surprised, like that there even exists something like this in Germany. I mean even for me growing up in Germany in the ‘70s, I would never have imagined that any Jewish person would move back to that country,” she said.
More Jewish people have been moving to Berlin than to any other European city this decade, but Recanati says only about 200,000 Jews live in Germany today.
“Still, the likelihood of meeting Jews is quite slim,” she said. “I think that also creates sort of, in a way, a very awkward relationship between Germans and Jews living in Germany.”
Tal Recanati says German friends of hers and Quint’s gave her the idea to introduce their Jewish and German film subjects.
“This couple said, you know we never have the opportunity to meet Jews--ever, and our contact has been incredibly limited. So when we were thinking about how to frame the film we thought, ‘Wow this would be amazing to invite a group of Jews and non-Jewish Germans to a dinner party.’”
That rare dinner conversation appears in the film. Recanati and Quint say some of the awkward moments had to be cut for time.
Recanati and Quint will present “Germans and Jews” at its world premiere at the Greenwich International Film Festival on Thursday. It’s part of the festival’s first annual Jewish Film series.
Disclosure: The Greenwich International Film Festival is a WSHU underwriter.