FAREWELL, HERR SCHWARZ (SCHNEE VON GESTERN / היה שלום פטר שווארץ) (Yael Reuveny, 2013)
34 West 13th St.
Opens Friday, January 9 (also at the JCC in Manhattan January 10-11)
Named Best Documentary at the 2013 Haifa International Film Festival, Yael Reuveny’s Farewell, Herr Schwarz offers a unique look at the Holocaust and its continuing effects on her and her family through three generations. “We were raised to reject the Diaspora,” the Israeli-born, Berlin-based writer and director says near the beginning of her first feature-length film. “I was supposed to be ‘the new Jew’ but somehow I ended up living in Germany, in the land I wasn’t allowed to set foot in. I wasn’t allowed to be here because of my grandmother’s story. But still, her story, which haunted my childhood, eventually made me build my home here.” And a haunting story it is, filled with intrigue, mystery, and powerful emotions. Sensitively shot by cinematographer Andreas Kohler and featuring an elegiac score by Volker “Hauschka” Bertelmann, the film explores what happened between Reuveny’s grandmother, Michla Schwarz, and Michla’s beloved brother, Feiv’ke. During the war, Feiv’ke was sent to the Schleiben concentration camp in Germany, where Michla thought he perished. Yet Reuveny discovers that her great-uncle actually survived the Holocaust but remained in the same town he had been held in, changing his first name to Peter, marrying a non-Jewish German woman whose brother was a Nazi, and starting a family.
Traveling from Israel to Poland to Germany, Reuveny meets with Peter’s widow, Helga Krüger, and two surviving children, Uwe and Barbara; speaks with some of her late grandmother’s longtime friends; and talks to her own parents, Etty and Shaul, and brother, Oded, who share their thoughts and feelings about what Feiv’ke/Peter did. Although Oded thinks that Yael should move forward instead of looking back, others are deeply troubled and fascinated as more and more of the truth is revealed. It’s a gripping tale that Reuveny divides into three generational chapters, focusing first on her grandmother and great-uncle, who grew up together, and then on the next generation: her parents and their cousins, the children from Peter and Helga’s marriage. Finally, she looks at the third generation: herself, a young Jewish woman born in Israel but now living in Germany, and Peter’s grandson, Stephan, who curiously works in a synagogue and is studying Judaism. Reuveny is obsessed with the past, “not knowing how much I’m allowed to forget, how much I am allowed to let people around me forget,” and she captures her torn feelings in this captivating film that reveals yet another side of the haunting after-effects of the Holocaust. Farewell, Herr Schwarz opens Friday, January 9, at the Quad, with Columbia professor Annette Insdorf on hand to introduce the 6:00 show; the film will also be screened January 10 & 11 at the JCC in Manhattan.