In a recent Research Forum class, our students had a screening of the internationally popular documentary, The Flat, by Israeli director Arnon Goldfinger.
The film centers around Goldfinger’s family, and what they found cleaning out his grandmother’s apartment in Tel Aviv shortly after she passed away. His grandparents were German Jews who had fled to Palestine as young parents in the late 1930s. As Goldfinger and his family sorted through his grandmother’s possessions, they found articles and a curious coin reading, “A Nazi Travels to Palestine”. This spurned Goldfinger to research the Nazi, Leopold von Mildenstein and his wife, that his grandparents had a friendship with before and after the war. In 1937, the von Mildensteins traveled with Goldfinger’s Jewish grandparents through Europe to Palestine. Goldfinger traveled to Germany to meet with the daughter of von Mildenstein and explored what her memory is of her father, as well as the unusual nature of her parents’ relationship with Goldfinger’s grandparents. In the film, he also researches his own family’s history in Germany, a history he had known very little about.
“Time Out Tel Aviv” listed it as one of the 25 most important pieces of art of 2011. It has won numerous awards, among them from the the Tribeca Film Festival, Krakow Film Festival, Toronto Jewish Film Festival, and the German Arthouse Cinema Guild.
After viewing the film, students got the opportunity to hear from the director in person and ask questions. Goldfinger explained more about the background of the film and how he originally didn’t plan on making the film when cleaning out his grandmother’s flat. His inspiration was ignited when he found the newspaper articles and realized the unique connection between his grandparents.
They discussed what post-Holocaust memory means in Germany today, and how that differs for different generations of Germans. He said that young generations of Germans now are more interested in their personal family stories of what happened during the war. Recently the film was purchased by the German government to be used as a teaching tool in schools. In Germany, much attention is given to learning about the overall history of WWII, but relatively little on the personal familial connections with Nazi Germany. Goldfinger hopes that his film will inspire others to explore their own histories like he did his.
Students also asked about the impact the film and the research had on Goldfinger’s family; his mother is one of the main features of the film. Despite her being born in Berlin, prior to the filming she had little knowledge of her family’s history. This is a common phenomenon among children of survivors: never asking questions about their grandparents or great-grandparents, and never being allowed to talk about it. Student Nicole Munoz remarked, “I believe that Arnon Goldfinger’s wish that this film will encourage future generations to look into their own family history to see what they might discover about a past that many families often shy away from. It’s admirable and can perhaps bring closure to some families.” This film and talk with the director was a thought provoking and entertaining session for our students, and we were privileged to have the opportunity to host Mr. Goldfinger.
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