The Flat Reviews
To be honest, that's not as weird as it sounds. That's for the simple reason that emigrants tend to identify more with the country they came from, then the one they move to, as his grandparents continued to speak German after they arrived in Israel, never learning to speak Hebrew.(As he recalled in his autobiography, Kirk Douglas remembers hearing German songs when he was filming on location in Israel which made him very, very angry.) At least, Arnon is in the right neighborhood when he talks about generational differences, even as he cannot truly overcome the home movie aesthetics of his documentary "The Flat."
2.5 stars +
I watched this acclaimed documentary on Netflix last night. It's the story of an elderly German-Jewish woman named Gerda Goldfinger who died at 98 in a Tel Aviv apartment three years ago whose grandson Arnon is an Israeli film director. He decided to film, just for fun, the closing of her flat and the disposition of her belongings amongst the family members. But amongst the useless (to anyone but Gerda) memorabilia was a stack of Nazi propaganda newspapers that was a complete surprise to everyone in the family. That led Arnon and his mother Hannah on an amateur detective journey into her mother's and his grandmother's past life that yielded some shocking truths. Including that her father Kurt Tuchler (Gerda's first husband) was a close friend -even after the war - of Leopold von Mildnstein, who was Adolph Eichmann's first superior in the Nazi party.
It's an absorbing story, shot in real time so the audience discovers the new truths at the very same time that Arnon and Hannah do. It also shows the two gradually piercing the veil of denial amongst the friends and relatives of Gerda they encounter on their journey who lived through - and survived - the dark times of National Socialism. Even Hannah was unwilling to go too far beyond the veil. Which explains why her son Arnon, the director of the enterprise, wasn't either. Hopefully, some other director, with the right amount of emotional distance from the story, can turn it into a drama someday, without Hollywood-izing it.
My father's mother was a hoarder. I'm certain they finished cleaning out her belongings by now; my ex-step-aunt got a reverse mortgage on the house some years ago and lost the house a couple of years ago, well before she herself died. So you figure they were done with Grandma's stuff by the time Billie had to find somewhere else to live. However, until the point at which she lost the house, I wasn't sure. I know Grandma had a room that was just her stuff. And the attic. And two of those pressed-metal storage sheds from Sears in the back yard. That was how I spent the weekend I graduated from high school, in fact--clearing out Grandma's storage sheds until I got heatstroke and had to go lie down. Yes, there was some interesting stuff in there, though there was quite a lot more junk. However, nothing Grandma had was anywhere near as interesting as what Arnon Goldfinger found while cleaning out his grandmother's flat in Israel.
Gerda Tuchler, Arnon Goldfinger's maternal grandmother, had lived in the same apartment for seventy years. She and her husband, Kurt, has moved into it after emigrating to what was then Palestine from Germany shortly before that became impossible. Arnon and his family went through the apartment. His mother, Hannah, basically wanted to get rid of everything, and while I'm with her on some of it, I don't trust a lot of the people who told her that most of it was worthless. At any rate, it was only Arnon who was interested in things like old letters. And then, he found a stack of old Nazi propaganda papers detailing the journey of a Nazi in Palestine. The Nazi was Leopold von Mildenstein, Eichmann's predecessor. And alongside the von Mildensteins were Kurt and Gerda Tuchler. The Tuchlers were able to emigrate, but Gerda's mother wasn't; to the surprise of Arnon's mother, Gerda's mother was killed in the Holocaust. And after the war, von Mildenstein got back in touch with his old friend, Kurt Tuchler, in hopes that Kurt would testify before the Allies that he wasn't one of those bad Nazis.
Obviously, Leopold von Mildenstein was long dead by the time ninety-eight-year-old Gerda Tuchler died. However, her grandson was able to find von Mildenstein's daughter, Edda Milz von Mildenstein. Edda was still proud of her father. She wasn't entirely sure what he'd done during the war, but she pointed out that he'd been listed as a journalist. Which, in a way, he was. However, he was a member of the Nazi party, and the idea that people emigrating to Palestine should not be allowed to take most of their money and property was his. He does not seem to have been as awful a person as his successor, but that's not actually saying much. Anyway, whatever he did, Edda basically didn't know about it--and she didn't ask. She even maintained a file of clippings that she insisted proved her father hadn't even been a Nazi. There's an interesting part of the film wherein Arnon and Hannah are visiting Edda and are trying to figure out what to say and what to ask about Edda's father.
Kurt and Gerda didn't talk about the war because it was painful to them. She had lost her mother, and she never told her own daughter how. Arnon found the information about the death at Yad Vashem and passed it on to his mother, who thought her grandmother had died of natural causes. Eventually, they are able to visit the cemetery where her grandfather is theoretically buried, but they are unable to find the grave. Unspoken is the knowledge that they are lucky any Jewish graves at all remain. The history of that time period is missing large amounts of information, and this piece was almost lost as well. Hannah planned to throw away all of her mother's papers, because the papers weren't worth anything. No one in the family save Arnon even seems interested in the family's history; one of the first things we learn is that none of them know it. His siblings don't even know when their grandfather was born. They seem a little surprised that none of them know, but neither regret not knowing it themselves.
And, yeah, I'm pretty sure they could have gotten more out of the various people who came to help them clean about Gerda's possessions. Neither Graham nor I could even look when the guy took a piece of furniture and just hucked it over the railing of the balcony; they had to have been something like four stories up. At least. Personally, I would have taken a little time to check out, say, the German version of Amazon to see if the guy was telling the truth at how little Gerda's books were worth. The guy who cleared out the rest of the apartment offered her a thousand shekels for the lot--minus the paintings, which she wouldn't sell, and a few other things which the family kept--and while I don't know what the exchange rate was two years ago, as of today, that works out to about $275 American. Yeah, she's also getting the advantage of not having to deal with it herself, but I'm pretty sure she could have gotten a better deal. Heck, we got more than that for Grandma Nelson's stuff, and that was nearly twenty years ago.