THREE YEARS AGO I flew to Switzerland for a family reunion. My cousins were in from London, my grandparents from Germany, and I from Los Angeles. My second day there, I broke my knee in a freak skiing accident. In retrospect, this is what they call a happy accident. While the rest of my family was on the slopes, I spent the next two weeks crutching around a vast frozen lake with my grandparents. I never quite knew them -- as kids we would only visit them in Germany every two years or so. All I really knew of them is that they were survivors of the Holocaust.
On our walks around the lake I heard more stories from the War. My grandmother recounted with such nuance, it became clear that her liberation from the concentration camps was merely physical. Her heart was buried in Auschwitz. And my grandfather, as always, refused to speak about it.
The following summer I turned twenty-three and graduated from college. Six months had passed since the conversations beside the lake but the stories felt fresh. And while my grandmother fielded my every question -- There was one question I did not ask. There was one question I dared not ask: After the trauma, how could they remain in Germany? How could they live in peace amongst their persecutors?
My imagination painted portraits of survivors encountering their torturers in the sober light of civil society. It is true the war is over, and has been for generations. But it is also true that it took nearly twenty-five years for German society to confront its own past. And in that gap, a nation filled with damaged and brutalized people was to instantly return to civility. These were the birth years of secrets and family stories that would eventually grow into a cultural taboo.
Upon my arrival in Germany, my grandparents asked me what my film was to be about. Their reactions were animated as I’d never seen before. They were angry. They deflected and resisted. But ultimately they agreed to speak on camera with disarming honesty.
One interview led to another. And before long I compiled the components of an important discussion. Survivors responded to the judgment pitted against them by Jews beyond Germany. Their children, German born men and women in their mid-fifties confided about their crises of identity. A man condemns his parents for remaining in Germany from the confines of his office in Frankfurt. A woman confides about her father’s Nazi past --- and her emotional struggle to shed the weight of his sins. Survivors, their children and others weave a narrative about the German national identity: Past, present and future.
As the filmmaking process continued through editing, it became increasingly clear that my personal film had evolved into something much greater than a family portrait. The conversation between the interviews confronts a multi-generational taboo about guilt, identity and retribution.