My grandmother Lea once told me a story about the woman who lived next door to her in Tel Aviv, of her capture by the Nazis in Belgium and of an unfathomable decision she had to take to save herself. I never forgot it, and am pleased to share it with you in this Op-Doc film: [Read More…]
Even as a teenager, I was familiar with stories from the Holocaust. My grandfather had survived the horrors of the camps himself, and his stories formed a large part of our family’s shared narrative.
But this woman’s story felt different. Her pain and horror were woven with love, loss, guilt and redemption — and the epilogue was truly extraordinary. Many years later, once I’d become a documentary filmmaker, I decided to find out whether the woman was still alive.
She was. Klara was 92 years old and still living in the same Tel Aviv apartment. I flew out to see her the following week and asked her to tell me the story I’d heard from my grandmother in her own words.
We sat in her living room, the camera started rolling, and she began. She was sharp, funny and generous, and when looking into the darkness and recalling that difficult time, she did not spare herself one bit. When finished she seemed emptied, for the first time looking as old as her age.
I was moved, even transformed, but told her how sorry I was for having stirred up her feelings and memories like that. I’m not sure she fully absolved me, but she did say she was happy I had come to see her.
Throughout my lifetime the Holocaust has felt like one of the defining narratives of the West. Almost three generations later, the mind still struggles to make sense of what happened in that time. But one commandment, one kernel of a logical response, seems to be expressed by all who have lived through the horror: Never forget. As the Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wrote in his prologue to “If This Is a Man”:
“Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.”
But life continues. Who knows how future generations will perceive the Holocaust and the extent to which it will figure in history. Perhaps in due time it will be just another event in the troubled timeline of our species. It is far beyond the scope of this film to engage with the enormity of these questions. All I know is that we are the last generation who will be able to meet Holocaust survivors in person, and I consider that a tremendous responsibility.
Matan Rochlitz is a filmmaker and a musician based in Rome, Italy. His short documentary The Runners played at Sheffield Doc Fest in 2016.