Review: ‘Germans & Jews,’ a New Generation Continues a Difficult Conversation – Ken Jaworowski / NYT
Don’t expect simple answers in “Germans & Jews.” Just prepare for formidable questions. Those are the real reasons to see this incisive documentary.
More than 200,000 Jews live in Germany, and according to the film, Berlin has the fastest-growing Jewish population in Europe — startling facts, given the country’s history. The filmmakers speak with individuals there to learn how they reckon with the past, which pervades so many aspects of contemporary German life.
“When I meet Germans, I’m always in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Well, how do you really feel about Jews?’” one woman says at the start. It’s a sentiment echoed by the Jewish interviewees, most born after World War II. Some moved to Germany, others left and returned, but all grapple with both a loathing of Nazi crimes during the Holocaust and an unexpected pride in the country’s modern-day culture.
Non-Jewish Germans are also dealing with anxieties over whether their relatives and veterans were victims or criminals (an idea similar to one explored in another recent documentary, “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy”). While most of those interviewed seem to have found a middle ground, there’s still a deep anti-Semitism in the country, as well as, surprisingly, philo-Semitism, in which some Germans exalt Jewish culture.
Janina Quint, the director, starts off with photos of Nazi rallies and moves into interviews that are clinical yet never cold. It’s a testament to her skill that, though there’s much to learn here, nothing feels like a lecture. There’s even a touch of sly humor.
Part psychology seminar and sociology course, “Germans & Jews” finds its sharpest insights as it examines the stress of communication, when both sides are so hyper-aware of the past that it hinders what’s said in the present. Yet just the fact that Germans — Jewish and non-Jewish — are talking about the issues, Ms. Quint suggests, is a real cause for hope, despite history.