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The Flat

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The Flat

The Flat
By Arnon Goldfinger
A Documentary Written & Directed by Arnon Goldfinger
The film is in Hebrew with English Subtitles
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Arnon Goldfinger & Zero One Film, 2011
Distributed by Ruth Diskin Ltd.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 24, 2014

When Gerda Tuchler passed away at the age of 98, her family faced the difficult task of cleaning out her Tel Aviv apartment, a place she had called home for seventy years. Her grandson, Arnon Goldfinger set out to document this quidessential family duty, following his mother, siblings, cousins, and other family members as they came together to sift through the material remains of the family's beloved matriarch. While sorting through the apartment, Arnon discovers copies of Der Angriff ("The Attack"), a Nazi propaganda newspaper that was started by Joseph Goebbels. What began as an unassuming family film soon blossoms into a full fledge piece of investigative journalism as he strives to uncover the truth about his grandparents' past.

Moving and instructive, Arnon Goldfinger's film, The Flat, not only provides keen insights into the generational divides that exist in every family, but it also offers a unique glimpse into a nearly overlooked aspect of the Holocaust. By this I refer to Leopold von Mildenstein efforts, before the start of World War II, to 'encourage' Jews to migrate to the British Mandate of Palestine as a means of solving Germany's Jewish problem. Mildenstein, a SS officer, was a key figure in the Nazi's Judenreferat (Jewish Department), and he was responsible for recruiting Adolf Eichmann into the department to work on 'Jewish' issues.

In the 1930's, Mildenstein formed an alliance with Kurt Tuchler, a leading Zionist. Tuchler wanted to see if there was a way to gain Nazi support in a plan to help as many German Jews as possible to migrate back to Palestine. Mildenstein, who seems to have already considered such a scheme, decided to see what could be done. To this end, in 1933, Kurt and his wife Gerda (Arnon's grandmother), accompanied Mildenstein and his wife, on a tour of Palestine. The tour, which had the blessing of both the Nazi Party and the Zionist Federation of Germany, sought to examine the progress made by earlier pioneers who had settle in Palestine and to develop ideas to increase immigration into the country.

Mildenstein wrote a series of articles about this tour, entitled "A Nazi Travels to Palestine." These articles were published in the Der Angriff newspaper. The copies of the paper that Arnon found in his grandmother's flat were ones that contained Mildenstein's articles on the trip. The friendship that developed between the Tuchler's and the Mildenstein's survived the war, and continued for many years after.

The Tuchlers left Germany and immigrated to Israel before the start of the war, but they did not escape untouched by it. They had family members, and friends, who were murdered during the Holocaust. How could any Jew, after the war (let alone before), maintain a friendship with a man who was a SS officer? Was Mildenstein simply a bureaucratic functionary? Or, was he a war criminal that escaped justice? Arnon tries to answer these, and many other questions about his grandparents' actives both before and after the war. To do so, he travels to Germany to speak with Mildenstein's daughter, interviews various writers and historians with insights into Mildenstein's life and activities, as well as those with insights into his grandparents' lives, he visits various historical achieves, and interviews his own family members. Putting all these disparate pieces of information together, Arnon tries to weave together the story of his grandparents' past.

The Tuchler - Mildenstein collaboration may seem unusual, but it was not unique. There are many instances on record where German Zionists cooperated with the Nazis in order to expedite and encourage Jewish immigration to Palestine. Both Tuchler and Mildenstein had similar goals, to see Germany's Jews settled in Israel. They did, however, have very different reasons for desiring such an outcome. From the beginning it appears that Arnon's grandparents never spoke about their relationship with Mildenstein. By the end of the film we still do not know why Arnon's grandparents never told their family about their relationship with the SS officer. Were they embarrassed? Was it too painful? Perhaps they felt that their children would not be interested in the story? Or maybe they just did not think that it was important? We will never know the real reason, but what is clear is that is that his grandparents participated in a historically relevant event, one that should have been, and has now been, documented.

The Flat was released in 2011, and it is presented primarily in Hebrew, with English subtitles throughout. The film has been aired around the world, and has garnered more than 20 international awards. The film is thought provoking and it is sure to engender strong opinions on a variety of issues. For example, should the Tuchlers be viewed as collaborators? Was Mildenstein a war criminal? In addition, was Arnon's family really as unaware of his grandparents' prewar activities as they claimed to be. These and many more questions will swirl through your head after watching this film. No matter what you think the answers are to these questions, they are sure to promote wide-ranging discussions among those who have watched this memorable film. It will also encourage viewers to engage in more in-depth research into this under reported aspect of the Holocaust.

A DVD edition of this film is set to be released in August of 2014. You can learn more about this documentary online at Ruth Films Ltd.

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