Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jetzt-- Nach So Viel Jahren (Now . . . After All These Years)

Before the Nazis came to power, the German village of Rhina was known as "the little Jerusalem of Prussia" because of the flourishing Jewish community.  At the time of the filming of this documentary (1981), the only evidence that Jews had ever lived there was a neglected graveyard.  In this disturbing film, we first hear from current residents of Rhina, who remember the Jewish populatoin with some fondness, and express a bit of cluelessness when asked about where they went.  The attitude seems to be "They just left!"  The younger residents of Rhina say their elders won't talk about it: "Nobody knows what happened to them."

Then the film shifts to New York, where we meet survivors of Rhina, Jews who were driven out.  Their memories are quite different, as they recall the harsh treatment they received from their countrymen: the breaking of windows, the burning of the synagogue, and the unyielding demand that the Jews leave Rhina. 

I was certainly interesting to see the two perspectives.  Selective memory?  Denial?  Both sides attest that outsiders came to town, adding to the violence, but they disagree as to the culpability of the townsfolk.  One survivor even names the person who set the fire to the synagogue.  Emotions and denial run high when the current residents watch film of their former neighbors testifying about their mistreatment.

No one can get inside the Nazi mind.  All of us have some kind of prejudice, to one degree or another.  What pushed the Germans from prejudice to hatred to contempt to thinking Jews are vermin to be eradicated?  What pushed the Gentiles of Rhina to expel, or at least cooperate in the expulsion, or their neighbors, people they interacted and trade with daily?  Now . . . After All These Years doesn't answer these questions, but it forces the viewer to think about how easy and commonplace the Holocaust became for the German.  Interesting, thought-provoking viewing.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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