Although Yael Reuveny was born in Israel 35 years after the end of World War II, her formative years were nevertheless substantially shaped by events that had transpired half a world away during the Holocaust. For, she and her mother had both been raised around an embittered concentration camp survivor who had never been able to forgive the Nazis.
After all, her grandmother Michla’s entire family had perished in a death camp in Poland, or at least so she thought. However, there had been a rumor that her brother Feiv’ke might have survived; but Michla lost hope when he failed to materialize at a rendezvous at the Lodz train station that had been arranged by an intermediary.
So, Michla made her way to Tel Aviv where, despite being plagued by nightmares, she would marry and have three kids. Unfortunately, she was also widowed at a young age, and eventually went to her grave still harboring a grudge against Germany.
Meanwhile, her brother changed his name to Peter Schwarz, and married a German gentile with whom he had three children. And not only did he hide the fact that he was Jewish from his offspring, but he continued to live in Schlieben, the town where he’d been imprisoned in a Nazi death camp.
When Ms. Reuveny caught wind of the existence of another branch of her family tree, she became obsessed with tracking down her long-lost relatives. That five-year quest is the focus of “Farewell,” Herr Schwarz, a bittersweet documentary detailing an attempt to reconcile a pair of siblings’ polar opposite response to the Holocaust.
After examining the divergent behavior of siblings Michla and Peter, director Reuveny devotes attention to how the pair’s second and third generations have adjusted to life. It is quite a surprise to learn that Peter’s grandson Stephan’s dream has been to move to Israel ever since learning that he is a quarter Jewish. And by contrast, filmmaker/narrator Reuveny opts to settle in Europe, feeling perfectly at home there upon completion of her labor of love.
A fascinating, generations-spanning genealogical journey!
Excellent (4 stars)
In Hebrew, German and English with subtitles
Running time: 101 minutes
Distributor: Kino Lorber
To see a trailer for “Farewell, Herr Schwarz,” visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKZ1tPunFvw