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Jewish film festival explores untold stories of the Holocaust

Published: April 9, 2010
Section: News


Jewishfilm.2010 this week marked the thirteenth annual Jewish film festival sponsored by the National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF).

The festival began with an on-campus screening and New England premiere of “Berlin ’36,” a film inspired by the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and a talk with special guest Susan Bachrach, curator of “Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936” at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Berlin ’36” is a 2009 German film loosely based on the story of Gretel Bergmann, a German Jewish high jumper brought back from exile for the Games and forced to train by the Third Reich.

Gretel becomes one of Germany’s many pawns in Nazi attempts to stop looming international boycotts due to unfair treatment of Jewish athletes and to prove their tolerance to the International Olympic Committee.

Officials, trainers and athletes collaborate throughout the movie to keep her away from the games.

Throughout it all, Gretel has only one true friend in an unknown athlete, Marie, who is struggling with her own problems.

The film touches on evocative themes in anti-Semitism, personal identity and the prioritization of community over self.

An Israeli review described “Berlin ’36” as proof that art can be used to correct historical inaccuracies and tell stories that have been covered up.

Susan Bachrach introduced the film and conducted a question and answer session afterwards.

She noted that most Americans remember the 1936 Olympics for Jesse Owens’ four gold medals and the damage that he did to concepts of racial superiority.

However, for Nazi Germany, the Games were the perfect outlet for their racial, cultural and ethnic propaganda, as exemplified by Gretel’s story.

NCJF Executive Director Sharon Pucker Rivo introduced the event and gave background about her organization, which after 32 years has become the largest collection of Jewish films outside Israel. Goethe-Institut Boston, Brandeis’ Center for German and European Studies and the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry sponsored the screening of “Berlin ’36.”

Detlef Gericke-Schoehagen introduced Bachrach. He is the director of the Geothe-Institut Boston, a local branch of a German organization that aims to foster international cultural cooperation and a sponsor of the event.

Jewishfilm.2010 will continue until April 18, with 11 more films and screenings at Brandeis’ Wasserman Cinematheque, the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The annual film festival is hosted by the National Center for Jewish Film and 14 Brandeis departments and programs, including the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department.