Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Past and the Present Collide in THE FLAT

Arnon Goldfinger's documentary about clearing out his grandmother's apartment and the disturbing revelations contained in her papers is a well-produced mainstream documentary that grapples with the notion of memory, identity, and ultimately the desire to feel integrated and belonging in a society that just recently operated a state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing of one's demographic.
In the course of cleaning the apartment, stuffed with many decades worth of books, knick knacks, no longer fashionable sable furs, and photo albums, Arnon discovers a disturbing series of letters, pictures, and souvenirs.  It seems that his grandparents maintained a long correspondence and friendship with Leopold von Mildenstein, a ranking member of the Nazi Party who was described by Adolf Eichmann as a mentor.  This prompts Goldfinger to travel Tel Aviv from to Wuppertal and Berlin then back again, learning about the self-deception people can engage in.  The most accurate representation of this comes at the end, when Arnon and his mother struggle in the rain to locate the grave of a long-dead relative, it seems that the pleasant foliage has literally absorbed and hidden the grave.  Throughout the film, pleasantries and protocols about manners are hindrances to finding the truth.
However, there remains an intentional blockage of historical memory the Goldfinger has no interest in dislodging.  In 2013, Joseph Verbovszky submitted as his Master's thesis at Case University a 45 page analysis of Mildenstein's career in the Third Reich and especially his role in the early policy effort to satisfy the Nazi perspective on the 'Jewish question' through an alliance with German Zionist organizations.  The paper even names Goldfinger's parents specifically at one point.
Matters surrounding the Haavara Agreement have always been problematic.  Some leftist thinkers have utilized the agreement, saying that Zionism and Nazism are based on the same ideological coordinates.  Others have argued that it was a desperate time calling for desperate measures, that the Zionist movement in Germany was acting heroically to save Jews from the fate awaiting them in the concentration camps, but the British restrictions on travel visas to Palestine thwarted these efforts.  Verbovszky takes a historiographic view and sees the timeline as an accurate representation of the Nazi policies towards the region in general and specifically the evolving policy perspectives regarding the colonizing Britain.  Support for Zionism coincided with diplomatic relations with England, so when the Nazis began to court the Mufti of Jerusalem, it was because of an effort to undermine the wider Empire and not merely a case of Arab anti-Semitism.
The existence of this thesis is valuable because it formulates accurate questions regarding what Goldstein knew and when he knew it.  The film includes moments when he describes his grandparents as 'pioneers'.  The film continues with a set viewpoint, that his grandparents were somehow either deceived or deluded with an idealization of the Nazi friend they traveled with.  Goldstein is simply unwilling to get into the ideological background that defined the choices his grandparents made because he knows the fact his parents were in the German Zionist groups will fundamentally undermine his effort to keep the halo around them.  He knows as well as anyone else that, with the exception of Americans, Germans, Brits, and even left wing Israelis are opposed to Zionism and see it as a violent anti-Arab political effort.  As a result, while it is absorbing and engaging, THE FLAT falls flat because of this level of obfuscation.

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