Winner for best editing of a documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival and best direction of a documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival, Arnon Goldfinger’s “The Flat” tells an extraordinary story as if it were a police procedural, moving from one clue to another until it reaches an uncertain end. The film is another in the recent batch of excellent Israeli Holocaust-related documentaries, but unlike anything you have seen before. This doc does not deal with concentration camps, with Nazi atrocities, or with the destruction of European Jewry. Its subject is the complex and tangled relationship between Germany and German Jews, and also the maturation of the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, those in their thirties and forties known as the third generation. This group is willing and able to poke around the memories of their grandparents and parents, asking questions that previously would have been considered off-limits.
Goldfinger narrates the film, which begins in his grandmother’s Tel Aviv apartment. After her death at 98, Gerda Tuchler’s family swoops in to clear out the flat she’s lived in for decades. Grandchildren clown around trying on the old lady’s foxtail scarves and marveling at her dozens of gloves and handbags. Goldfinger recalls that visiting his grandmother as a child felt like spending the afternoon in pre-war Berlin. In a flat crowded with German volumes and dark, heavy furniture, he chatted with his grandmother in English since she never learned to speak proper Hebrew and he wasn’t going to learn German. Although she lived in Israel for most of her life, Gerda never stopped being German.
Eventually, the only family members who keep working at the arduous chore of clearing out the flat are Goldfinger and his mother. A smartly dressed woman with a European air, Goldfinger’s mother meticulously examines more than 75 years of letters, bills, photos, newspaper clippings, turning each over and deciding what will stay and what will go. Her discovery of an old issue of a virulently anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper, “Der Angriff,” launches Goldfinger’s investigation. The issue features a story about a prominent Nazi’s visit to Palestine, which includes the name of Goldfinger’s grandfather, Kurt Tuchler. What connection could Kurt Tuchler have to a Nazi in the early 1930s?
Once they identify the Nazi as Leopold von Mildenstein, they figure out that Tuchler acted as a guide on the man’s visit to what would be the Jewish State. There are photographs of two smiling couples, the Tuchlers and von Mildensteins, traveling around Palestine. Even more astonishing, there are numerous photographs of the same two couples in the 1950s and 1960s touring Italy and other vacation spots. Is it possible that the Tuchlers renewed their friendship with a Nazi after the Holocaust?