Arnon Goldfinger was a TV director and documentarian in Israel when his grandmother, Gerda Tuchler, passed away. Gerda had fled Nazi Germany and retained as much of her German culture as possible, though she spoke English with her grandson when he visited for apple strudel and Swiss chocolate. After she died, Arnon found a trove of Nazi propaganda among her possessions, along with personal correspondence with the SS officer who hired Adolf Eichmann. Arnon thought, “WTF?” or the Hebrew equivalent thereof.
That’s the subject of The Flat, one of the year’s most absorbing documentaries, which plays at the Modern this weekend. The film follows Arnon and his mother, who knew nothing of her mother’s past, as they travel across Germany and dig up evidence of an early movement among Nazis and Zionists to move Germany’s Jewish population to Palestine. One astonishing revelation follows another as Arnon tracks down old relatives and historians and tries to unravel such mysteries as how his grandparents could have maintained friendships in Germany after everything that happened during that time. His film, a document of his own ancestors’ history, becomes a compelling portrait of selective memory and our human capacity for denial. Just when you think the Holocaust has been exhausted as a subject for documentaries, a story like this pops up.