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What was the exact nature of the relationship between the Tuchler's and Leopold von Mildenstein (a key figure in Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda)?

by Rhonda Spivak, May 14, 2012

Hadira is a fascinating documentary with an unusual but true story line that provokes a lot of questions. I viewed it as part of the International Jewish Film Festival, put on by the Rady JCC and the Asper Foundation in a packed theatre. By all accounts this year's festival has been a terrific success.
Hadira is not a simple film, and if anything, I would have liked to have had a panel discussion with Holocaust scholars to explore the many themes in the film that are complex and multi-layered.
An elderly grandmother who immigrated to Israel from Germany has died and her grandson, director and narrator Arnon Goldfinger decides to film relics of her lifetime as a way to document his grandmother’s home, and way of life. But then he begins “to uncover…things that were a bit disquieting… [that] did not cease to transform and surprise me.”
His resulting documentary—which won Best Editing in a Documentary Feature at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival— reveals secrets never passed on to his family, and the viewer takes a journey with him into a family history that is unexpected to say the least.
It begins with Goldfinger finding photos of his grandparents, Gerda and Kurt Tuchler, touring Palestine with a German man sent by a Nazi newspaper to visit and write about Israel in 1933 (this bizarre unexpected situation is not entirely explained in the film. Is it possible the Nazis want to learn about Zionism? Or were they considering encouraging Jews earlier (before the Final Solution) to leave Germany for Palestine? I don't have the answer and this is where scholars would be needed to clarify why historically a Nazi was sent to scout out Palestine.However, following this review I am going to reprint what wikipedia says which is that Mildenstein actively promoted Zionism as a way out of the official impasse on the Jewish question: as a way of making Germany judenrein (free of Jews).)
In the film, Goldfinger begins what becomes a deeply intriguing journey into the past to understand why it is that his grandparents were escorting a Nazi around Palestine.
The documents and letters found in the apartment detail a long and complex friendship between his grandparents and Leopold von Mildenstein (a key figure in Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda who was tried and convicted for Nazi crimes after the war), and his wife. Mildenstein is referred to by Adolph Eichman in his trial in Israel, which only fuels Goldfinger's desire to unlock his grandparents' past. Even after the war, his grandparents continued to see and visit Mildenstein (it is hard to imagine but this is the truth!) attempting to separate personal friendship from the fact that Mildenstein was a hard core highly placed Nazi. How they could insulate this friendship from the historical realities of what Mildenstein was, seems incomprehensible and afterward I heard members of the audience asking themselves this question. 
Goldfinger's inquiries lead him to locate and meet the daughter of Mildenstein, who remembers his grandparents and informs him of the friendship between his grandparents and the Mildenstein's. We see how Mildenstein's daughter and her husband do not seem to know (or didn't want to take steps to know) what her father was really doing in the war. All along as her conversations with Goldfinger are filmed she is of the view that her father was not a Nazi, but by 1938 she isn't really able to account for what he did. Goldfinger's diligent quest leads him to uncover archival documents showing irrefutably Mildenstein's being in Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda.
It is rather amazing that Goldfinger catches on film the actual expression of Mildenstein's daughter when he shows her the archival evidence about her father. Her remarks at the end seem to imply that she wants to find rationalizations for what her father did, rather than allow herself to accept the monstrosity of his behavior. It is chilling to see the thoroughness with which the she and her husband have buried reality. If their behavior is typical of their generation, it becomes possible to imagine that history could repeat itself.
 And what can we make of Goldfiner's grandparents' behavior? The film shows how they in their heart of hearts never really left the pre-war Berlin that they had loved and been reluctant to abandon, and the suggestion is that the Tuchlers wanted somehow to have at least one relationship with a German family--and were willing to deny reality to themselves even in the face of facts and history. (This aspect of the film would be an important subject for scholars to analyze--is this a way that the victims psychologically protect themselves from the pain of the truth, and can salvage their memories of a life they enjoyed prior to the rise of Hitler?)
Why did Leopolf von Mildenstein want to retain a friendship with the Tuchlers? The Tuchlers were friends with whom he and his wife shared music, culture, and intellectual companionship. Did this association with them enable him to view himself with a veneer of civility—even if only in his own mind--as someone who really wasn't a bad guy after all? Were these “his Jews”?
The film also has a riveting conversation between Goldfinger and his mother who accompanies him to Berlin as to whether they should use the word Nazi when they meet Leopold von Mildenstein's daughter and husband to ask what he did during the war. They decide not to use the word Nazi but will ask what his job was during the war. (More than sixty years later, they have to struggle with the uncomfortable feelings around calling Mildenstein a Nazi to his daughter's face.)
Goldfinger’s journey provokes more questions:  Is it important to know one’s family history? Is that knowledge liberating or is it just a heavy and unnecessary burden?
 “HaDira” also explores differences in attitudes of generations of Israelis. The third—and now, the fourth—generation is asking questions its parents never asked, and its grandparents never had to answer. We watch how Goldfinger questions his mot
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.