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FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW OF HADIRA-THE STORY OF AN ISRAELI WHO DISCOVERS THE SECRET THAT HIS GRANDPARENTS BEFRIENDED A NAZI

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 mother as he is puzzled by how it is that she never asked certain questions that would have led her to realize that more of her relatives than she had realized perished in the Holocaust. Had she asked more questions she may have discovered that her parents had ongoing contact with a Nazi.
 
Viewers watch how Goldfiner's mother debates within herself whether she and her son even ought to even to explain to Mildenstein's daughter the extent to which her father was a Nazi. Maybe, after all these years, it’s not up to them to tell her anything, she asks? Goldfinger has less of this internal struggle and is not willing to leave sleeping dogs lie. On her own, it is clear that Goldfinger's mother would not have kept on this journey to have uncovered this full story, and she appears at times to be desperate to retain her memory of her parents through the unblemished prism she viewed them throughout her entire life, rather than have this new startling set of facts force her to adjust the lens.

I did speak to a member of the audience who found the film a little slow at times, although still worthwhile. The film captivated my attention throughout and I would easily recommend seeing it. Kudos to the Winnipeg International Film Festival for choosing to screen it.

Below is what Wikipedia says on Leopold von Mildenstein, which is worth a full read for anyone who is not aware of this chapter in history between Mildenstein and theTuchler's (which is most people in all likelihood):

WIKIPEDIA on Leopold Van Mildtenstein

Born in 1902 in Prague, then part of Austria-Hungary, Mildenstein belonged to the lowest tier of the Austrian nobility and was brought up as a Roman Catholic. He trained as an engineer and joined the Nazi Party in 1929, receiving the membership number 106,678. In 1932 he joined the SS, becoming one of the first Austrians to do so. According to his former SS colleague Dieter Wisliceny, from the First World War until 1935 Mildenstein visited the Middle East, including Palestine, several times.[1][2]

Mildenstein had taken an early interest in Zionism, even going so far as to attend Zionist conferences to help deepen his understanding of the movement. He 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). The Zionists, whose movement had grown tremendously in popularity among German Jews since Hitler came to power, were keen to co-operate. On 7 April 1933, the Juedische Rundschau, the bi-weekly paper of the movement, declared that of all Jewish groups only the Zionist Federation of Germany was capable of approaching the Nazis in good faith as 'honest partners'. The Federation then commissioned Kurt Tuchler to make contact with possible Zionist sympathisers within the Nazi Party, with the aim of easing emigration to Palestine, and Tuchler approached Mildenstein, who was asked to write something positive about Jewish Palestine in the Nazi press. Mildenstein agreed, on condition that he be allowed to visit the country in person, with Tuchler as his guide. So, in the spring of 1933 an odd little party of four set out from Berlin, consisting of Mildenstein, Tuchler and their wives. They spent a month together in Palestine,[1][3] Mildenstein himself remaining for a total of six months before his return to Germany as an enthusiast for Zionism. He even began to study Hebrew.[4]

On his return, Mildenstein's suggestion that the solution to the Jewish problem lay in mass migration to Palestine was accepted by his superiors within the SS. From August 1934 to June 1936 Mildenstein was put in charge of the Jewish Desk with the title of Judenreferent in the headquarters of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Security service of the SS, Section II/112, his title meaning that he was responsible for reporting on "Jewish Affairs", under the overall command of Reinhard Heydrich.[5] During those years Mildenstein favoured a policy of encouraging Germany's Jewish population to emigrate to Palestine, and in pursuit of this policy he developed positive contacts with Zionist organizations. SS officials were even instructed to encourage the activities of the Zionists within the Jewish community, who were to be favoured over the 'assimilationists', said to be the real danger to National Socialism. Even the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of September 1935 had a special Zionist 'provision', allowing the Jews to fly their own flag.[1][3]

Adolf Eichmann, later one of the most significant organizers of the Holocaust, believed that his "big break" came in 1934, when he had a meeting with Mildenstein, a fellow-Austrian, in the Wilhelmstrasse and was invited to join Mildenstein's department.[6][7] Eichmann later stated that Mildenstein rejected the vulgar anti-semitism of Streicher and that soon after his arrival in the section he had been given by Mildenstein a book on Judaism by Adolf Boehm, a leading Jew from Vienna.[8]

Between 9 September and 9 October 1934 the Nazi Party Berlin newspaper Der Angriff, founded and controlled by Joseph Goebbels, published a series of twelve pro-Zionist articles by Mildenstein under the title A National Socialist Goes to Palestine. In honour of his visit, the newspaper issued a commemorative medal, with the swastika on one side and the Star of David on the other.[1][3]

In the summer of 1935, then holding the rank of SS-Untersturmführer, Mildenstein attended the 19th Congress of the Zionist Organization in Lucerne, Switzerland, as an observer attached to the German Jewish delegation.[9] Mildenstein's apparently less extreme anti-Jewish line was overtaken by events, and after a dispute with Reinhard Heydrich in 1936 he was removed from his post and transferred to the Foreign Ministry's press department. He had fallen out of favour because migration to Palestine was not proceeding at a fast enough rate. His departure from the SD also saw a shift in SS policy, marked by the publication of a pamphlet warning of the dangers of a strong Jewish state in the Middle East, written by another 'expert' on Jewish matters who had been invited to join Section II/112 by Mildenstein himself, Eichmann.[1][10] Mildenstein was replaced as the head of his former Section by Kuno Schroeder.[11] Later, in December 1939, Eichmann was made head of the Jewish Department Referat IV B4 of the RSHA, of which the SD became a part in September, 1939.[12][13]

As Germany moved into the Second World War, Mildenstein continued to write propaganda articles and books. After the war, his 'Around the Burning Land of the Jordan' (1938)[14] and 'The Middle East Seen from the Roadside' (1941)[15] were placed on the list of proscribed literature in the Soviet occupation zone and later in the German Democratic Republic.

Like the Haavara Agreement, Mildenstein's 1933 visit to Palestine and the medal to commemorate it were later sometimes used by anti-Israel authors to argue that there was a relationship between Nazism and Zionism.[1]

Mildenstein visited the United States in 1954, having apparently been granted a visa to do so at the request of the government of West Germany. In January 1956, he asked the U. S. Embassy in Bonn to help him to obtain an exchange grant for journalists, although he was not one. By then a member of the Free Democratic Party, in May 1956 he was elected to its Press Committee. In December 1956, a CIA report from Cairo confirmed that he had been employed by the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdul Nasser to work for its Voice of the Arabs radio station. In June 1960, soon after the capture of Eichmann by Mossad agents in Buenos Aires on 11 May 1960, Mildenstein announced that he had had an operational relationship with the CIA and as a former U. S. intelligence agent claimed immunity from prosecution. This relationship was neither confirmed nor denied by the CIA.[16]

Mildenstein was apparently still living in 1964, when he published a new book on the mixing of cocktails, including some non-alcoholic ones,[17] but after that no more was heard of him, and the date of his death is unknown.

In 1980, History Today, in publishing an article by Jacob Boas about Mildenstein and Tuchler's visit to Palestine in 1933, used an image of the Angriff commemorative medal in its publicity, which led to strong protests from Zionists and others who were outraged by the suggestion that Zionist leaders had collaborated with the Nazis.[18]

In 2011, Israeli director and grandson of the Tuchlers Arnon Goldfinger produced the film The Flat,[19] in which Mildenstein's friendship with his grandparents is discussed at length. In the film, Goldfinger showed that his grandparents kept in touch with the Mildensteins after the war. He interviewed Mildenstein's daughter, and details of Mildenstein's life are revealed.

 
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