an article on the film by Miri Talmon, Tel-Aviv University, The Steven Tisch School for Film and Television
Notes about Homecoming and Micha Shagrir’s Documentary Filmmaking
What is nostalgia? It is the yearning to go back home, to innocent times, to childhood, to a careless past. Bishofstrasse, Linz could have been an object of nostalgia, a childhood home, a site of memories of a time lost forever and a place where the earliest memories took shape. Yet, it could also be the locus of trauma. A personal trauma of separation and loss, of roots severed and native tongue muted and exchanged for a new one. Bishofstrasse, Linz was all of these things for Micha Shagrir, who was born in the the city of Linz in Upper Austria. Linz was also the home town for Adolf Hitler, who grew up in the city and honored it with his first parade immediately after the Anschluss (Germany’s annexation of Austria) in February of 1938. Micha Shagrir was born in Linz four months before the Anschluss. Bishofstrasse in Linz was also the address and hometown for another family – the family of Adolf Eichmann. This very personal site of memory hence becomes the juncture of personal and collective histories, tremendously laden with layers of emotions and meanings.
It is typical of personal feature and documentary films, those films which go back to a personal home in a bygone history that they never remain personal, and always contain within the exploration of the personal and historic past a commentary on the present. Such are Dror Shaul’s personal journeys to his early 1970s kibbutz past in the film Sweet Mud or Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz’s painful journey back to their childhood home of the early 1970s in the film To Take a Wife. Ruth Diskin, curator of Micha Shagrir’s collection of outstanding, prolific and important cinematic creation, has included in her catalog some notable films about a personal journey to a childhood home and the exploration of a personal, familial and commun al histories through such journeys back to childhood homes. Films such as Effi Banai’s Longing, Amit Goren’s 1966 Was a Good Year for Tourism, and Eran Barak’s My Beloved Uncles, take back their authors or subjects to a childhood home and site of memory on a journey to personal crossroads which shed light on collective dilemmas, contradictions and national/cultural histories.
Yet Micha Shagrir, as an artist, an author, a filmmaker and a person can never adhere to merely the personal. His curiosity, empathy, huge heart and love for mankind go in tandem with a brilliant artistic talent, a deep and sensitive lens or “camera stylo” which go beyond the personal history, beyond even Israeli and Jewish history.
His film touches upon and fearlessly goes into the complex depths of the interfaces, junctures, complex human and cultural textures of Bischofstrasse, Linz.
He meets those who used to be children then, in the 1930s, the Austrian children who were not allowed to play with Jewish children, who remember his grandparents’ candy store. He meets his neighbors, Eichmann’s neighbors, those who were children at the time and those who were born and lived there after the war, after the trauma. He meets those who endured the trauma, and those who live at the capital of culture and beauty, which acknowledges the past and promotes humanistic cultural values in the present and for the future. With his suppressed and broken Austrian and the oh so Israeli, native Israeli body language, spoken language, soul language he carries into the film the magic, deep complexities of Israeliness- always carrying some suppressed heritage and trauma, always moving beyond in its amazing vitality, never letting go of the suppressed narrative, always able to connect, to contain, to maintain a dialog which overcomes the pain, the loss, the trauma in a new dialog of creativity and hope.
This is Micha Shagrir’s heritage to all of us: never cease to be curious, creative and a lover of humanity. Never stop telling stories that will be meaningful beyond your personal involvement in them. Always strive for dialog, for an inter-human and intercultural interaction- through film, art, culture, language and beauty.
We thank Micha Shagrir for his contribution to our culture, to the ethos of dialog, tolerance and interlocution.
We thank Ruth Diskin for continuing this endeavor in curating and preserving Micha’s work and heritage, along with the documentary filmmaking which articulates this ethos and art at their best.
Miri Talmon, PhD,
Tel-Aviv University, The Steven Tisch School for Film and Television
Israeli Filmmaker Finds Ties to Eichmann
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
The Associated Press
Monday, April 24, 2006; 4:01 PM
JERUSALEM — When an Israeli filmmaker began researching his roots in Austria, he made a shocking discovery: His brother bought his bar mitzvah suit at a store owned by the family of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann.
While making a documentary, Micha Shagrir learned his family was closer to the Eichmanns than he ever imagined. They lived four doors away from each other and had business ties and mutual friendships in Linz, Austria.
Shagrir’s film, “Sight of Memory,” was aired on Israeli television Monday night, the eve of the country’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. It also will be shown at a film festival in Linz on Wednesday.
The 68-year-old Shagrir, whose parents fled Austria when he was a baby, worked on the project for more than two years. The quest took him to Bischof Strasse, the street where the two families lived.
The homes are still there: No. 7, where he was born, and No. 3, where the Eichmanns lived. But the businesses are long gone. Shagrir’s family owned a candy factory, while Eichmann’s father, Robert, ran an electronics store and his mother had a tailor shop.
Shagrir was pleasantly surprised to learn that the family factory _ Schwager Candies _ was something of a town symbol. Shagrir’s family name was changed after moving to Israel.
“When I came to film on the street, people 80 and 70 years old passed by,” Shagrir said. “Tears poured down their faces when they remembered the candies and cookies they ate.”
Elderly residents spoke of the relationship between the Eichmanns and the Jewish Schwager family. Such ties were routine until the Holocaust.
Looking over town documents, Shagrir found a 1926 picture of his grandfather being inaugurated president of Linz’s Jewish community. Four seats away was Eichmann’s father, who as president of the Protestant community was a natural ally of the Jewish leader.
“The closeness between them was understood because they were both presidents of minority groups,” Shagrir said.
Shagrir was even more surprised to learn that his older half brother, Haim Grunwald, bought clothes for his bar mitzvah from the Eichmanns’ tailor shop. “He told me his bar mitzvah jacket was bought there,” he said.
Most of the Schwager family survived the Holocaust by fleeing Austria and Germany in the 1930s, narrowly escaping the systematic Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews.
Eichmann, the SS leader who organized the mass murder of Jews, was tracked to Argentina after World War II, abducted by Israeli agents in 1960 and tried and hanged by Israel.
As part of his research, Shagrir had coffee and strudel with Eichmann’s nephew, Hannes, and spoke by telephone with Eichmann’s youngest son, Ricardo, a professor of Mideast archaeology in Berlin. Neither agreed to be filmed, but they expressed personal sorrow for their relative’s actions, he said.
For Shagrir, going back to Austria was the first time he confronted his roots.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t say that I was born in Austria. It wasn’t something to be proud of, especially coming from a city where, aside from me, Adolf Eichmann and Adolf Hitler were raised,” Shagrir said in an interview at his Jerusalem home.
“On the eve of the establishment of the state of Israel, growing up as someone who came from German culture _ classical music, singing _ it was shameful and embarrassing,” Shagrir said.
Shagrir is no stranger to controversy. He spent years studying the massacre of up to 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey between 1915-1923, producing a movie in 1976 that set off a diplomatic tiff that almost led Turkey to cut ties with Israel.
The 50-minute film, which focused on Armenian folklore, music, dancing and culture, included 45 seconds of footage from 1917 of hundreds of Armenian bodies hanging from trees and inside ditches, Shagrir said. After the movie’s premier in Jerusalem, he received an angry call from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Turkey, which is extremely sensitive to the Armenian killings and insists the deaths were not a planned genocide, was demanding Israel’s state-owned TV cancel a planned broadcast of the film, Shagrir said. Israel TV later decided not to air the movie.
Shagrir said he would like all of his films to teach future generations that such killings should not only be documented and researched, but prevented at all costs.
“What does it matter if there are 1,000 people in a ditch, 100,000 or a million?” Shagrir said. “The message is that it is forbidden to kill or expel people because of their beliefs.”
© 2006 The Associated Press