Friday, 2 May 2014

A Nazi in Palestine - The Flat and the darkness of family history

"When we start talking about the past, it is impossible to stop" - Arnon Goldfinger

I just watched the fascinating documentary The Flat on Netflix, which focuses over the life long friendship of a Nazi and Jewish couple. When Arnon Goldfinger’s maternal grandmother passed away at the age of 98, she left a mountain of photos, letters, files, and objects: the accumulated ephemera of a lifetime. He admits that his family was not talkative and they know so little of their family's past except that they came to Israel from Berlin before World War II. Like the film maker, I know very little about the Europe pre-World War II. My area was/is China and Aboriginal studies, so I'm learning only now about European History.

In his grandmother's flat Goldfinger finds a crazy relic: a commemorative coin with a swatskita and a Jewish star on the sides. H reads and finds out from a friend that it commemorates the Nazis coming to Palestine. He finds pro-Nazi papers in the house. This mystery deepens until it drag him into an unknown part of his own history. Slowly he begins to uncover a complex story of friendship despite war. political and racial differences.

To understand the coin, let's go back to the 1930s and the "Jewish Question". Where the National Socialists (Nazi party) had not yet worked out a way to get rid of the Jews in Germany, the Zionists, with their ambition to establish a Jewish homeland and their sponsorship of Jewish emigration to Palestine, had an answer. After the boycott of German Jews of April 1st, 1933, and the introduction of the non-Aryan legislation less than a week later, there was no specific policy concerning its solution. Men like SS Officer Leopold von Milderstein wanted to removed all Jews from Germany and were looking for an easy answer. The Zionist had it. Everyone should be sent to Palestine and start their own homeland - which many Jewish pioneers to the region has already begun. So von Milderstein headed to Palestine to see if this was possible.

Goldfinger's grandfather was Kurt Tuchler, an official with the Zionist Federation of Germany, who traveled with von Milderstein. The men brought their wives with them. As they headed on the train Palestine, they all became friends. Goldfinger finds pictures of his grandparents and the von Midlersteins, just a happy set of people looking mightily at their ease on vacation. 

Some expulsions did occur. A central office for Jewish Immigration was created in Vienna, and they deported over 150,000 Jews. von Milderstein who by this time thanks to his friends, became a pro-Zionist, was told the idea was too expensive, and id not fit with the antisemitism of many higher ups. Despite this he remained as far as documents can attest, to be part of the secret service before 1937. He even hired Aldoph Eichmann and was his first boss. He was promoted to working with the media even into 1938.
But why did the Tuchlers resume their friendship even after the horrors of the war and the Holocaust?

Von Mildenstein was an educated and sophisticated man who found in Tuchler his intellectual equal, Goldfinger proposed.  So the SS officer found no contradiction in ordering the expulsion of Jews in the morning, and in the afternoon having a cup of coffee and stimulating chat with Tuchler, though, regrettably, the Jew would have to go in the end. Goldfinger put the same question to a German scholar as part of the documentary, who answered that perhaps Tuchler needed the relationship more than did von Mildenstein.

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