An excellent documentary on a difficult and controversal sub
Doc Holliday | Great Northwest | 04/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Manfred Kirchheimer's 1986, film documentary, "We Were So Beloved" held a special interest for me, as a non-Jewish kid, who moved to Washington Heights, NYC, in 1952 and grew up alongside many European Jewish Immigrants. And this film is a poignant documentary about the German Jews, who came to the United States before, during and after the rise of the Nazis and WWII in Europe. From my perspective, it is a story of survival by a people, a culture and faith that continues to resonate today, if we are ever to be able to learn, understand and live with one another on this planet.
Some aspects of the story of German Jewish survivors in New York City, reminded me of the novel and dramatic film, "The Pawnbroker" written by Lewis Wallant, starring Rod Steiger. But, Kirchheimer's documentary goes far beyond the conflict of a single survivor and family, to reveal a broader cross section of the German Jewish people, who possessed both a cultural strength and optimism which allowed them to survive and rebuild their families and lives in New York City's Washington Heights community.
As Kirchheimer reveals, their strength and optimism were elements that, ironically, fueled their denial in Nazi Germany that they would be safe, as well as, compromise some aspects of their subsequent lives and attitudes, in this country. For a suffering people, their vulnerability and survival is both their humanity, and ours, as well.
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 12/02/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Watching this film was such a disappointing experience. It runs a bit under two and a half hours, and a lot of the time it just drags and seems to go on forever. This project severely needed an editor; as it is, the film is too long and should have been tightened and condensed to a somewhat more reasonable length, leaving out the non-essential shots and long pauses in some of the interviews. It doesn't even come across as a professional film, but rather one done on a shoestring budget, just a guy taking a camera around and interviewing people he's known all of his life, interspersed with some quotes from 'Mein Kampf' and historical photographs. Sometimes a low-budget film can turn out to be a pleasant surprise, but not in this case. I often found myself wondering when it was going to be over, and felt like falling asleep a couple of times. I hate to say this about a film about such a serious and important subject as the Shoah and its aftereffects, but I was just bored during a lot of it and didn't feel as though I learnt anything new. I also wasn't drawn in, either emotionally or interest-wise, and didn't feel any dramatic tension. Adding to the list of problems is that there's no real structure or narrative arc, just a bunch of talking heads without any live-action wraparound segments that could have made these stories and responses come alive. And being from 1985, some parts of it are invariably going to appear dated today, such as references to the Soviet Union and other then-current events.
The film concerns the German Jewish community of the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, which in itself could have made a really great subject. And the parts dealing with the history of the community are among the few genuinely interesting sections. The questions director Manfred Kirchheimer, who came over to America with his parents in 1936 at the age of five, asks of his boyhood friends, parents, and parents' friends in the old neighborhood are also interesting, such as what responsibility, if any, survivors have, how they believe such a thing could have happened, and what they would have done had the situation been reversed and they had been the ones who were the non-Jewish Germans. But unlike him, I didn't feel as though I'd been taken on some profound engrossing journey of discovery and delving into the world of his parents' generation. The title and the film's supposed premise also seem pretty tenuous; there was minimal attention given to the view that German and Austrian Jewry were superior and different from the people in the East, and that they were so beloved by their neighbors, people who didn't really bear any responsibility for what happened to them. If the film had concentrated on these areas, instead of wandering all over the place and, to be honest, covering ground that's been covered numerous times, it probably would have seemed a whole lot tighter and more interesting. As it stands, it just comes across as a painfully low-budget and amateurish attempt to create a serious documentary and dialogue with the past."
Dissapointing, to say the least
Fyah Mon | Washington Heights, NYC | 08/26/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I grew up in Washington Heights, or more specifically, the Fort Tryon area of 187th Street and Fort Washington, which was fairly recently dubbed "Hudson Heights" by real estate folks. Although I wasn't alive in the 30'-60's when the area was truly a thriving German Jewish community, I still relate to the story. This is probably because my grandfather came from Austria during WWII and, like many others, settled in Washington Heights. The opening shot of this 1986 documentary shows Gideons, a kosher bakery that is still around and thriving. There may even be the same old ladies wotking there today( known to me only by face) serving up loaves of challah in the opening shot.
On to the film. It drags. I read the book of the same name previously and found it good, but not great. the documentary would appeal mostly to people who either lived it, or people such as myself who descend from people who live it. then there are folks like the above reviewer who grew up in the Heights in the 50's as a non-Jew. German-Jew or not i was rather dissapointed and thought it would have more images of the neighborhood from the time. It has alot of footage from WWII Europe but hardly anything from Washington Heights. Beyond that, I thought it was just boring. the best book on the topic of German Jews in the Heights is Stephen Lowensteins book "Frankfurt on the Hudson." There is no dvd of that book but the book captures the era much better in my opinion. this book/documentary focused more on life PRIOR to emigrating and the atmosphere at the time in Nazi occupied Europe. there are countless documents on the subject, so I'd go with Lowensteins book for a fantastic trip down memory lane. Not a complete waste but very, very dissapointing."