As if to prove that great documentary filmmakers can find subjects anywhere, director Arnon Goldfinger picked up on something at his doorstep. Literally: It was while cleaning out the Israeli apartment of his deceased German grandmother that he stumbled across some tantalizing bits of information about his grandparents’ unlikely friendship with a high-up Nazi.
"The Flat" might be about the Holocaust’s impact on a family, but it is anything but depressing. The story is really about two families. Goldfinger visits and, despite her willful ignorance, involves the daughter of that same Nazi in his investigations. At the root is a mystery: Why did the two couples -- the German-Jew and the aristocratic Nazi (and their wives) make a trip before the war to Palestine?
Goldfinger slowly uncovers what probably any Jew from Central Europe would discover if he digs deep enough: at least one relative who died in the camps. In this case, his maternal grandmother’s death is complicated by the complicity -- or, at least, the do-nothing attitude -- of the high-placed Nazi friend.
The story really becomes hairy, however, when he goes over the testimony of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, during his famous trial in Jerusalem in the early ’60s. Who should appear as Eichmann’s boss but that same man!
To reveal more is to give away the secrets that make this real-life whodunit such a pleasure to watch.
Yes, I said pleasure. Don’t be put off by the subject matter. This is one Holocaust documentary that eschews any footage of the liberated camps. Instead, it gives us an intimate portrayal of the kind of personal exchanges that took place between high-class Jews and Nazis, especially the old aristocracy who supported Hitler more out of patriotism than any rabid anti-Semitism -- more of them, no doubt, than many of us would like to admit.
A German expert in Nazi behavior gives the best explanation for this kind of exchange when he points out that "the Jews" is an abstract; "my Jewish friend" is personal.
This is a valuable lesson that has implications for all forms of intolerance.