Remember, do not forget
I had already given up hope of finding it when “Under strange skies,” both book and movie, were found right next to my place by the ones who gave it to me this last Christmas. Revisiting the images I saw and the text I heard when the film was shown in the Goethe Institute, I remembered the thoughts it raised at the time about the period it focused and related to and about being, speaking or conveying being Jewish (different from what I had seen up until then) mirrored in what was said and shown, and how, which led me to take the liberty to convey them to you through the mail address on your site.
In it I read a simultaneously sensible and exacting way of interconnecting family time and historical time, using (consciously or not) Jewish time as the unifying thread - in contrast to others, Jewish Time links past, present and future but in a deritualized, or rather, secularized manner, just like what occurred with a certain German Jewishness from before the War. This I saw in the images (and text) that reflect and are themselves evocative of elements that symbolize worldly and identity beliefs at stake. The tombstones in the beginning and the house or the trees ending the time-space passage of your grandparents arrive like symbolic expressions of family-identity perpetuity memory and roots (set, nurtured and left in a specific place) that inherited, if not the experience, at least the sentiment (maybe, in this case, inner experience?) of the ‘exile.’ And this ‘exile’ you speak of raises questions, namely ones that relate to your disparity (and to what purpose?) regarding the relationship lived and experienced by your ancestors (and towards what is traditionally discussed in some Jewish books), apparently not assuming an identity-based withdrawal from the social, language, cultural, and other surrounding contexts on one hand, and on the other, regarding the existence of absence of (distinct) strategies manipulated in order to mitigate its effects. Then there is the picture of your grandfather (memory) with his grandchildren (roots, inter-temporal connections) walking ahead, as if connecting past with present (at the time); later on, the grandson swinging on the swing, just like him bringing us ‘forward and back,’ directing the remembering process and the dialogue between different time, space and social contexts; towards the end, the grandfather and the grandchildren, having already “passed us,” continue “beyond” (the future) the inter-temporal dialogue now (“yesterday’s future”) eternalized by you (in the movie, in the book)...
“Remember, don’t forget,” the commandment that structures Jewish time, seems equally to loom throughout the book-film. But not so much to reverberate (at least this is how I see or imagine it) in the sense of “duty of memory” (Levi); instead, it seems to translate or at least reach us rather as a need to cancel historicity (through Jewish time) and keep alive family memories without forgetting anything, not even what may seem trivial to others (“grandmother’s apple-pie,” animal rag-dolls created in the context of a survival strategy, naming the objects that disappeared, “miss Angela” etc.). One may also consider all this an encounter of the “Self” with that identity, its analysis, (re)placement or maintenance and what occurs in definite instants of our existence?
From many other things that can be read and investigated, one more stands out: the preoccupation with narrating the family’s biography in a ‘truthful’ way, i.e., trying to convey it in a way that is as close as possible to the experience and the memory (of the memory) of that experience, interposing it with external records. This leads me to imagine which topics (and in what strategic manner) are consciously concealed in the contexts where he excels for his (inner) exactitude in the detail or of the ‘truth.’
P.S. - Please excuse my being so lengthy, but there is much to be said and much to be investigated in the book regarding the notions of (Jewish) identity, time, exile...