BACK TO BERLIN is a moving and beautifully constructed documentary by investigative journalist Catherine Lurie-Alt. It uses the framing device of a group of motorcyclists retracing the route of their ancestors who participated in the Maccabian games 80 years ago, to re-examine their shared history of the Holocaust and to comment on contemporary anti-semitism. The results are deeply personal, raw and affecting but also insightful.
The games were started as a kind of PR slash morale-boosting stunt for Jewish athletes in the 1930s - a decade that would see the infamous Berlin Olympics where German Jews were explicitly banned and even more horrifying - many countries put pressure or finagled it so Jewish athletes weren't selected so as to appease the Nazi regime. Accordingly, it is particularly poignant to see contemporary riders cross Europe to Berlin where the 2015 Maccabian games was held in the stadium so closely associated with the most horrific period in Jewish history.
The really affecting this is seeing descendants of holocaust victims and survivors retell their stories, intercut with footage from the 1930s and 1940s of persecution and violence. The frustrating and deeply awful thing is seeing how racial and religious prejudice still manifests itself along the journey through Eastern then Central Europe and up to Germany. Very early on, we see a Greek man explain how it's still controversial to fly an Israeli flag - alone among national flags - in Greece. Later we see a grand-daughter here a son recount the story of his mother's escape from persecution in Hungary in the very spot where it took place. And yet in this very decade, those riders have to have a police escort because Jews continue to be persecuted. The most poignant part of the documentary sees the riders take a detour to Auschwitz - a horror their ancestors couldn't have imagined. It's genuinely shocking to realise that this seemingly lost distant nightmare is still a waking horror for a survivor who recounts how he was on a train to Auschwitz and survived because of the quick-thinking of his mother. It's this personal testimony that makes this film so vital and urgent today - especially, at a time of resurgent racial violence.
BACK TO BERLIN has a running time of 79 minutes and is rated 12A. The film will be released in the UK on November 23rd 2018.
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