In Heaven, Underground: The Jewish Cemetery In Berlin-Weissensee

In Heaven, Underground: The Jewish Cemetery In Berlin-Weissensee
Aug. 26th – Sept. 4th at the Winnipeg Cinematheque

In Heave, Underground

In Heaven, Underground  explores the collective memories contained within the 130-year Berlin-Weissensee cemetery.   This German cemetery is the largest Jewish cemetery in Western Europe, and one of the few that remains completely intact.

Grave diggers, visiting Americans with family members buried there, and family who currently resides in the cemetery’s estate house make up the eclectic cast of this documentary. Award-winning German director Britta Wauer paints a portrait of serene beauty and despicable cruelty.

“One of my favourite films at HOT DOCS was In Heaven, Underground. Britta Wauer’s film cap­tures the beauty, history and importance of this enchanting place.” – Jay Kerr

Screenings:

Fri Aug 26, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Sun Aug 28, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Wed Aug 31, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Thu Sep 1, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Fri Sep 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Sat Sep 3, 2011 at 7:00 PM
Sun Sep 4, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Cinematheque
100 Arthur Street #304
Winnipeg, MB R3B 1H3
(204) 925-3456

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From Uptown Magazine, August 25th, 2011:

An Island of Human Dignity
Despite a noticeable lack of direction, In Heaven Underground is a documentary worth seeing

Ah, irony — so bitter sometimes, yet so often tinged with hope.

The documentary In Heaven Underground: The Jewish Cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee has such an irony as its subject: the largest and oldest active Jewish cemetery in Europe, and also the most continuously so, having never closed during its 130-year history — not even during the Nazi regime.

It’s astonishing, really, that any Jews survived while directly in the maw of the Nazi beast. Yet today, the cemetery’s green, leafy grounds commemorate not only the unspeakable crimes of that period, but also the perseverance of its victims and their descendants.

In fact, the place was as such even during the Nazi reign, at which time it amazingly remained in the control of the city’s Jews. In its darkest hour, the community still retained something of its own: its members enjoyed some power over their final ends, and those of their friends and loved ones. The cemetery was an island of human dignity in an ocean of depravity.

While all this will be apparent to thoughtful viewers, this remains a film that would have benefitted from more expert craftsmanship. In Heaven Underground often feels aimless, without a strong sense that director Britta Wauer wants to lead us in clear direction.

Most affecting are the scenes concerning those Jews who moved back to Berlin after the war; the newsreel footage of a pummeled Berlin is surreal to watch. One wonders what it must have been like for them, some coming back from as far afield as China. What kind of fears and trepidations must they have felt, to return to a capital from which the extermination of their people had been masterminded?

As the Cold War began, the city was divided and the Jewish community split in two, with the cemetery isolated behind the Iron Curtain. But even during Communist rule, the cemetery was nonetheless reborn, if you will, thanks to new enthusiasm for its preservation on the part of younger local Jews.

The overall narrative is fleshed out by several touching individual stories — such as that of one non-Jewish woman buried alongside her Jewish husband, whom she refused to forsake even after the persecution and war started. That was in spite of an ostensible restriction on the burial of non-Jews.

Then there’s the middle-aged man, raised in England as an English boy, whose German and Jewish identities were hidden from him until the family returned to the Fatherland after the war. “I found it unthinkable… that I was Jewish,” he says. How many similar stories exist from that time?

Still, that the film works in such moments is in spite of its makers’ lack of assuredness. In Heaven Underground is a documentary worth seeing, but it’s merely an adequate film.

-Kenton Smith

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~ by cineflyer on August 26, 2011.

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