Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, with the generous support of the Jewish Federation of Northeast New York, opens its sixth season on September 16 at 7 pm at Temple Sinai with We Were So Beloved: The German Jews of Washington Heights.
Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, once a Jewish enclave, is today a primarily Hispanic community as voiced in the recent play, In the Heights. In the period 1933 – 1945, however, it was a new community of German Jews.
We Were So Beloved: The German Jews of Washington Heights is a personal documentary, written, produced, and directed by Manfred Kirchheimer. It tells the story about the solid, prosperous middle-class community, sometimes known as Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson, populated predominately by Jews who escaped or survived Nazi Germany, while millions of others were herded into the death camps.
This is a tale full of sad, riveting memories recalled by the parents who emigrated and by their children, who grew up to maturity in comparative comfort, often haunted by a guilt that wasn’t theirs. The older generation remembers their skepticism that “it” could happen there, in Germany, where they had lived for generations as Germans. They remember humiliations, incredible cruelties, and sudden, unexpected kindnesses.
They also remember their own prejudices against Polish and Russian Jews in Germany, whose poverty embarrassed them. We Were So Beloved is mostly about those who escaped the immediate effects of the Holocaust; it is no less a harrowing examination of conscience.
The United States restrictive immigration policies established in 1924 prevented many German and Austrian Jews, who were, for a time, being encouraged by the Nazis to emigrate, from escaping Hitler’s reach when it was still possible. American restrictions on immigration were based on such criteria as country of origin, quotas, and wealth of sponsoring individuals. When the war broke out, there were still 250,000 Jews living in Germany and Austria, but because of the quotas, it would have taken 26 years to admit them all to the U.S.
Many considered authoritarianism to be part of their heritage as Germans. Some cite this deference to authority as the reason that many Jews hesitated to leave Germany. Those interviewed expressed a variety of attitudes from believing that many Germans defied government pressure, of those who courageously defied Nazi law to help, blaming Eastern European Jews for bringing the wrath of Nazis down on them, and others vehemently unforgiving of Germans and the canker of authoritarianism. Still others struggled with whether they would have been brave enough to hide a fleeing Jew. Within the memories and conversations recorded is the story of Hitler’s vision for the Third Reich, spelled out in Mein Kampf and not taken seriously until too late
We Were So Beloved is a personal film by Kirchheimer, a veteran documentary maker, a chronicle of those who made it to the United States and those who didn’t. It is the story of his family, his migration, his community, and his questions. Kirchheimer asks whether survival is an end in itself and whether survival carries with it certain responsibilities.
“These survivors held so much anguish and so much guilt,” said Phyllis Wang, Coordinator of Saratoga Jewish Community Arts. “Would future generations reflecting on this experience and loss, suffer the culpability and torment of their parents and grandparents?”
We Were So Beloved will be shown on September 16, 7 pm, at Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs. Dessert reception and panel discussion to follow. A $5 donation requested. For reservations and information, please call 518-584-8730 option 2