Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars
Bottom Line: An engaging look into a Jewish family split apart by the events of World War II and one woman’s attempt to find out how the split happened and if the two sides can ever reconcile.
“Farewell, Herr Schwartz” is a documentary about choices and trying to find out the reasons for those choices three generations after the fact. The first fifteen minutes or so are a bit dull and dry and the movie is subtitled so I missed a bit of information, but a young Israeli woman finds out that her grandmother’s brother, who everyone had thought was killed in a fire actually lived a full life, married, had children, and died all within a stone’s throw of the concentration camp the Nazis sent him to during the war. The movie follows the woman’s (Yael Reuviny) discovery of the man (Peter/Feiv’ke) and his family and friends and documents her family’s reaction to the news that a member of their family would decide to live in a country that did his family so much harm.
The movie is split up into three generations of discovery. The first looks into the mystery of Peter, the long presumed dead Schwartz and Yael interviews neighbors that knew him. The second looks at Peter’s children and focuses on his son who would like to discover more about Peter’s life with Yael. The third looks at one of the grandsons of Peter who, despite not really knowing much about his grandfather’s Jewish past, feels drawn to the faith and yearns to maybe move to Israel one day.
What would possess a man to do what Peter did? It is hard for me to comprehend so I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the side of the family that left for Israel thinking he were dead. There’s sadness and betrayal, loss and longing, needing to know and not wanting to hear. Ghosts and phantom pains raising once again to the surface. But can there be forgiveness? Maybe. Hopefully.
Despite the aforementioned slow beginning and another bit of a dry spot near the end of the film, “Farewell, Herr Schwartz” is an engrossing documentary. How many other families have similar stories as the Schwartz’s/Reuviny’s do? Countless, I fear. All of them trying to put together pieces of a puzzle that has been so tampered with by evil forces that pieces that once fit together no longer seem to belong and pieces that don’t go together are forced into place because the alternative is to not have a picture. It’s heartbreaking.