“BYE BYE GERMANY”— Coming to America

“Bye Bye Germany” ( “Es war einmal in Deutschland”)

Coming to America?

Amos Lassen

David Berman and his friends who are all Holocaust survivors want to go to America as soon as possible. For this they need money. Director Sam Garbarski brings us a story about surviving Jews after World War II and their struggles to make a new life in and/or leave a war-ridden Germany. The film recreates post-WWII Germany and actor Moritz Bleibtreu carries the film steadily with a solid performance. surrounded by a number of more or less fully drawn supporting characters. The film is filled with heart and there are a few moments of poignancy as the horrors of the war is seen in flashbacks.

Dealing with the delicate subjects of Jews left behind in Germany after the concentration camps and investigations into collaboration between deportees and the profiteers of the post-war period in the same film is a big job. Doing this through comedy without disrespect is commendable. Belgian director was honored for his film at the Berlin Film Festival, one of the very big and important showcases for new films. This German-Belgian-Luxembourgish co-production ventures into an area that is both well known and hazardous: the use of Jewish humor on the darkest period in history. Moritz Bleitreu is David Bermann the leader of a group of concentration camp survivors, each with their own story and trauma, who recruits them to join forces to set up a business selling household linen. Germans are seemingly in serious need of this, and guilt-ridden enough not to slam the door in the face of a group of Jewish traveling salesmen. The idea is to make enough money to leave Germany and head for America. The group is filled with the energy and audacity of Bermann who starts producing curtains “made in Paris” and the group makes it up as they go along to peddle their goods to their clients. The film uses a series of cynically comical and visionary methods, in terms of marketing. 

Alongside these comical incidents, the general atmosphere is effectively conveyed by the opening scene, in which we see a little three-legged dog (here, everyone has some sort of injury) running between the shacks of a destroyed Berlin to a spiffy tune which, against this backdrop. The film has another more solemn plotline— Over the course of a series of interrogations, a young German Jew who emigrated to the United States shortly after 1933 (Antje Traue), who has returned to Germany to join the post-war effort, tries to establish, on the orders of the allied forces, whether or not David collaborated or not from his concentration camp, to survive there. Bermann’s humor and gall make his testimony into a huge pack of lies, peppered with Yiddish, in which he explains how he was hired to teach Hitler the art of telling jokes. 

Each plotline and sub-plotline within the film leads to a big twist of fate, which could be seen as positive or tragic, before Bermann concludes by sparing a thought for the Jews who, like him, made the inexplicable choice to stay behind. Covering dark subject matter with a light touch is a difficult balance to achieve, and “Bye Bye Germany” gets it right… most of the time. The film has an interesting perspective in that its characters live in a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt in 1946. David is a Jewish peddler who was a successful wheeler and dealer before and during his time at a concentration camp. While he’s grateful for his liberty, he would enjoy it more with a lot of cash and so he creates his scheme.

This is another German film dealing with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. But there is one crucial difference here and that is that it focuses on the lives of those Jews who stayed in Germany.

We cannot forget that 75 years ago Germany happily supported the humiliation and deportation of millions of people, the mass killings, and the gassing of men, women, and children. Garbarski was born in Germany but he is actually Belgian and I have always found it interesting that there are so few German movies made about the Holocaust. This is a funny, sad, and moving film that will make you laugh and cry with its very good Jewish black humor.

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