When the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and that of a Nazi officer came together to create a film about young Israelis who move back to the countries where their forebears were persecuted, they did not imagine it would completely change the trajectory of their own lives.
But when Gil Levanon and Katharina Rohrer fell in love during the making of the film, that’s exactly what happened, according to a Channel 10 report.
The two had been friends for years, having met in college, before deciding to make a film together.
Rohrer’s grandfather Hans, an Austrian, was attracted to Nazi ideology from youth and enlisted in the German military when World War II broke out. He was killed in battle a month before Rohrer’s mother was born.
“I still carry the guilt of my grandfather and of that generation,” Rohrer told Channel 10. “I think my solution is to talk about it and to be very open about it. I never hide it.
“There are a lot of Austrians who will say, ‘Oh I don’t know what my grandfather did,’ or ‘He was just a soldier.’ I’m very open about it and say ‘No, he was a believer.’ I am ashamed of that.”
She said, “The first time I found the uniform I was in shock… It’s one thing to know your grandfather was a Nazi, but it’s another thing to hold his uniform in your hand.”
Levanon also had an adverse reaction to seeing the Nazi costume. “I always see these in museums, and suddenly it’s right there in front of you. It sounds silly but it was hard for me to stay alone in the room with it.”
In another example of the complications of dealing with their shared past, Levanon retold a story of the two walking along an Israeli beach one day.
“We saw a guy walking with his dog, a German Shepherd,” she recounted. “Kat couldn’t understand how a Jewish Israeli can walk around with a German Shepherd. For her, it was a symbol of one thing only: that was Hitler’s dog, that breed.”
That encounter stayed with the two, and they continued to discuss their relationship to their individual pasts, a discussion which eventually became the basis for their film.
Levanon says that as opposed to the second generation that “didn’t ask questions, they didn’t want to know,” the third generation is curious about the past and has been less afraid to ask painful questions.
Levanon’s grandfather, also named Hans, was born in Germany. He fled during the 1930s, but his parents, who stayed behind, were murdered by the Nazis.
When Levanon told her grandfather she was considering moving to Germany to live with her new girlfriend, Hans’s response was uncompromising: “Absolutely not.”
“I didn’t expect my grandfather’s reaction to be so [harsh],” Levanon said. “It’s going to be very hard to do it now, knowing that he’s so against it…it feels like I’m really hurting him. Or betraying him.”
Rohrer and Levanon currently live together in Vienna.
But Hans also appears to have accepted Rohrer as his granddaughter’s partner. In a touching moment during the report, he called her over and pressed her hand to his.
The film, titled “Back to the Fatherland,” premiered in October 2017 at the Vienna Jewish Film Festival and at the Haifa International Film Festival.
It is currently continuing to make the rounds on the festival circuit.