Documentary reveals secret life of Israeli man’s grandparents

Documentary filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger and his mother, Hannah Goldfinger in ‘The Flat.’ Photo: David Baltzer

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

When their 98-year-old Jewish German grandmother dies, relatives come to clean out the Tel Aviv flat she and her husband occupied for decades. As the family sorts through the accumulated possessions of a lifetime, they make startling discoveries, including puzzling Nazi artifacts. “The Flat” reveals just how little they knew about their grandparents. 

Israeli director/writer Arnon Goldfinger narrates, shoots footage and appears on camera in this exploration of a secret long hidden in the apartment his Zionist grandparents had lived in since 1937. Goldfinger notes that his grandfather was an ardent Zionist who emigrated from Germany before the war. Yet his grandparents lived like they were still in Berlin, never learning Hebrew, which meant their grandchildren spoke to them in English. 


As the director and his relatives sort through the possessions, they come across a mysterious object – a copy of a German Nazi newspaper from the mid-1930s. Why should his grandparents have saved a Nazi newspaper? A closer look reveals a featured article about a Nazi official traveling to then-Palestine accompanied by a German-Jewish Zionist. An object with a Star of David on one side and the Nazi swastika on the other symbolizes the mystery.

In the course of the documentary, Goldfinger develops a curiosity about his family history, something neither shared by his unsentimental mother nor many of his cousins. Sorting through photos, letters and mementos raises both questions and longings for Goldfinger. The family was aware that their grandparents took frequent trips back to Germany after the war but no one knew who they visited. Exploring that link takes the film into the arena of denials, secrets and to the daughter of a Nazi propagandist. 

Many families discover mysteries when it is too late to ask the older generations involved. Every time a new detail is revealed, unanswerable questions emerge in this well-crafted documentary, which has garnered a number of awards at film festivals in the United States, Europe and Israel, including one from the Tribeca Film Festival. 

The director takes a direct and personal approach in this film, sprinkling it with touches that create a comfortable familiarity with the viewer. Much of the footage is hand-held but it is interspersed with nice use of stills and skillful editing. The documentary is structured like a mystery, keeping the viewer engaged. Questions of identity and the significance of family history are among the universal topics explored through this personal experience.