WHEN MEMORY COMES: A FILM ABOUT SAUL FRIEDLÄNDER is a visually arresting documentary that interweaves leading Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer's personal story of survival with an introduction to his work and thought.
Originally a political scientist, Friedländer avoided writing about the Holocaust until an exchange of letters with German historian Martin Broszat, during the 1980s. Broszat believed that victims are unable to write the history of the period in which they were victimized, because they are not objective enough. For Friedländer, subjectivity and personal interest in stories as not being a problem for historians—as long as they are clear on where they stand. "There is a Jewish dimension to this history, and Jews can deal with it as objectively as anyone else," he says in the film. Historians should "accept subjectivity and even use it... very clearly and very explicitly."
That realization would lead to his magnum opus, Nazi Germany and the Jews, and its follow-up, The Years of Extermination.
For Friedländer, the Shoah is unique, in that its intent was to wipe out an entire population whose very existence was a threat to the survival of the Aryan race. Standing among a set of propaganda posters, he points out that Nazis tended to refer not to Jews, but to "the Jew"—an abstract principle whose cause had to be eliminated.
In contrast, Friedländer shares his own experience as a man who changed identities four times—first, when he moved as a child from Prague to France and had his name Francisized, then when he was hidden from the Nazis in a Catholic seminary and took a French, Christian name—and finally when he reclaimed his own identity as a Jew and Zionist. He also tells the heartbreaking story of how, in arranging for his safety, his parents unwittingly doomed themselves to death at Auschwitz.
This wide-ranging film looks at Friedländer's views on subjects ranging from anti-Semitism as a redemptive, to Jews' own lack of understanding of the scope of the Holocaust, to kitschy pop culture representations of the period.
Filmmaker Frank Diamand first met Friedländer more than 20 years ago, and is himself a Holocaust survivor. WHEN MEMORY COMES puts both Diamand and Friedländer on screen, and their presence together offers a the film a greater sense of immediacy and intimacy. This documentary is an excellent introduction to Friedländer's work and to the issues raised by Holocaust scholarship and historiography.
"Saul Friedländer [has] transformed our understanding of this period by weaving into a coherent whole the perspectives of ordinary Germans, party activists, military and political figures, and, most importantly, victims and survivors." —The MacArthur Foundation
Official Selection, 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival
Official Selection, 2013 Netherlands Film Festival
"A good choice for libraries with large Holocaust collections, or for a film series highlighting the Holocaust and/or a memoir of the period. —Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews
"Recommended... Outstanding." —Educational Media Reviews Online
"For those who have not read Freidlander, this film is a wonderful place to begin and for those who have, this a chance to learn even more about him and the way that he thinks and his relationship with the issues and historiography." —Reviews by Amos Lassen
"Diamand's film sends a powerful message; most importantly, it communicates why remembering and seeking to understand matter. - Eye For Film