When Memory Comes: A Film about Saul Friedlander

Directed by Frank Diamand

65 minutes / Color
Release: 2014
Copyright: 2012

WHEN MEMORY COMES: A FILM ABOUT SAUL FRIEDLANDER is a visually arresting documentary that interweaves leading Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander's personal story of survival with an introduction to his work and thought.

Originally a political scientist, Friedlander 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 Friedlander, 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 Friedlander, 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, Friedlander 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.


"Saul Friedlander [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

"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

Other Ways to Watch

Colleges, Universities, Government Agencies, Hospitals, and Corporations

Purchase DVD for $390.00

Available for educational streaming from:

Select Accolades

  • Official Selection, 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival
  • Official Selection, 2013 Netherlands Film Festival


Why did a prominent group of Holocaust survivors and philosophers oppose the death sentence for Adolf Eichmann?

Florence Jammot | 2015 | 60 minutes | Color | English | Closed Captioned

Director Ilan Ziv traces the origins of today's antisemitism in France from the Middle Ages to the infamous Dreyfus Affair.

Ilan Ziv | 2022 | 120 minutes | Color | French; English; Hebrew | English subtitles | Closed Captioned

A fragmented meditation on surviving the Warsaw Ghetto, in an intimate conversation between father and daughter.

Esther Hoffenberg | 2009 | 15 minutes | French | English subtitles

A Holocaust survivor's journey to Warsaw becomes the springboard for a meditative essay about history, memory, and their preservation in imagery.

Ilan Ziv | 1999 | 106 minutes | Color