Back to Berlin
A remarkable, poignant and emotional documentary by Catherine Lurie-Alt, Back to Berlin follows 11 motorcyclists from Israel to Germany in 2015 as they recreate the mission of the original 1931 bikers, who rode through Europe to recruit players for the 1936 European Maccabi Games, the first Jewish Olympics on German soil. Flying the Israeli flag and carrying the Maccabiah torch from Athens to Berlin, they trace the horrifying events of the Holocaust through nine countries, visiting concentration camps and finally Auschwitz, before triumphantly delivering the beacon to the German games.
Among the riders – nine Israeli and two Diaspora Jews – seven are the children of Holocaust survivors and two are grandsons of the first Maccabiah Riders. Particularly striking and moving is that two in the group are actual Holocaust survivors themselves. That they are travelling to the first Maccabiah Games in Berlin – site of Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games, from which most Jewish athletes were excluded – makes their journey one of learning and deep sadness, but also joyful triumph.
With visits to Jewish communities and Holocaust sites, the explorers individually reveal their ancestors’ experiences with atrocities in various countries, from Bulgaria to Poland. Most heartbreaking are the stories told from firsthand experience, with memories of horrors witnessed that they can never escape.
In contrast to Romania and Hungary, among others, there is reprieve that in Bulgaria a Bishop Kirill stood up to the Hitlerite oppressors, saving 9,000 Jews from the death camps; with Bulgaria eventually refusing to deport 48,000. In Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto revolt, Jewish revolutionaries fought the Third Reich armies and courageously took control. With visits to camps and death sites, the voyagers’ reactions channel some of the victims’ horror. The haunting impact of this piece is one of tears and shock, but after 3,000 miles, their arrival at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, and the passing of the Maccabiah Torch to the daughter of a barred athlete, bring a tremendous sense of joyful redemption.
With superb sound and cinematography – beautifully evocative, inspiring symphonic music accompanying lush shots of sweeping vistas – the documentary is exceptionally well conceived and produced. The riders carry the piece, and are to be commended for their emotional bravery, depth and genuine heart. A moving and honest eye-opener about the realities of World War II, the Holocaust and the after-effects thereof, Back to Berlin is a stunning film that everyone would benefit from seeing.
Back to Berlin is released nationwide on 23rd November 2018.
Watch the trailer for Back to Berlin here: