Holocaust survivors make a go of it in Bye Bye Germany

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Starring Moritz Bleibtreu. In German, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      What makes a home a home? Is it a place where you treat guests like shit, beat children, and think of all neighbours as an inherent threat? That’s the kind of home Hitler built for Germans between 1933 and ’45—a historical period that has been re-created on film perhaps more than any other.

      Far less visited is the immediate aftermath. Roberto Rossellini tackled it in the little-seen Germany Year Zero. But that was from the point of view of the vanquished “master race”, reduced to living in rubble and subsisting on black-market trade. Tales of their earlier victims are usually set in the midst of the horror itself. But the melancholy Bye Bye Germany follows a ragtag band of Jewish entrepreneurs—all Holocaust survivors—as they make a go of it in Frankfurt just after the war.

      Essentially comic despite the premise, this lovingly crafted, if sometimes overly contrived, effort was adapted by director Sam Garbarski (born in 1948) from a series of novels by Michel Bergmann, who cowrote the screenplay. The movie gives a career-topping role to star Moritz Bleibtreu, better known as daftly punkish characters in The Elementary Particles and Run Lola Run. He plays suave David Bermann, who has lost his family and their small department store to the Nazis. In fact, David only survived Treblinka because of his people skills, with his dry sense of humour catching the ear of the camp commandant, who makes him something of a pet.

      Unfortunately, his wheeling-and-dealing skills—which now involve selling linens door-to-door at inflated prices—draw the attention of the U.S. army, just beginning its denazification program. David’s story is thus told during initially tense interviews with an American (but German-born) intelligence officer played by the unnecessarily beautiful Antje Traue, who was a cyborglike villain in Man of Steel. She’s after collaborators, even the unintentional kind, so it takes considerable effort and multiple flashbacks to win her over.

      Winning people over is what this guy is all about. That’s how he’s able to mobilize a group of men with similar histories, and varying degrees of trauma, into a mobile sales team. Their plan is to raise enough money to catch a boat to the USA, where it’s supposed to be safe. The problem for David is that he still loves his language and the place where he was born—a duality rarely addressed in tales of war and subjugation. His sense of loyalty extends even to a home that hurt him.