Yael Reuveny

Director, Scriptwriter, Berlin 

Vorher Weiter

I think I’m a bad Jew, but I’m very much Jewish, so Jewishness and my Israeliness are very much part of my identity. How I see the world, the group, the cultural group. I feel I belong to my associations. So I’ve always dealt with Jewish-Israeli topics, including in my work, but never in a religious way. I’m not at all religious.

Yael Reuveny
Yael Reuveny
Yael Reuveny
Yael Reuveny
The ring was a gift from my aunt to my mother from way before I was born. When I was a child, I would secretly look through my mother’s jewelry box and try it on. When I was about 15, I just decided to take it and not give it back. So you could say I stole it from my mother 27 years ago and have been wearing it ever since. At this point, I wouldn’t recognize my own hand without it.

It sounds strange, but I don’t really have any complaints with the Germans. I think they’re really okay. But when you dig down to the family level, it’s more complicated. You run up against the limits of their sensitivity. The red line is your grandfather. Now if your Opa was in the SS, then things are pretty clear. But lots of other people say, “You know, Opa, he HAD to be a party member because he was afraid to lose his job…” That’s the limit, where people can’t see their own family members as responsible.

Sometimes I have to deal with this attitude of 'you people'. The expectation that I should be careful in the world and how I carry myself because if I'm not a good person, then I'm bringing the next pogrom on my community. And that's horrible. It's like telling a woman not to wear a short skirt because she'll be raped and then it's her fault. For me, as an Israeli, I was shocked. I never thought anything like that attitude even existed. Even though you do see it between diaspora Jews and Israelis. Israelis are always too loud and too outspoken for the diaspora Jews. So on one hand, they're envious of the loud Jews, and on the other hand, they're kind of looking around to see who else is listening and if it's a problem. You can't talk like that around the goyim, they will think badly about us, blah, blah, blah. That's really horrible to me. And I refuse to behave like that. But I also see how, after 15 years in Germany, I’ve taken it upon myself too.

I mean, of course, being Jewish in Germany is something else. You can't avoid it and it means something very specific. First of all, a lot of people don't know the difference between being Israeli and being Jewish, which is really annoying. You're always seen, first of all, as Jewish. It's the dominant identity. The first guy I was dating here, I bought him a German translation of a Hebrew book that I really liked. He said, "Oh, so now I’m going to read a Jewish book." And I said, “no, you’re not going to read a Jewish book. You're going to read a Hebrew book. An Israeli book." It's not like every Italian book is a Catholic book. So people just see you as Jewish much more. You're forced to deal with that.

My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and I grew up very close to her. I was a sensitive child. I think what happened was that I was also very attracted to these stories. It’s fascinating that somebody could go through this, somebody that you know, and actually survive and tell you about it. It’s really impressive, it’s fascinating. It’s attractive. It’s mesmerizing. I really inhaled the whole thing. I didn’t try to protect myself from it at all, from how Israel as a country dealt with it. Or from my grandmother, and what she told me. She didn’t recount anything in an orderly way. It would just spill out of her. You would still be eating your food and she’d say, “My sister’s children, they also didn’t like to eat. They were the first to die.” I remember once I had a costume, it was a little red riding hood. And then I had a little handkerchief. And she said: “Oh yeah, they gave us that after they shaved our heads”. But somehow these sort of fragmented stories sunk in. And somehow, either because I’m a storyteller or because she made me into one, I connected the stories – I figured out what connected the handkerchief and her dead nephews, for instance.

In Israel, there's Holocaust Memorial Day, which means that the TV only shows films about the Holocaust. Nowadays, I call it Royalties Day because my film is part of the whole thing, but before that, there were always these super scary films with this horrible archive material and testimonies and people talking about it. And in school, a siren goes off and you have to stand for a minute of silence, and they talk to you about it. There were always testimonials and people coming and talking about their experience and stuff. And back in the 80s, the Holocaust survivors were still kind of young.

After all this, I really couldn't sleep at night. So I made a deal with my parents that I didn't have to go to school on Holocaust Day. It was too difficult for me. I would have nightmares and they were not allowed to turn on the TV or the radio without my permission on that day. It's difficult to imagine now, but I was incredibly traumatized. It really overshadowed my entire childhood and youth.

And although I've always been a passionate reader, I didn’t read anything about the Holocaust since my early childhood, when I was really fascinated and then I realized it was bad for me.

That didn't change until I came to Berlin when I was 25. Something about being here made me feel that this would be the right place for me to deal with it. I was also out of film school and I liked the city and I also wanted a new life, I guess. It was clear to me that I could make a film here, because something in this shifted perspective really blew my mind. I started reading all these books that I'd never read before, everything. And also going places and looking at the city and seeing how commemoration is done here and thinking about how it's different from commemoration in Israel, and thinking about what it means. Sometimes I got angry about the commemoration culture in Israel that I personally found so damaging. They really push it on you from a very young age, in a very ruthless way. And then I made this film about how the Holocaust story affected lots of people, how different generations carried it on.

Born and raised in Israel, Yael Reuveny graduated from the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem in 2005. Since then she has been living and working between Germany and Israel. Her award winning films include TALES OF THE DEFEATED (2009), FAREWELL, HERR SCHWARZ (2013) and PROMISED LANDS (2021). In parallel to her work as a documentarian, Yael is also the creator of museum video installations, among them TUNICATA (2017) for the Martin Gropius Bau Berlin and MESUBIN (2020) for the Jewish Museum Berlin's permanent collection.