“Being a Jew is a permanent challenge” Uri Barbash

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By Aditi Desai & Aliya Abreu

Uri Barbash’s ‘Kapo in Jerusalem’ (2015) is in the International Competition at IFFI 2015. The movie follows the lives of Auschwitz survivors who are trying to rehabilitate their lives in Israel during the country’s War of Independence (in 1946). Director Barbash spoke to ‘The Peacock’ about the Holocaust, forgiveness, and what it means to be an Israeli in 2015.
You say the Holocaust remains with the Israeli people even today, and will remain the subject of your films. How does such a religious culture compute the devastating events that occurred?
I am not a religious man. During the Holocaust, there were some Jews who became stronger believers—they believed that God imposed the Holocaust on them—and others who completely gave up religion. I don’t believe that the Jewish people feel chosen. For Jews, every day is like being enslaved in Egypt. We do not take anything for granted. Even when a plane lands in Israel all the passengers applaud, as it is not taken for granted that we will land safely. Even the sunrise is not taken for granted. There is no answer about where God was during the Holocaust. Some of the Jews felt completely betrayed. Till now, there is no answer for what happened during the Holocaust.
Does making films on the Holocaust help you forgive?
There is no forgiveness. Many philosophers, sociologists and politicians are trying to use Auschwitz to learn a lesson, but that is not possible. The Holocaust is in the DNA of the Jewish people and society. There is a lot of rage amongst the Jewish people about the Holocaust, and a need for revenge. Making films is my way of taking revenge. Theodore Adorno, the German Marxist, said that after Auschwitz you cannot write poetry, as it is a barbaric act. It is impossible, and akin to a sin, to reconstruct the Holocaust. People should not try and recreate what happened during Auschwitz through films. My films have shown memories of people who had been there—we are trying to go for a journey through their memory. I don’t forgive, and that’s why I make my films!
Do you think that people who have a troubled past should be allowed to have a new beginning? Your film seems to have this message.
Forgiveness comes from a very deep place. My people forgave the Germans eventually. Most people cannot live with the rage, but I can!
But the identity of the Jewish people doesn’t solely revolve around the Holocaust. In contemporary times, what does it mean to be an Israeli, and a Jew?
The Jewish community represents various tribes. We are not a homogenous community. There are Jews from all over—India, Ethiopia, USA, and there are orthodox and secular Jews. Being a Jew is a permanent challenge everywhere.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I don’t have the answer till today, and I’m not sure I’m in the right profession. I came from literature, which is the most significant influence for me. As a student I was looking for a job, and a film production unit was looking for a driver, so it was a complete coincidence. After that I got a job as an Assistant Producer, and then a Production Manager. I just fell in love with the world of movies. I rose from the bottom of filmmaking and had never thought of directing. Till now making a film is a social adventure, and social encounter—we get the chance to create together. Writers and poets create alone, filmmakers create together. I cannot do anything alone, and this social aspect of filmmaking is very powerful for me.

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