By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN
Published: August 24, 1986
In 1936, when Manny Kirchheimer was 5 years old, he and his family fled Hitler’s Germany and settled in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. They were not alone – by 1950 there were 20,000 Jews in Washington Heights, most of whom had come to this country from Germany between 1933 and 1941.
Now Mr. Kirchheimer, a teacher at the School of Visual Arts and an independent film maker, has made a movie about some of those German Jews – his parents, their friends, the children with whom he went to school, hung out on the streets and played stickball – and the neigborhood in which they lived, a neighborhood some called ”Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson.” Entitled ”We Were So Beloved,” it opens Wednesday at Film Forum 1 for a two-week run.
The film consists primarily of interviews with Mr. Kirchheimer’s father, an aunt, neighbors, family friends and some of his classmates – now of course grown up – with some stills, film footage and facts about Nazi Germany for historical context. The people talk not so much about the old neighborhood as about their memories of what it was like to live in Germany both before and after Hitler came to power, how they managed to escape and their concern over the relatives and friends who didn’t make it out. And in the last part of the film, Mr. Kirchheimer, who does all of the interviewing – he was producer, director, writer and editor -asks them questions that sometimes elicit surprising and disturbing answers, questions on their views of the Germans who looked the other way while their relatives were sent to the death camps, of today’s immigrants, and of how they think they might have acted in Germany had they not been Jewish.
”It was an extraordinary neighborhood,” Mr. Kirchheimer says, sitting in the living room of his combination apartment and office on the Upper West Side, just a few feet from the montage of film making and editing equipment with which he created the movie. ”It was a neighborhood whose residents came here in less than ideal circumstances, and a couple of years later they had built a community that was so tight and so friendly that it would sometimes take me an hour in the summer to walk the one block between Fort Washington Avenue and Riverside Drive. I would pass all the people in their summer chairs, sitting out and chatting after supper. ‘Hello, Mrs. Rosenthal.’ ‘Hello. Mrs. Stern.’ And so on. Sometimes when I was in a hurry I would walk five or six blocks out of my way just to avoid having to do that.”
Read more: FILM VIEW – A FILM MAKER EVOKES THE WORLD OF FRANKFORT-ON-THE-HUDSON – NYTimes.com.
Click here to see the trailer.