Thursday, November 01, 2012

Here I Learned to Love: In Search of Three Mothers

Two young brothers survived the Holocaust because their Aunt Malka put them on the Kasztner’s train, through sheer superhuman effort.  She may have been an aunt, but she became one of the women whom the boys would come consider their “three mothers” as grown adults.  Well into their seventies, the two brothers finally return to the Europe they barely escaped in hopes of learning more about their three mothers in Avi Angel’s documentary, Here I Learned to Love (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Izhak Weinberg has always been the older brother.  Protective of the younger Avner during those chaotic years, Weinberg wrote and researched the book Three Mothers for Two Brothers on which Angel’s documentary is partly based.  However, Avner Kerem never wanted to revisit the past and his brother never forced the issue.  Yet, he eventually agrees to the bittersweet pilgrimage in hopes of answering certain long held questions, including those involving his very name.

Tragically, the mother the brothers knew the least was their actual birth mother, the elegant Minda Weinberg, who entrusted the brothers to her sister Malka.  The nurturing Aunt Malka would also survive the National Socialist horrors, but at considerable personal cost.  By blindly entrusting the boys to the controversial Kasztner transport, their Aunt passed them into the sheltering hands of Naomi Meir, perhaps their most heartbreaking mother.

At fifty-five minutes or so, HILTL is brief by feature standards, but it dramatically conveys the courageous sacrifice of the three mothers and the resiliency of the two brothers.  There is not much padding in the film, but Angel still shows a shrewd eye for a quiet telling moment.  The brothers are not prone to sentimentality, but their homecoming bears a genuine emotional payoff.  Weinberg is particularly insightful, having become an expert on the Holocaust in his own right.

Like Tomasz Magierski’s Blinky & Me or Larry Weinstein’s Inside Hana’s Suitcase earlier in the year, HILTL follows a well established template for documenting survivors’ return journeys.  Duly respectful, it is concise but substantial.  A worthy and economical remembrance film, Here I Learned to Love is recommended parents, teachers, and students of history when it opens tomorrow (11/2) at the Quad Cinema in New York.