David Paul works as a judge in New York City. GERMAN SHEPHERD is a powerful short documentary of his attempts at coming to terms with the Holocaust, Germans and Germany. Directed by Nils Bergendal, the short premiered in 2014 and has enjoyed, deservedly, huge success on the film festival circuit. I find GERMAN SHEPHERD compelling, and believe you will too.
You may watch the ten-minute short on Youtube.
Recently, David Paul graciously agreed to the following interview.
1) From which European places did your family come, and under what circumstances?
My grandfather Nathan Abramowitz was born in Sighet, Hungary. My grandmother Adele was born in Dolina, a small Polish town. My mother Tamara was born in Lvov, Poland (also known as Lemberg). After the war, Lvov became part of Ukraine and is now called Lviv.
(The Lviv Holocaust Memorial in Israel. To learn about the Lviv pogroms, go here).
2) Which of your relatives died in the Holocaust?
My mother had numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany, who all perished in the Holocaust.
(David Paul’s mother at the time she left Poland)
(David Paul’s mother’s cousins Dzunia and Tosia; both died in the Holocaust)
(David Paul’s great-grandfather Dovid Shmuel, for whom David is named)
3) Please tell us about your very first trip to Berlin.
My first trip to Berlin was in 1990 just after the Wall came down. East Berlin was still very much feeling communist. There was a lot of chaos and excitement in the air. The first place I went to visit was the partially destroyed synagogue in eastern Berlin on the Oranienburger Strasse. I was immediately fascinated with the city that has seen militarism, democracy, fascism, and communism in the course of the 20th century. There were memorials and signs of the War as well as of the Holocaust everywhere you turned.
(Berlin’s New Synagogue, on Oranienburger Strasse, was destroyed in the war. Afterwards, the facade — though not the whole synagogue — was rebuilt. This photo shows a memorial plaque on the facade).
(Artist’s rendering of the facade of the Neue Synagoge, Berlin)
4) Are you surprised by the success of GERMAN SHEPHERD?
Yes. Director Nils Bergendal and I were surprised by this. It’s a simple personal story and a simple animation. After we were invited to the Toronto Film Festival — (as 1 of the 36 shorts accepted out of over 3,000 submitted) — the film started to get in everywhere. We’ve been screened in more than 50 film festivals around the globe, have received 6 awards, and were part of the 2016 Oscar pool for Best Short Animation.
(Director Nils Bergendal with David Paul at the Documenta festival in Madrid, Spain)
5) Has your thinking about the Holocaust and/or Germans and Germany changed at all since the time GERMAN SHEPHERD was made, and if so, how?
It has, yes. Prior to making GERMAN SHEPHERD, my personal views and thoughts on the Holocaust were all over the place. Nils was really able to capture the essence of my view of the subject. And after attending lots of screenings and talking to many Germans about the film, I have gained more insight on the sometimes difficult process of reconciliation between Germans and Jews. My views on the Holocaust have been evolving since I was a teenager. There was a time when I would never think of stepping foot into Berlin but obviously, that has changed over time.
6) These days, what are your favorite things to do when you’re in Berlin?
Even after having visited Berlin approximately 40 times, I’m still drawn to the memorials there. I spend a lot of time at the Holocaust Memorial by the Brandenburg Gate. There is a room there where the names of known victims are spoken one at a time with a little factual information about each person. Sometimes I sit in that room for an entire day listening to those names. As I have watched the city get built up again, though, I do enjoy spending time in Potsdamer Platz and the Tiergarten.
(2015 Holiday Menorah near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, photo courtesy of David Paul)
7) Why is the short film called German Shepherd?
I met director Nils Bergendal several times in Berlin during the preparation of the short film. Each time I was there, I introduced him to a different group of Berlin friends. So he saw me almost as a kind of “shepherd” of the German friends I was bringing together. Hence the name GERMAN SHEPHERD.