Hannes Richter

In Another LIfetime

Hannes Richter

On March 5, 2012 the Austrian Embassy, in cooperation with the Jewish Film Festival in Washington, D.C., invited interested guests to their screening of the Austrian drama In Another Lifetime (Vielleicht In Einem Anderen Leben). The movie had its D.C. premier on December 6, 2011 as part of the Jewish Community Center’s Film Festival.

It provided the audience with an emotional and thoughtful examination of the horror and the inhumanity that prevailed during World War II. The story begins when a group of about 20 Jews, on their forced death march to Mauthausen, is stranded in a barn of a local family in rural Austria.

While waiting for the Wehrmacht to proceed, the Jews, weakened by hunger and exhaustion, suffer silently in their prison. Eventually the local farmer acknowledges their suffering and forms a bond with the captives, providing them with food and other necessities. In return, as a gesture of appreciation, the Jews decide to perform the famous operetta Wiener Blut for the farmer.

However, this deepening relationship between the local family and the Jewish people is not well accepted. In the village’s community and ultimately ends in a tragedy. The subject, an operetta performance that in its own way offers hope and healing to both the Jewish captives and the farmer- is something that has not been attempted before in a Holocaust-themed movie.

The musical elements were used by director Elisabeth Scharang to serve as a connective tissue, tying the storylines and characters together. The group of Jews connects with the family through their passion for music and their basic humanity. Between these traces of humanity and the cruelty of the war, the tone of the story changes from resentment to despair to hope and in the process leaves a lasting impression on the viewer.

Dr. Miriam Isaacs, who recently retired as a professor of Yiddish language and culture at the University of Maryland, was among our guests and shared her thoughts on the movie: “I was very moved by this film because of what it does and does not do. It does present everyone in human terms; the prisoners are seen as diverse and desperate as the war nears its end. The SS is presented as depressed, lost in a fantasy world of classical music and book-keeping how many of the Jews have died. In this village the people are disconnected from the world, listening to the radio.

There is general confusion, disorientation caused by a lack of information. The film displays the culpability of the local townspeople, only one family helps the Jews and most locals resent them and worse. The Jews are seen as exhausted and struggling to keep their spirits alive through music. Most vivid is the brutality of the local hunters. From the first things seem absurd as even a young boy greets the miserable Jews with the Nazi salute.

The film does not cover up or soft-pedal what happened in so many places in Europe and unsparingly shows who was responsible, the local anti-Semites, bystanders and even the clergy. I would love to congratulate the actor Rafael Goldwaser for his homey Yiddish and the film makers for including that touch of authenticity.”

The movie directed by Austrian Elisabeth Scharang was shot in Passendorf, a little village in the Eastern part of Austria near the Hungarian Border. During World War II, Hungarian Jews were led from Budapest through the rural Austrian countryside to the concentration camp in Mauthausen. Eyewitnesses to this tragedy are still present in Passendorf today; most of whom were around 13 years of age when these death marches took place.

The cast of the movie is representative of many cultures, languages and dialects; the most prevalent being French, Hungarian, Yiddish and Austrian. Ursula Strauss and Johannes Krisch, who already starred together in the Oscar-nominated movie Revanche, portray the disillusioned farmer couple. Among the Jewish captives Péter Végh and Orsolya Tóth were most notable.

One character that particularly caught the audience attention was the Yiddish-speaking tailor Elias Rotenberg, played by Argentinean born director, actor and performer Rafael Goldwaser. The screenplay is based on the Austrian play To Each His Own by Peter Turrini und Silke Hassler, who were also involved with the movie production. Among others, the movie was screened at Jewish Film Festivals in Vancouver, San Francisco, Denver and Washington D.C.

Both Strauss and Krisch were honored for their poignant performances and the movie received the first prize at the Jewish Eye – The World Jewish Film Festival.