Back to Berlin




A proud journey undertaken in 2015 but linked to the Holocaust.

Back to Berlin


Any list of the most distinguished documentaries of all time would be remiss if it did not find room for two films centred on the Holocaust, both of them groundbreaking in their day. 1956 brought us Night and Fog by Alain Resnais, short in length but quite impossible to forget, while in contrast the epic length of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah (1985) provided us with a detailed picture of immense historical importance. Following on from such works, Catherine Lurie's Back to Berlin can hardly claim the same standing, but it is for all that a very fine piece. It is characterised by a simple approach and by a directness that stems from its very effective use of personal testimony - and these prove to be exactly the right qualities for what Lurie's film wants to convey to us.


Back to Berlin came about when it became known that a group of Jewish bikers - eleven in number - were planning a journey of 3000 miles to bring the torch associated with the Maccabi Games (an event often referred to as the Jewish Olympics) from Israel to Berlin, this being where the 2015 European games were being held. The first such games had been held in Tel Aviv in 1932 set up at a time when Jewish sportsmen were suffering discrimination and by 1936 this had grown despite some temporary attempts to cover it up at the Berlin Olympics in that year when some but not all Jewish contestants were able to participate. The journey seen here and occurring close on eighty years later was undertaken with all that in mind and with deep reflection on the Holocaust itself.


Although historical footage is included, the greater part of Back to Berlin simply follows the bikers across Europe through such countries as Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Poland until on the twenty-third day they reach Berlin. Those making this journey varied in age, but all respond in their own way to the history of the Holocaust: those who experienced it and survived, those who lost family members and those who represent a younger generation drawing their own lessons from the history evoked by the places through which they pass (in commemoration they choose that scene of resistance, the Warsaw Ghetto, as the most appropriate spot at which to light the torch en route).


Naturally enough the bikers add Auschwitz to their route but, being less familiar, tales of torture and killing in Romania and in Hungary gain a particular impact here. The fact that this film is built around the journey gives it a clear shape and nothing feels overextended while the actual return to Berlin itself amounts to a kind of triumph, an upbeat note amidst the horrors recalled. But, as I have suggested, what makes Back to Berlin special is Catherine Lurie's refusal to impose herself on the film: by giving pride of place to so many individual recollections she anchors the film in the personal and it is all the more eloquent for that reason.




Featuring  Yoram Maron, Dan Maron, Joseph Gottdenker, Maximillian Marco Katz, Elen Katz, Gili Shem Tov, Hila Fenlon, Kobi Samuel, Yaron Munz, Ziv Koren, Alexander Rosenkranz. With narration by Jason Isaacs.


Dir Catherine Lurie, Pro Catherine Lurie, Screenplay Catherine Lurie, Ph Eyal Ben Yaish, Ed Andrew Quigley and Julian Rodd, Music Michael Stevens.


Cat-Mac-Verve Pictures.
79 mins. UK/Israel. 2018. Rel: 23 November 2018. Cert. 12A.