Imagine being able to talk your father, ten years after his death. Martin Goldsmith knows how it feels, but not because he sought intervention from a medium. Martin is the investigator/narrator in Anders Østergaard’s Winter Journey, a film about the life of his late father Gunther Goldschmidt, but as portrayed by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz. For Martin, who never appears on camera, Ganz’s depiction of Gunther was a revelation, not least of all because he never asked for guidance on how to play him.
“In fact, it was quite the opposite,” notes Martin. “He wanted to create his own character and he did that using just the script and his genius as an actor. Watching the film I sometimes forget it’s an actor playing my father, because Bruno, on his own, managed to adopt my father’s mannerisms and the cadence and rhythm of his voice. When I saw that, it was as if I was communicating with my father.”
Winter Journey is being shown as part of the on-going UK Jewish Film Festival and on Thursday there is a Q&A with Martin, a veteran American radio broadcaster, who wrote the book ‘The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany’ on which the film is based. Essentially this is Martin’s search to understand the absence of relatives in his assimilated American family.
“As narrator, I relay the story of my brother, asking my father ‘how come we don’t have aunts, uncles and grandparents to visit on Thanksgiving?’ And my father responded briefly to say, they died in the war. That was that was the extent of it. It wasn’t until I was older, I began asking questions.”
Martin heard how Gunther’s care free existence as a music student ended when the Nazis came to power in 1933. Unable by law to complete his degree,the gifted flutist delayed his intended departure from Germany by joining the Jüdische Kulturbund, anorchestra of Jewish musicians used as Nazi propaganda to fool the world. Gunther met his violinist wife, Martin’s mother Rosemarie in the orchestra, but love alone could not protect them as Hitler’s chosen people. Martin’s existence is proof of their survival, but the past shaped his father’s American life.
“I interviewed a few of the orchestra’s surviving members while researching the book and met a violinist, Henry Meyer who lived in Cincinnati and he told me my father had been the life of the party – light hearted, light spirited -totally unlike the man I knew as my father who was hard to please and gave up his flute as an act of penance.”
The clue lies in a collection of letters from the desperate family Gunther left behind. Martin has the letters now.
“Yes, including the very last one, dated June 9 1942 in which my grandfather wrote to my father saying, ‘I have told you the horrible conditions under which we’re living, this will be the last time.Whether you do anything or not is up to you. But if you don’t, it will be on your conscience.”
The weight of that yellowing paper determined Martin’s difficult relationship with his guilt-ridden father as in August 42, Martin’s grandfather was sent to Auschwitz.
It was during his research when Martin who has lived in Washington since 1974 decided he wanted to connect with his long lost family. “I was not raised Jewish and only attended my first Seder when I was 16, but in my mid 50s I started a 20 month series of lectures with a local synagogue and I, became a man as a bar mitzvah aged 55.”
Though her history features less, his late mother Rosemary appears in one of the many period photos director Østergaard cleverly uses as scenery which the actors walk through.“In one photo of the orchestra,she is immediately to the right of the actress playing her who holds a viola. My mother’s instrument.”
Known for his brilliant performance as Hitler in Downfall(2004) it was as Holocaust survivor Gunther Goldschmidt (or George Goldsmith as he became) that Bruno Ganz gave his last performance as he died in February 2019.
“He was ill when he recorded the phone conversations in the film, but was passionate about completing it,”says Martin who does not have an audio recording of his own father. “There is one in the archives of Washington’s National Public Radio as a friend did it when he visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Come to think of it I should try and get a copy.”
A live Q&A with Martin Goldsmith by broadcaster and journalist Jason Solomons will take place on Thursday 12th November.
Winter Journey is part of the specially curated Curzon Home Cinema film selection and available to stream on the Curzon Home Cinema platform at any time from now until Thursday 19th November for £9.99.
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