- On Meerapfel’s My German Friend
My German Friend (El amigo alemán), an Argentine-German co-production by filmmaker Jeanine Meerapfel, is a love story between the daughter of German Jewish refugees and the son of a Nazi officer who immigrated to Argentina. Sulamit Löwenstein (Celeste Cid) and Friedrich Burg (Max Riemelt) begin their lifelong romantic relationship as adolescent neighbors in a wealthy area of Buenos Aires before the coup d’état that deposed President Juan Perón (in office 1946–1952–1952–1955–1973–1974) in 1955. During Perón’s first presidential term, both Jews and Nazis migrated to find shelter in Argentina. Ashamed once he discovers his father’s true identity as a former SS officer, Friedrich severs his family ties. Despite his romantic relationship with Sulamit, he moves to Germany, seeking to understand his father’s past.
After receiving an academic scholarship to pursue a university degree, Sulamit also moves to Germany, much to her family’s disappointment. Upon reuniting with Friedrich, she realizes that their relationship is not his first priority; he is instead dedicated to political activism in the student movements of the 1960s. Driven by revolutionary ideology, Friedrich returns to Argentina and joins a guerrilla group during Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976–1983); he is arrested and sent to [End Page 106] Rawson prison in Patagonia. With the return of democracy in 1983, Friedrich is liberated from jail and establishes himself in Patagonia, where he works with the Mapuche indigenous community. Years later, Sulamit, an independent woman in her forties with an academic career in Germany, travels to Argentina and then makes the trek to Patagonia to reunite with Friedrich.
As in her earlier movie Th e Girlfriend (La amiga, Argentina-West Germany, 1988), Meerapfel includes several biographical elements in My German Friend. Meerapfel was born in 1943 in Argentina, where she lived until 1964, when she moved to Germany, the same country from which her parents escaped from during the Nazi regime. My German Friend examines the challenges encountered by second-generation Holocaust survivors and addresses the experiences confronting the children of the perpetrators. Sulamit and Friedrich’s relationship and lives are influenced by the way in which they relate to their forebears’ past. Friedrich is driven by radical ideology that stems from a need to understand his father’s deeds. He seeks to reconcile and repair the past through political activism and community engagement. Sulamit takes a more personal approach to overcoming her traumatic family history. Her actions are fueled by concrete and pragmatic interpersonal motivations—in particular, to establish a meaningful relationship with Friedrich.
The fact that Friedrich is a Nazi officer’s son does not actually constitute an obstacle for Sulamit, despite her parents’ initial distress at the very idea of a “German friend.” (Sulamit’s relationship with Friedrich, however, is accepted by her family years later.) Sulamit consciously chooses Friedrich with full awareness of his family’s past and without assigning him the moral burden of his father’s deeds. Her sense of identity transcends the confining forms of membership in traditional categories of national, religious, or ethnic identification. Sulamit’s construction of self is based on ethical commitments to others and acceptance of responsibility for her choices. After realizing Friedrich has disappeared during the military dictatorship, she feels obligated to travel to Argentina to uncover his whereabouts and is ultimately able to visit him in Rawson prison using a false identity. Sulamit’s risk-taking actions are consistent with her emotional and ethical commitment to Friedrich, and her generosity in seeing him as an individual and not just as an accumulation of his family’s past.
Meerapfel’s filmography, including the films Melek Leaves (Die Kümmeltürkin geht; West Germany, 1985) and Days to Remember (Die Verliebten; West Germany, 1987), has common themes of the experience of Otherness and of the search for [End Page 107] a sense of identity which cross linguistic, geographic, and cultural borders. My German Friend was filmed...