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In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery - Movie Review - 2011

Weissensee Is A Holocaust Survivor

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery - Movie Review - 2011

In Heaven, Underground - Poster Art

Seventh Art Releasing
In an area northeast of Berlin, Weissensee Jewish Cemetery is a quiet, peaceful 100-acre retreat that holds the graves of 115,000 people, and houses a remarkable archive with a wealth of family histories and other information that dates back 130 years to the very establishment of the burial ground during the 1850s. It has, since its gates were opened, withstood all of the warfare and social unrest that swept over Europe during the ensuing decades, remaining intact up to the present day. Weissensee is the oldest Jewish cemetery still in use in Europe. In fact, it has never closed, never interrupted its operation, never ceased to serve the Jewish community -- not even during the years of Nazi domination of Germany and the heinous discrimination against, transportation and murder of Jews.

It seems a miracle that the Nazis did not seize, loot and destroy Weissensee Jewish Cemetery as they did other centers of Jewish tradition and culture. Some say it is because the Nazis were extremely superstitious and feared ghosts -- that certainly didn't stop their behavior elsewhere. Never-the-less, the cemetery remained undisturbed and, other than the natural evolutions that occur with time, as it was meant to be: a peaceful resting place for all those interred within its walls. Every gravestone is still in place, and each now stands as an historical monument. Each is a holocaust survivors.

As we see in filmmaker Britta Wauer's exquisitely shot documentary, Weissensee Jewish Cemetery is a very beautiful place where uniquely designed graves, some elaborate and some quite simple, stand next to each other, some deteriorating, others well maintained. They all share a comforting canopy of shade provided by beautiful age old trees and they are surrounded by lush life-affirming foliage. Even perceived via images emanating from the screen, the Weissensee Jewish Cemetery seems to be hallowed ground, a location for contemplation of the meaning of life, as well as for the remembrance of those who have left this mortal realm.

Showing tremendous empathy and understanding, filmmaker Britta Wauer interviews various people who are affiliated way with the cemetery, or who have journeyed from the far reaches of the world to visit it. Wauer's subjects are an appealing lot. She follows tourists, mourners, a third-generation grave digger, a world-wise rabbi, a family who actually lives at the cemetery, and a bird watcher who is studying birds of prey. All of their stories, illustrated with archival footage and home photographs, are interwoven and contribute greatly to the film's overall appeal and meaning.

But, really, the film's lead character is Weissensee Jewish Cemetery itself, a place that houses the dead, but has survived to become a symbol of human resilience, and of the importance of recognizing and respecting tradition. For many it has become a place for deep contemplation of the meaning of life and death.

There is oviously much more to Weissensee Jewish Cemetery than can be represented in this film. In doing such a good job of covering the essentials, Wauer certainly peaks our curiosity. It's likely that after seeing In Heaven, Underground, you'll want to visit Weissensee Jewish Cemetery to soak up the history and ambiance in person.

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Film Details:

  • In Heaven Underground: The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery
  • Director: Britta Wauer
  • Theatrical Release Date: November 18, 2011 (limited)
  • Running Time: 90 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Country: Germany
  • Locations: Berlin, Germany
  • Language: English, and Hebrew, German and Russian with English subtitles
  • Distribution Company: Seventh Art Releasing
  • Official Trailer

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