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Ofra Bloch On 'Afterward'

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In her new documentary, "Afterword," Ofra Bloch chose to examine what had always been a given in her home growing up. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and an Israeli Jew, she was taught Germans were bad. So she decided to examine that belief.

OFRA BLOCH: So I can stop the cycle of hate because I was raised in an environment that, you know, the message was hate the Germans forever after.

FADEL: But as she filmed her conversations with descendants of Nazis, she realized as an Israeli, she had to talk to another community that she'd been raised to steer clear of.

BLOCH: Well, I had no way of knowing then (laughter) and that my unconscious would play tricks on me. And I actually ended up interviewing the other group of people that I was raised to fear and hate, namely the Palestinians.

FADEL: "Afterward" is Ofra Bloch's personal look at the trauma of the Holocaust and the way that trauma and the hate that can accompany it are passed down to both victims and perpetrators of violence. Sometimes the victim and the perpetrator are the same person. Bloch told me there was one particular moment during an interview when she recognized her own role in all of this.

BLOCH: Looking into Bassam Aramin's eyes - he is the Palestinian who lost his 10-year-old daughter who was killed by an Israeli soldier. And we were standing in the playground that was built in her memory. And I finally found myself that I'm part of the problem, that I - it's also my responsibility. And the amount of shame that I felt was crushing.

FADEL: I felt like the documentary had a deep self-exploration for you. In one of your interviews with Samah Jabr, a Palestinian psychiatrist, she talks about the way the memory of the Holocaust impacts Palestinians. Here's a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AFTERWARD")

SAMAH JABR: Whenever the Palestinians want to discuss their difficulties with occupation, the history of the Holocaust is brought up to silence them, to make them understand that there is nothing comparable to the Holocaust. The history of the Holocaust is silencing the world.

FADEL: What was your reaction when she said that?

BLOCH: Well, it was a very important moment because she is saying it as it is. The Holocaust, which happened in the past, is actually being lived on a daily basis in. The Israeli society with the help of cynical politicians. And it's very detrimental because it creates an outlook that everybody is the enemy. It creates an attitude that the Holocaust is around the corner and is going to be done by the Palestinians next door. And it prevents people from listening to the experience of another group of people. And so she's very accurate about that.

FADEL: Have you gotten any pushback for seeking out this perspective as an Israeli Jew?

BLOCH: Yes. People feel very strongly, and I've been criticized for comparing the Holocaust to the Nakba. And I'm not doing that.

FADEL: And the Nakba being what Palestinians call the creation of Israel in 1948.

BLOCH: Yeah, it's what the Israelis call the War of Independence in 1948. It's called the catastrophe by the Palestinians. And, you know, they referred to basically the destruction of their country. So the idea that I would mention those two historical events in the same breath is a holy cow. And you're not - one is not supposed to do that. Are you interested to hear what I answer to this criticism?

FADEL: Yes.

BLOCH: OK. So what I think and what I tell people that, first of all, one cannot compare suffering. There is no scale or measurement that we can give numbers and say oh, you suffered till, you know, 3%, and the other ones suffered 5%. It doesn't exist. Suffering is suffering and suffering. And pain is pain, is pain. I mean, don't we have wide enough or big enough heart to listen for the suffering of other people? Does it take anything away from the horror of the Holocaust if we mention the suffering of the Palestinians? And when I asked that, you know, people sometimes start thinking.

FADEL: You know, as this film comes out, we're seeing a rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, specifically Germany and in New York, where you live.

BLOCH: Yeah.

FADEL: And what are you thinking as you watch this happen around you?

BLOCH: Well, it's, first of all, hard to believe. But at the same time, it is the same thing that happens towards black people and other people of color. So, I mean, the idea of racism in general is happening. And I see it more since the election of President Trump. And something was released and allow, you know, the darkness to surface. And maybe it's an opportunity. Maybe it's good that it's on the out, that we can really address it.

FADEL: At the end of the film, you speak to the father you mentioned, Bassam, who lost his daughter. And he talks about watching the movie "Schindler's List," about the Holocaust, in an Israeli prison at first because he's so angry, and he hates Israeli so much that he wants to see the suffering of Jews. But as he watches the film, he feels the pain and the pain that he has felt in an Israeli prison. We'll just play a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "AFTERWARD")

BASSAM ARAMIN: I tried to convince myself it's just a movie; it's not reality. Then I discovered later on it was a big argument, even in the Israeli society for the survivors why you escape, why you keep silence, why you didn't fight, which is the same with many refugees in the Palestinian side, why you escape, why you didn't save your land, why you didn't fight. So we are murderers exactly to each other.

FADEL: Why did you choose to end on this thought?

BLOCH: I think because human nature is similar, and the same issues being raised in every group that deals with historical event as traumatic as those two. But I also - if I should, I want to add that at the end of the film, there is a scene in which I look out of the window of my childhood home.

FADEL: That's right.

BLOCH: And I look for the almond tree that used to blossom around this time of the year for my birthday. And the almond tree's gone. And I start tearing up and becoming emotional. And I had no idea what was happening to me. It's only after I finish editing the film that I realized that I was shedding tears because I was missing the comfort of being right, of having the comfort of thinking we are right, they're wrong. It's a simple, clear message. I can live with it. And I cannot live with it anymore.

FADEL: Ofra Bloch's film is "Afterward." Thank you so much.

BLOCH: Thank you, Leila.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly say that Ofra Bloch is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She grew up in Jerusalem, where she was surrounded by Holocaust survivors.]

(SOUNDBITE OF LUCAS LECHOWSKI'S "I") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 4, 2020 at 11:00 PM CST
In this report, as well as in a previous Web introduction, we incorrectly say that Ofra Bloch is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She grew up in Jerusalem, where she was surrounded by Holocaust survivors.