BERLIN — When I returned from nearly 43 years of McCarthy-induced exile in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), one of my first visits was to my old haunts at the Museum of Modern Art.
While there, I urged them to plan a retrospective of some of the great films, almost unknown in the U.S., produced by the DEFA studios of the GDR.
The slightly amused and very negative response was, in essence: What, East German films? Are you crazy? I failed to get my enthusiasm across.
But times change, and some people are getting to know them, thanks to the loan service of DEFA films at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which has and knows them all.
If you are anywhere near New York in mid-February, don’t miss the chance to see two of the greatest ones, both directed by the late, great Frank Beyer. Both feature the prize-winning actor Armin Mueller-Stahl and the wonderful actor Erwin Geschonnek, himself a concentration camp survivor, who, joined by many of his fans, recently and alertly celebrated his 100th birthday!
“Jacob the Liar,” the original film (not the weak Hollywood make-over), which was nominated for an Oscar, tells with compassion, humor and a kind of Jewish irony a story with a tragic ghetto background near the end of World War II. It will be screened Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. and Feb. 16 at 8 p.m.
“Naked Among Wolves” is the largely true story (based on a long-time best-selling novel by a participant) of a little Jewish boy in Buchenwald Concentration Camp who was hidden and saved by the underground resistance committee there, for whom he was a symbol of hope. It will be screened Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. Both film screenings will be at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street in NYC.
Don’t miss them, and if you live too far from NYC, order the video versions from Amherst.