Documentary about the writer Walter Kaufman

IThis movie should have traveled around the world with the protagonist. As the writer Walter Kaufmann was initially an exile, then a sailor for years, and later as a reporter with an Australian passport for various media in the GDR without any travel restrictions, documentarians Karen Kabir and Dirk Szuzis knew that the man’s field of activity for those who wanted to dedicate their film, The entire world included: Japan, Cuba, the United States, Israel, of course Australia, Great Britain – to name a few. and Germany in a plural political constitution: Weimar Republic, “Third Reich”, Federal Republic of Germany, German Democratic Republic, unitary state. Walter Kaufmann, born in Berlin in 1924, died there in April 2021. In between, he had plenty of life and hard work, and he was all over the place.

Kaper and Szuszies have not gone anywhere to see their documentary “Walter Kaufmann – Welch a Leben!” But the documents came, and after ten years of trying that says something about it. The shooting was finally made possible by funding the current anniversary of “1700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany”, and the International Auschwitz Committee and the Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime committed to completing the operation. Kaufmann was a Jew and persecuted, but he escaped from Auschwitz because his adoptive parents had sent him to Great Britain in time. But both, Johanna and Sally Kaufmann, were killed at Auschwitz. That is why the son, who in the meantime arrived in Australia, decided to devote his life to the fight against fascism, and for this he thought of a side that previously did not mean anything to him. “Only when I returned to Germany I insisted on my Jewishness: here are the murderers, and here I am.”

For Walter Kaufman, New York was as wonderful as it was terrifying.  He appears here as a journalist traveling in the United States against a Manhattan backdrop.


For Walter Kaufman, New York was as wonderful as it was terrifying. He appears here as a journalist traveling in the United States against a Manhattan backdrop.
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Photo: Karen Kabir Film

Visiting the scenes of Kaufmann’s life in Germany was not a problem for Capper and Suzes, but the pandemic made it impossible for them to cross the German border. And Kaufman was now very old: “I wish I could have made a hundred,” he told the directors, “but I don’t see it.” So that he could see their picture of his life, Kaper and Showsz came up with an idea: they asked camera operators who were friends in countries Kaufman had previously visited to film the relevant locations. Since very different stylistic impressions appeared, video recordings of conversations with Walter Kaufmann are now in brackets in the drama. It’s a contrasting movie, but the harmonious movie wouldn’t do justice to this hero’s character.

Kaufman wrote his first books at sea and in English. It took years for it to be translated into German, which is why it needed his status as an anti-fascist in the GDR. In 1985 he became general secretary of the local PEN—”that was something quite different from the Writers’ Guild,” but Kaufman remained a staunch leftist after 1990: as a dividing line against the right. It’s a shame that the film has to now go on a movie tour without its active contemporary testimonial. Kaufman knew how to speak succinctly but poignantly about his life. In 1961 he met in Cuba, as a correspondent, several fellow writers from the German Democratic Republic who were also traveling to the new model country of the revolution, including Eberhard Banitz. As ironic coincidence was, Banitz is now dead, too, in the first week of the movie. We need these witnesses because witnesses won’t be around soon.

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