Podcast review: Our House: Stories of the Holocaust

What happens when Berliners trace the history of their homes?


One of the Berlin residents who took part ion the project

Our House:Stories of the Holocaust

Podcast | BBC | ★★★✩✩

Review by Josh Howie

Our home’s an ex-council flat, initially built to accommodate railway workers, which we bought from a family after they’d moved out to the suburbs. In 14 years of raising a family here, this is the most I have ever thought about its history. But then again, I’m not living in an formerly Jewish area of Berlin.

Jo Glanville though, in her documentary Our House: Stories of the Holocaust for BBC World Service, has sought out such families and homes, to discover what impact the fate of its former inhabitants has had on them.

It’s a thought-provoking reframing of the events of the Holocaust, with a personal connection for the documentary maker as she seeks out the former house of her mother who managed to initially escape to France, even though her uncle and cousin were later murdered in the camps. It was through her that memories of a large loved home lived on in family lore.

For modern Berliners such as Hugh and Anke, a call to the past led them to seek out the history of their apartment. This incredibly ended with them managing to track down 92-year-old Ludvig on Facebook. He even revisited his home, now theirs, for an project  called Denk Mal Am Ort, which you’ll have read about in last week’s JC2.

With the double meaning Think about a Place, Monument to a Place, this annual memorial open house commemorating former occupants, had visitors packing Hugh and Anke’s flat to hear Ludvig’s recollections of living there and his family’s escape in 1938.

It’s one thing to watch films and documentaries or read books about the Holocaust, but being in the same physical spaces can truly bring the past to life. For many, that might entail a trip to Auschwitz, but what is highlighted here is the value of also seeing where the lives of the victims began.

For Matthias, whose research into his apartment block of 26 flats revealed 80 former Jewish habitants of whom only 17 survived, it’s carrying out the regular tasks of his life that sometimes make him pause. Were previous occupants doing the same mundane activities when their lives were so abruptly interrupted?

Glanville packs a lot into 30 minutes, including a brief history of the 1939 Judenhaus laws that stripped Jews of tenancy rights, leading to evictions and the beginnings of ghettoisation. The upheaval would have been impossible for the non-Jewish population to ignore, all under the remit of that ‘good’ Nazi, Albert Speer.

The final interview takes place back in the UK, with 95-year-old Ruth’s childhood memories of Berlin before the Kindertransport saved her from the fate of the rest of her family.  Kristallnacht now mostly exists in photos and footage. For Ruth it meant missing school because it had been burnt down. The bricks of the synagogue where her school was have gone, but at least in some of the former homes of Berlin’s Jews, their memories live on.

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