TV review: British Jews: German Passports

This unpredictable documentary is a heartbreaking, heartwarming quest


A number of concepts have come to define the post-war Jewish psyche, but perhaps one above all: always leave an escape route, in case things turn ugly.

In British Jews: German Passports (BBC One) two British Jews with German ancestry — The JC’s agony aunt Hilary Freeman and businessman Robert Voss — grappled with the notion of applying for German citizenship in the wake of Brexit.

The rise of the Nazis taught Jews — especially German Jews — that their seemingly stable life was built on quicksand. As Robert Voss recounted, his grandfather was a respected judge in Germany, who had fought for the Kaiser in the First World War. When the Nazis came to power, he lost his position and subsequently his life. And, in a period when Brexit looms large over Europe’s political landscape, the idea of having options for the future seems wise.

But what happens when the very country you are considering as your potential escape route is the one, which, three quarters of a century ago, murdered your family members?

Voss and Freeman travelled to Germany to find out more about their family members and the fate that befell them. The third person featured, Baroness Julia Neuberger, had less air time as she seemed absolutely sure of her decision to apply for a passport. We saw her cutting off an elderly gentleman, saved from the Holocaust through the Kindertransport, when he disagreed with her view.

The Fatherland’s toxic reputation among the survivor generation clearly continues to this day. Freeman’s discussion with her mother, when they recall how their family didn’t buy “German cars, German fridges — anything German,” sounded very familiar.

It would have been interesting to find out more about Voss and Freeman’s lives — there was only a brief clip of Voss’s role as Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, responsible for presiding over British citizenship ceremonies. However, the journey of discovery portrayed by the programme was heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, especially when Voss recited the mourners’ prayer in the place where his family were deported to their deaths, once a cattle slaughterhouse, now a library.

It was clear that the decisions made came after much soul-searching. No doubt there are many British Jews who will identify with that struggle.

British Jews, German Passports is on the BBC iPlayer until June 1

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