This series tells the history of the Jews in the modern period through the intimate lens of family histories. This series presents a vivid and colorful new history of Jewish people in Europe through the stories of four families, whose narratives are both paradigmatic and exceptional: the Mendozas, the Cassutos, the Fromms, and the Jellineks. Survival is a key theme in the stories of Jewish families. But so is achievement and love. This series will be about the triumph of Jewish families over tragedy. We have chosen the “family” (Mishpokhe) as the way to approach this subject for three reasons. Firstly, the family occupies a central place in Jewish life. Secondly, the story of the Jews in Europe is about survival over generations. Thirdly, the family is a theme with universal emotional appeal. This four part series of historical documentaries reflects current thinking on Jewish identity and history. Many of the old clichés of Jewish history have been called into question, and a few overturned by scholars in the recent, swiftly expanding field of Jewish studies
PART ONE: THE MENDOZA/SELLERS
Daniel Mendoza, born into a Sephardic family living in London, was the first Jewish boxing champion and a celebrity in eighteenth century England as boxing champion who played on the image of the Jew as an oppressed outsider and exotic foreigner. His descendants all worked in show business, right down to the famous comedian and impersonator Peter Sellers. The Mendozas (later Sellers) saga is a tale not only of Jewish entertainers but also of assimilation, which examines the question of the loss of Jewish identity. While this is a film about Jews in the entertainment industry, its theme is the assimilation of Jews and the way different generations of Jews have related to their religious identity.
PART TWO: THE JELLINEKS
The Jellineks reveal the extraordinary mobility, inventiveness and entrepreneurship of Jews in the age of Mass Society. Originating from Moravia, later living at the Cote d’Azur, Emil Jellinek, the son of a Viennese Rabbi and grandson of a village innkeeper, invented the Mercedes automobile, which he named after his beloved daughter, in the late nineteenth century. After he died in 1918, the Jewish roots of Daimler-Mercedes were forgotten and the management became enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis. The Nazis invaded Europe in Mercedes vehicles and persecuted the descendants of Jellinek. This film explores the success of a Jewish entrepreneur, but also shows the impossibility of imagining a history of Europe without Jewish achievements.
PART THREE: THE FROMMS
In 1914, Julius Fromm, the son of an impoverished Polish tradesman who had moved his large family to Berlin, invented a new type of seamless rubber condom he called “Fromms Act.” World War I and the growth of Europe’s cities, led to a shift in sexual morals and a massive rise in prostitution and venereal diseases. The Nazis, under Goering, expropriated Fromm’s business. After WWII it was expropriated again, by the Communists, who dubbed Fromm a “capitalist exploiter.” After a long restitution process the family had to “re-purchase” its own name, which still is the most reliable brand for condoms in Germany.
PART FOUR: THE CASSUTOS
The Cassutos are a distinguished Jewish family that can be traced back more than three centuries. Moses Vita Cassuto traveled from his hometown in Florence to the Holy Land and back through Europe, leaving behind an illuminating travel journal. His brother’s descendants became diamond cutters, book collectors and lawyers in Amsterdam. Many of the Dutch Cassutos were killed in the Holocaust; surviving members live throughout the world. Nathan Cassuto, son of renowned biblical scholar Umberto Cassuto, was a doctor and later chief rabbi of Florence. While he perished in the Holocaust, his wife and children survived, and his son David became an architect central to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s Old City. This film demonstrates how the idea of a return to the homeland of Israel was alive in Jewish minds as a messianic hope for many centuries before modern Zionism.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
BEN LEWIS, DIRECTOR
Ben Lewis’s previous documentary credits include the award-winning films The King of Communism: the Pomp and Pageantry of Nicolae Ceausescu; Blowing Up Paradise; and Hammer and Tickle: the Communist Joke Book. Lewis is best known for his insightful and ironic series on contemporary artists, Art Safari, a success throughout the UK, Europe, Australia, the Far East, North and South America. Lewis writes a monthly column on art for Prospect and contributes to Evening Standard, Times and Sunday Telegraph. He is the author of Hammer and Tickle: The Story of a Political System Which Was (Almost) Laughed Out of Existence and directed the film The Great Contemporary Art Bubble (Did You Just Pay $92,000,000 for That?).
CARL-LUDWIG RETTINGER, PRODUCER
Carl-Ludwig Rettinger, managing director of LICHTBLICK FILM based in Cologne and Berlin, has written and directed several documentary films. He holds a MA in film from the Freie Universität Berlin and lectures at in Berlin, Munich and Paris. Since 1981 he has been commissioning editor for independent feature films and documentaries at the German Public Broadcaster ZDF.
NAOMI GRYN, CO-PRODUCER
Naomi Gryn is a writer, broadcaster and filmmaker. Her documentaries include The Sabbath Bride, Chasing Shadows, The Star, The Castle & The Butterfly, Boys From The Bronx, and Shop Till You Drop. She has worked across the television industry as researcher, producer and director and has written and presented several radio documentaries for BBC, including A Strange Legacy, Next Year In Jerusalem, and Inside The New Yorker. Gryn co-authored and edited the books Chasing Shadows and Three Minutes of Hope: Hugo Gryn on the God Slot. She has written for many publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Index on Censorship, Jewish Quarterly, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and Radio Times.
MORE ABOUT THE FILM
Download funding proposal for MISHPOKHE (PDF)
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