Conversation with… Micah Brandt

CT filmmaker attemps to bridge the gap between the generations in Germany – where the past has caught up with the present.

By Cindy Mindell

Micah Brandt

Micah Brandt

This November marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a pogrom of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Germany that is commonly regarded as the beginning of the Holocaust.
Filmmaker Micah Brandt of Orange hopes to mark the event with the premiere of his documentary, “Robbery of the Heart,” which follows a Holocaust survivor from Connecticut as he returns to his home town of Wetter, Germany on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The film was shot in Wetter, as well as Roth, Marburg, Rothenburg, and Frankfurt, all in Germany. Brandt also filmed in Bridgeport, Fairfield, Simsbury, and Hartford.
Brandt, a native of Dallas, spent the majority of his childhood in the New Haven area, graduating from Amity High School in Woodbridge in 1997.
He spoke with the Ledger about his documentary and how he hopes to use it to motivate others.

Q: How did you become interested in creating a film about Kristallnacht and the town of Wetter?
A: Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by interviewing people and telling their stories and movie-making in general. In 2002, I graduated from UConn with a major in mass media communications. In 2008, I finished my Master’s studies in film production at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. While there, I produced and managed about six student thesis projects and garnered work in the independent short-film and music-video arenas, producing videos independently from the academy.
In 2009, I completed my post-graduate degree in producing at the Escola Superior de Cinema Audiovisuals de Catalunya in Barcelona. Since then, I’ve produced and/or managed more than a dozen feature and
documentary films.
In 2008, Etai Nahary finished translating his grandfather’s manuscript, from Hebrew to English, of the Jewish history of Wetter, dating back to the 13th century. Etai was born in Israel and grew up in Cheshire, and is a close friend of mine. I attended UConn with him and we later roomed together in Oakland, Calif. while I was studying in San Francisco.
Several months after the manuscript was translated, Etai and the Nahary family received an invitation to the 70th-anniversary commemoration ceremony of Kristallnacht in Wetter. The town had planned a five-day series of events and activities for the former Jewish inhabitants. It was an event 15 years in the making, inspired by a letter written by [Holocaust survivor] Harry Weichsel to then-mayor Dieter Reincke. The former synagogue in Wetter had been used as an animal stable since 1945, after being ransacked on Kristallnacht, although it was never burned, due to its central location. In 2004, the stable-owner died and the town took possession of the building in order to restore it to its original state as a Jewish house of prayer and a cultural center/museum for the townspeople, representing a token of their past. Finally, in 2008, the restoration was complete for the guests’ arrival. Days before the commemoration, Martina Kepper, the event organizer, introduced me to Harry Weichsel. It was a coincidence that Harry was a Bridgeport resident and I a resident of Orange, though at the time I was living and studying in Barcelona. I had found my film’s subject, since neither Etai nor his family could make it to the event.

Q: Where does the title of your film come from? 
A: “Robbery of the Heart” is inspired by the former shape of the town. During medieval times and through the end of World War II, the stone walls surrounding the town formed a heart shape around the town. Of the 128 Jews who lived in Wetter prior to the war, the majority lived in the center, or the heart, of the town. The pogroms which reached Wetter displaced all the Jews. The lucky ones immigrated to America, Australia, South Africa, and Israel, with the help of family members who were already there. The unfortunate ones were taken by force to Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka, Theresiensdadt, Auschwitz, and Majdanek, where they were murdered. In summary, the title can be interpreted as “the Jews were robbed of their homes in the heart of Wetter.” Germany was the first continental European country to give Jews equal rights to own land as German citizens, which is why there were Jewish communities in small towns all across Germany, since Jews were allowed to herd cattle and raise crops on their own land, which was not possible to do in cities.

Q: What story does the film tell?  
A: “Robbery of the Heart” follows the stories of Harry Weichsel as he tries to reconcile with his past by bringing his whole family, three generations, to Germany, while the Wetterans try to come to terms with a series of antisemitic attacks in their town on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Following the synagogue’s revival, a group of Neo-Nazis desecrated several Jewish burial sites in Wetter and the town’s middle school.
The film shows how one small German town acts with resilience against such incidences and is a microcosm for other German towns dealing with such incidences, as Kristallnacht and Hitler’s birthday see the highest number of antisemitic attacks in Germany. On average, one Jewish cemetery is vandalized every week in Germany. This film examines one of these statistics and the demonstration that the Wetterans organize to protest against such attacks and the right-winged beliefs that still exist in Germany today. Wetter is an example of how a group of people can make a difference by standing up to injustice and fighting against prejudice.

Wetter Synagogue

Wetter Synagogue

Q: What do you hope to achieve with the film?
A: The main reason for making this movie is to show how people who stand up against injustice and prejudice can impact the overall sentiment of a nation and change how people think. My goal is to educate people on what is happening in a single country and what the town of Wetter does in reaction to right-wing extremism. Again, Wetter is used as a microcosm to this growing problem in Germany. The film attempts to bridge the gap between the generations in Germany, where the past has caught up to the present: youth are being persuaded to adopt fascist ideals and join the right-winged political party; spreading messages of hate and extremist nationalism.
I plan to screen the film at community centers, churches and synagogues, museums, etc., both in the U.S. and Germany. Because I am still fundraising, I don’t have an exact premiere date, but I hope to screen the film on or before the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht this November.

To learn more about “Robbery of the Heart:”

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