At noon today, Visionary Award recipient Michael Verhoeven was interviewed by Sharon Rivo, Co-Founder and Executive Director, National Center for Jewish Film. We saw a few moments from his new film, “Human Failure,” which has its North American premiere tonight at the festival. It is a documentary about the discovery of an extraordinary archive from the Nazi era. For more than 60 years, tax records showing the appropriation — the authorized theft — of money and property from members of the Jewish community had been protected by privacy laws. But a professor found a stash of 20,000 files in Cologne, made copies of some of them, and created a museum exhibit. When Verhoeven read in the newspapers about the exhibition, he became involved and made the movie.
Theses special taxes were based on property, not income, so Jews were required to submit detailed inventories of every possession they had, down to the children’s dolls, according to Verhoeven. These are not just documents of what was lost. They provide a snapshot of the lives of these families. Many of the files include facts about the people as well as the property and the short clip we saw included an American who discovered for the first time what had happened to his great-uncle through a newspaper story on the files.
Verhoeven, whose previous films include feature films based on history “The Nasty Girl” (a young woman who exposed her community’s involvement with the Holocaust), “My Mother’s Courage” (a woman who escaped being sent to a concentration camp) and “The White Rose” (about young protesters who were killed by the Nazis), said that when he graduated from high school in 1957, the history of the Third Reich was not being taught. “It was the Cold War. It was not interesting any more who was a Nazi. What was interesting was who was a communist.” Even now, he says, there were those who tried to prevent this archive from being exhibited. But the movie’s release (it was shown in connection with the exhibit for three months) is evidence that “people face the past, people cope with the past. It’s a good thing.”