Oma & Bella – Alexa Karolinski, Germany/USA


Oma & Bella points a camera into the lives of two Holocaust survivors who remained in Germany after WWII.  Living together now in Berlin, their friendship has survived several decades, and has an enviable strength due to their shared memories and love of cooking.  For both women, food – and the preparation of food – is more a way of life than simple sustenance.  They specifically create the dishes and treats they remember from their youth, and even just the process of cooking or baking a certain recipe can vividly bring back the memories they wish to hold onto from their pre-Holocaust lives.  Memories neither woman wants to forget, and which they graciously share with the viewer (and the director) as they work.

The film follows Oma and Bella through their daily lives – to the market, social gatherings, the cemetery, the hairdresser – all around Berlin, until it’s time to go back to the apartment (or, more aptly, the kitchen) once again.  They always have everything ready – the drawers of the freezer are filled with more food than they could eat in a lifetime, it seems – just in case the grandchildren or any friends come to visit.  Oma and Bella are beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, generous, proud, kind, opinionated, honest and welcoming women, and the director’s love for both of them shines through in every moment of this film.

Even the less-than-pleasant ones.

Both Oma and Bella have memories of the Holocaust that they don’t necessarily speak about all the time, yet they can be very open about the things they saw and experienced during that darkest of times.  They put an honest, human face onto an unimaginably horrible part of our history, and often it’s through all of the things they DON’T have – photographs of family, other living relatives, friends with similar experiences who have not spoken a word about it to this day (nor even returned to Germany at all, in some cases) – that their voices speak the loudest.

This film does something that few others have accomplished when it comes to documenting survivors of the Holocaust.  It shows that – though they experienced the greatest of hate, Oma and Bella still learned to love.  They came through the poorest and darkest poverty to have sunshine pouring through their kitchen windows while they create their next enormous feast.  What Oma & Bella does most of all is to show us that – not only did they survive the Holocaust – but these two extraordinary women owned their past, rose above it, and went on to LIVE.

Oma & Bella has its international premiere at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto.  It is screening Saturday April 28 @ 6:30pm at TIFF Lightbox, and Monday April 30 at 4:30pm at the ROM.

Also, head over to Facebook and Like the film here.

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