Music and a Faustian Bargain with the Nazi Devil in “Winter Journey”

Martin Goldsmith pieced together the puzzle of his family’s Holocaust history, as many children of survivors do, slowly, over time, until a full picture emerged from the oddly shaped bits of information.

Unlike many other children of survivors, however, Martin has seen his painstakingly gathered story preserved for posterity on the screen, with one of the world’s greatest international stars playing his father. Bruno Ganz, in his last bravura performance, plays a reluctant witness and conflicted parent confronted by a too curious son trying to make sense of his parents’ life as working musicians in Nazi Germany.

Bruno Ganz reminisces against the Tucson landscape

Goldsmith, who joins the Boulder Jewish Festival for a discussion of “Winter Journey” on Thursday, March 18 at 2 pm, is about to celebrate his 50th year as a classical music radio host, most notably on NPR and  Sirius XM.

Martin Goldsmith

Goldsmith’s musician parents are directly responsible for their son’s long and rewarding career as a radio host – not the least because he grew up immersed in classical music and could pronounce the names of European composers and their works. His older brother was already on the air at the classical station in Cleveland when his parents, out biking, ran into the station manager who mentioned he had an opening. “Well, we have another son at home you know,” they said, and within days young Martin was on the air.

In his talkback, Martin will discuss the genesis of his book, “The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Music and Love in Nazi Germany,” on which the film is based, as well his experience as a child of survivors, his relationship with his father, and the making of “Winter Journey.”

He will also discuss the Judisher Kulturebund, a cultural organization of Jewish performers and artists that presented concerts, plays, exhibits, operas, and lectures for Jewish audiences from 1935 to 1941.  Sanctioned by the Nazis, it served as a handy propaganda tool, while providing activity for unemployed Jewish artists fired from their positions. With as many as 70,000 members at its height, the Judisher Kulturebund was also a Faustian bargain.

The late Bruno Ganz as Hitler in “Downfall

Goldsmith’s musician parents played in the Judisher Kulturebund Orchestra, a subject his father was willing to discuss at length. The Holocaust, however, was not discussed when Martin was growing up, and remained a tightly guarded subject. His parents had chosen to put the past behind them as many survivors did – including the parents of our tribute guest Pierre Sauvage (“Weapons of the Spirit”).

Growing up, Goldsmith intuited that something was amiss – wondering why he didn’t have grandparents like the other kids – but did not have any sense of Jewish identity until he was 16 and the family moved to the heavily Jewish Shaker Heights, Cleveland.  It took his first seder and a screening of “Cabaret” to trigger Martin’s Jewish awakening. But it was only when he was in his 40s, after his mother had already died, that  he began the investigation into his parents’ life that would lead to his 2000 family memoir and the 2020 Danish-German co-production, “Winter Journey.”

A black-and-white flashback in Winter Journey

Goldsmith, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Winter Journey,”  is also the author of “The Beatles Come to America” (2004) and “Alex’s Wake: A Voyage of Betrayal and a Journey of Remembrance” (2014), which traces the tragic voyage of his uncle and grandfather on the St. Louis and follows them to their doom.

Despite his late start and the many years he spent working on “The Inextinguishable Symphony,” Goldsmith says he was not surprised to see it made into a movie. “I always thought it would be a great film,” he tells me during a Zoom call. “It has a backstage story, a love story, and the Third Reich,” he adds, confiding that he wanted Anthony Hopkins to play Kurt Singer – the central figure behind the Kulturebund.

Goldsmith is also pleased by the reaction and the awards the creatively imagined film has been getting at festivals around the world. Out of 300 films screened at the prestigious International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, where it premiered, it was voted 11th. “Winter Journey” was also nominated for best picture at the New York Jewish Film Festival.

Often asked what he thinks of Danish director Anders Østergaard’s haunting rendition of his relationship with his prickly father, Goldsmith admits it is not at all the film he would have made from the story, then hastens to add, “But only because I don’t have the clever imagination that he does. The more I see it, the more pleased I am.”

Winter Journey” is one of 16 programs included in the $180 all access pass and is available to screen anytime between March 10 and 21, with a 48-hour window once you start watching. The live talkback with Martin Goldsmith on Thursday, March 18 at 2:00 pm is included in the ticket/pass price.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Kathryn has spent her professional life writing about, teaching, and presenting the arts. Founding Director of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival, Kathryn was Director of Menorah and ACE at the Boulder JCC from 2003 through August, 2019. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time."

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