German-Israeli relationship documented in personal film

berlin  |  Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann almost never stops shooting. He shoots his mother. He shoots his relatives. But mostly he shoots his German boyfriend — all on film, of course.

Heymann’s latest documentary, “I Shot My Love,” tells the sometimes painful story about how his love affair with Andreas Merk is complicated by the tortured German-Jewish past.

The film was one of several Israeli offerings at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, which ran through Feb. 21.

Tomer Heymann

“What does it mean that more than 60 years after the Shoah, we are in love?” Heymann said in an interview, describing his film. “And what do we solve by being together?”

The two men met in 2006 following the screening of Heymann’s film “Paper Dolls” at the 2006 Berlin film fest, where the movie won several awards.

Heymann, whose grandparents fled from Berlin to pre-state Israel in the 1930s, started filming his new boyfriend almost immediately, providing the footage for this unusual documentary. The film follows Merk after his first date with Heymann, who can be heard from behind the camera and throughout their relationship as it evolves and the couple moves to Tel Aviv.

German-Israeli love affairs are not uncommon. Many Germans of the first postwar generation visited Israel, fell in love and settled down with Israelis.

But Heymann, 39, and Merk, 31, are of the second generation and are gay.

When Merk says on camera that he never asked his grandparents about their past during the Nazi era, Heymann wants to know why.

“I was afraid,” Merk answers. “Maybe that’s why I didn’t ask.”

Merk ultimately finds a surprising connection with Heymann’s family, whose German roots are very apparent. Merk talks with Heymann’s older relatives in German, and on Passover he reads aloud from a prewar German Haggadah that had been stowed away for decades.

“Through my relationship with Andreas, the German side that was sleeping so long in my family came out,” Heymann said.

The film juxtaposes Heymann’s open, emotional Israeli family with Merk’s reserved yet equally emotional German Catholic family. It also explores the theme of victimhood, and not just on Heymann’s side.

Merk talks about the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of a Catholic priest.

Victimhood “is a state of mind,” he tells Heymann. “For me, giving myself to you, it’s like a big thing because I give it out of freedom and out of choice.”

Merk doesn’t always have an easy time of it. Two years into the relationship, he stares down the camera and says, “It’s like, hello? I am not just a story. I’m your partner and this story is alive. In me.”

Today the couple lives in Israel. Merk said he mostly feels welcome, though he occasionally finds himself the subject of off-color remarks about the Holocaust.

When they are in Germany, the two do not visit Holocaust memorials.

“I don’t like these rituals — they seem fake,” Heymann said.

But when Merk recently showed him a “stumbling block” memorial — a small brass plaque embedded in the pavement in front of a building, noting the name of a former Jewish tenant who was deported — Heymann is moved.

“This touched me, and created something very close between me and Andreas,” Heymann said. “Hey, something happened between our nations, but today, most Israelis open themselves to create something new.”


Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.