Shadows From My Past is like a box stuffed with old letters and photographs: Things may be out of order, but, stay with it, and you’ll soon have voices in your head, a story even.
This is what Carl and Gita Kaufman have essentially done in this documentary — collected letters and photos of Gita’s family, who lived in Vienna happily until Hitler’s “anschluss” with Austria. Kaufman, who was a small child then, dutifully reads from the letters. Her voice is deadpan and slow, as though she wants to let the words speak for themselves, but it can be monotonous.
Kaufman also lands startling, if brief, interviews with luminaries like Kurt Waldheim and Simon Wiesenthal, plus journalists and academics who ruminate about Austria and the collective blame and guilt about whether one of history’s worst death campaigns could ever happen again in Europe.
These are all worthy topics, but they’re scraps in a haphazard compilation. The Kaufmans are amateurs, in the sense that this is a labor of love but also in that the film lacks the technical and storytelling caliber of more professional work. Many cuts are awkward and the sound is terrible.
Still, it’s another full box revealing how people narrowly escaped brutalities, and how some didn’t. Above all, it’s testimony on the Holocaust, something about which we do need every scrap so that we may not forget what humanity once allowed to happen.