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Su’s cinematic odyssey from Germany to Australia, via Trinidad

Sharon Berger
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Grant Turner/Mediakoo

Published: 23 October 2017

Last updated: 4 March 2024

WHEN SU GOLDFISH moved to Australia from Trinidad with her family in the 1970s, one of her new friends suggested that her name sounded Jewish. Goldfish admits that she didn’t know what a Jew was. “Are we Jewish?” she asked her father.

“No, well I used to be,” he replied, and explained that when she was born he drew a line and made a decision never to look back.

The scab had been picked but it took Goldfish almost 40 years to uncover the layers of secrets in her family’s history. Her debut documentary The Last Goldfish, which enjoyed sold-out success at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, chronicles a unique tale of discovery which takes her to Trinidad, Canada, Germany and Australia. Along the way Goldfish learns that far from being an only child, she has siblings and relatives across the world, that she is Jewish and that her father, Manfred, was saved from the Nazis.

Manfred fled Germany on the eve of the war and moved to Trinidad with his wife. When the marriage broke down, he remarried and along came Su. The family moved to Australia in the 1970s with the rise of the Black Power Movement in Trinidad.

Her father’s decision to draw a line in the sand meant there was no discussion about the Holocaust, World War II or Judaism during her upbringing. Despite these blankets of silence and all the information her father withheld from her, her deep love for him shines throughout the movie, which is ultimately a moving tribute to a humanist who believed there should be no borders, language differences or religion.

Through the process of learning about her past, Goldfish now feels an intense connection with Germany and says she would even consider living there at some point. Despite not being a particularly spiritual person, when she travelled in Germany she felt she was “travelling with ghosts”, which helped draw her attention to certain things. She feels a real connection to the country and particularly the communities that existed there before the war. In contrast, she says she feels no connection to Israel and has never been there.

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Goldfish was particularly moved by her family’s inclusion in the nationwide German art project of stolperstein (tripping stones) – where plaques are engraved onto cobblestones outside the homes of Jews who were killed by the Nazis. Before the war, her grandparents owned a kosher hotel, Hotel Lowenstein, in the town of Bad Ems. “It’s not the stones themselves it’s the community of Bad Ems who put the money in, organised it, and made a decision that this mattered in their town; that it was important to remember that Jews were part of that town, and my family was part of that,” she explains.

The idea of pursuing financial restitution for the loss of her family’s property did flash through her mind, but only briefly. When she met the Kurdish owner of the property where her family’s hotel used to be, he was initially so worried she had come to reclaim the property that he arrived with property documents to prove he was the rightful owner. Goldfish is glad that what was the hotel is now filled with Kurdish and Iraqi refugees and immigrants.
Goldfish now feels an intense connection with Germany and says she would even consider living there at some point.

Today her connection to Judaism is primarily through family, friends, culture and food. She notes that food, particularly German food, has always been a connection as it was one of the few things her father did share with her growing up. Having no religious background, she is “getting trained up” primarily through her newly discovered extended family as well as old friends she grew up with in the Eastern Suburbs, many of whom were Jewish immigrants trying to fit in, like herself.

Goldfish, who works in the School of Arts and Media at UNSW, says she felt instantly at home with them, long before she knew of her Jewish roots. When she was researching her extended family’s fate at the Sydney Jewish Museum, she asked an old friend to accompany her. At the museum they discovered that her friend’s great-grandfather had died just a few weeks before her grandparents did in Theresienstadt. Goldfish speculates ruefully that they could even have known each other.

The movie has even led to spiritual connections with random strangers.  A few months ago, a woman from Hamburg bought two silver jugs at a flea market, with the name E. Goldfisch stamped on them. Online research led her to Goldfish who, after being sent the jugs, believes they came from the Hotel Lowenstein. She hopes that the movie may uncover other living Goldfishes, but realises she will likely have to settle for the few precious artefacts she has to remind her of this lost generation.

Although The Last Goldfish differs from most Holocaust stories through the West Indies connection, its themes of displacement, identity and migration are common not only to Jewish stories but to anyone who has experienced a loss of connection to family or place. This is what motivated Su Goldfish to uncover and share her story.

The Last Goldfish screens in Melbourne on October 27, November 2, 12 and 21, and in Sydney on November 1 and 20. For full details, go to www.jiff.com.au

 

 

 

About the author

Sharon Berger

Sharon Berger is the Events & Partnerships Manager at TJI. Sharon is a former journalist for The Jerusalem Post, Reuters, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Australian Jewish News.

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