Director: Alexa Karolinski
With: Regina (Oma) Karolinski and Bella Katz
Oma & Bella are two holocaust survivors living in Berlin telling their life story to Oma’s granddaughter, Alexa–the director. They share their stories while they cook, shop for food, and gather with friends and family over large meals. Both lost most of their families during the War and survived their husbands. Though they each have their own apartment, Bella has decided to stay with Oma in order to help take care of her due to recent medical issues. As we explore their daily lives we learn about them, the difficulties they faced, and how they have come through it stronger–and happy–people.
The tone of the documentary if light and inquisitive. Oma & Bella’s interactions are like those of an old married couple. They’ve known each other so long and know each other so well, they know how to support each other emotionally as well as bring each other down when they are a little too full of themselves. The drawback of this tone is much of the dark history they experienced is not revealed.
Oma & Bella visit the graves of those that have gone before them, and they express their love and loss for their family members who parished in the Holocaust, but the raw emotion of what they felt and experienced is never brought to the fore. Oma & Bella’s natural wish not to revisit such horrible memories coupled with the directors natural inclination not to cause her grandmothers distress created a barrier to press a question or a point about their past. The closest we get to a real revelation is when Bella volunteers the Russians allowed the freed prisoners from German camps in and near Berlin three days of anarchy to get their revenge. Karolinski does ask Bella if she indeed killed anyone in retribution. Bella pauses before answering “no,” but her obtuse follow-up leads you to believe she witnessed and did not interfere with such acts of retribution. Another filmmaker not incumbered with familial ties would have pressed for more information.
Another niggling detail from the documentary is the unclarity of how often they cooked such large meals. The sheer volume of food depicted being purchased and cooked is impossible for two elderly women to consume on a daily basis, and yet the film leads you to believe it was a daily occurrence.
Oma & Bella is a sweet film that unfortunately leaves you wanting more at the end.
Grade = C