Close to Home

Abby Kirban and Georg Hartmann initially kept quiet about falling in love after she auditioned for a play he directed in Los Angeles in 1997.

Why? Because she’s Jewish and he’s German — a touchy liaison even half a century after the Holocaust.

"I felt a bit uncomfortable about breaking the news to my parents," Kirban, 28, admits. Hartmann, 35, was even more nervous because his father had been a leader in the Hitler Youth Movement. Even after their parents OK’d the union, the couple’s friends continued to bombard them with questions, prompting the Echo Park filmmakers to explore their relationship in a poignant documentary, "Close to Home," to air Nov. 29 on the Sundance Channel.

Kirban, the producer, and Hartmann, the writer-director, began shooting the movie after noting that Kirban’s grandfather had helped manufacture the American bombs that had killed most of Hartmann’s family in the war. The director’s father, Karl-Dieter, was so devastated by the loss that he never took Georg to visit their graves, a couple of miles from their home in Witten, Germany. Nor did he discuss details of his Nazi experience, though he was quick to deplore the Final Solution. "I was burning with curiosity to learn what involvement, if any, my family had in the Holocaust, though I was wondering if Abby would still love me after that," Hartmann says of the documentary.

He was so anxious before interviewing a Holocaust survivor — a friend of the Kirbans’ — that he became physically ill en route to her home. Even more difficult was grilling the reticent Karl-Dieter, who eventually opened up on camera.

But the most memorable moment for the filmmakers, who will wed next June, was walking hand-in-hand at Auschwitz. "We felt so lucky to be living at a time when you can fall in love with whomever you want," Hartmann says.