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'We'll Meet Again' Reminds Us of the Enduring Impact People Have on Our Lives
January 23, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

The new PBS series We’ll Meet Again takes us on a heartwarming journey to happy endings.

Just two things to keep in mind. First, the stories take a long time to get where they’re going. Second, the destination is satisfying largely because its starting point involved something awful.

Our old friend Ann Curry hosts the series, which reunites people who shared a bonding moment in the past, would like to reconnect and aren’t in a position simply to search Facebook.

For the first episode of We’ll Meet Again, which airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings), Curry follows Reiko Nagumo, a Japanese-American woman who was sent to an internment camp during World War II, and Peter Engler (below), a Jewish man whose family was driven out of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.

Nagumo (left) remembers that in the sea of anti-Japanese sentiment that swept America after the attack on Pearl Harbor, one schoolmate named Mary Frances White (left) still remained her friend – and welcomed her back to school in September 1945 when the war was over and the internees returned to their homes.

Engler’s family fled Germany for Shanghai, only to have Jews herded into the Shanghai ghetto with the outbreak of war in the Pacific. He survived those debilitating years, he says, largely through the kindness and friendship of a neighbor couple, Fritz and Stella Adler.

Nagumo would like to reconnect with Mary Frances, whom she had not seen since the late 1940s. Engler would like to find Margaret Adler, a daughter who was born in 1948 and whom Engler had not seen since 1949.

There isn’t a lot of suspense in these searches since We’ll Meet Again isn’t in the business of leading viewers down dead ends.

So a good part of the show becomes the nuts and bolts of genealogy, not unlike PBS’s popular Henry Louis Gates program Finding Your Roots. Tracking our past is framed as a kind of treasure hunt, and the process can be interesting to watch.

We’ll Meet Again spends an hour telling two stories, which at times feels like more than they require.

In addition, by focusing on the tracking process, it sometimes whisks past intriguing elements of its backstories.

It’s hard not to notice, for instance, that the Nagumo and Engler stories are both shaped by the forced internment of civilians seen as potential enemies of the combatants. The brutality of the Shanghai ghetto is noted in some detail, while the Spartan deprivations of America’s camps are barely mentioned.

While this isn’t a documentary on internment camps, those little tastes linger.  

Both stories also raise, in passing, the residual post-war prejudice and discrimination. While most Japanese Americans returned to their homes, they were often not welcomed in their old communities. Engler’s Jewish parents wouldn’t even consider moving back to Germany because anti-Semitism remained so rampant there.

Those kinds of details, even just as explanations for why certain people ended up in certain places, can leave a stronger impression than a public records search.

In any case, We’ll Meet Again also has the broader mission of offering a place where people who don’t have a dramatic story tied to a major event can still seek to reconnect with someone from their past.

It’s an encouraging reminder that whatever the life story of the people involved, human nature does have a better side.

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Corrine Slaughter
Jan 25, 2018   |  Reply
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