Papa we’re in Syria

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An ordinary German family is pulled apart when the two grown up sons convert to Islam, and run away to join IS in Syria. Father and sons keep contact through WhatsApp voice messages. These messages bring the story very close to the listener as the gap within the family becomes wider and wider. Eventually, father Gerhard travels to Syria to try to find his sons…

Explanation by author

The story of young people leaving Western Europe to fight for religious extremists and terror organizations has become a familiar theme in the past five years. Most media stories tend to follow the process of radicalization of men and women, but Christian Lerch chose a different path. He decided to zoom in on the personal and the background of a family. “I was more interested in telling a story about the how, rather than about the reasons why the two young men left their comfortable lives in a wealthy German family in Kassel.”

Joachim Gerhard has become the face of parents of German jihadists who leave home. Christian Lerch approached Gerhard after he read an interview in a small regional newspaper. At that moment Gerhard was already writing a book about his attempts to find his sons. Gerhard thinks the German government left him to fight this battle alone. They are not forthcoming with information about his sons and strongly advise him not to go to Syria. But Gerhard is so determined that he makes several trips to the Syrian-Turkish border. Then, he asks Lerch to come with him, as can be heard in this call:

Orig. Phone Joachim: Yes, Mr. Lerch.

Orig. Phone CL: Do you have a moment?

Orig. Phone Joachim: Now I do. I have a question, Mr. Lerch. Would you be willing to enter Syria with me?

Orig. Phone CL: Have you heard any more about your sons, then?

Orig. Phone Joachim: I’ve now heard, that they’re supposed to be in Raqqa.

The documentary “Papa, we’re in Syria” has no ending – which reflects the ceaseless and epic love of parents for their children. It’s been two years since the story was first broadcast. His sons renounced him, betrayed and tricked him, and he has not heard from them since spring 2015 and yet Joachim Gerhard continues the search for his sons and their remains.

Christian Lerch: “That’s why for me it is a story of two beliefs: the belief of the two sons in radical Islam, their aspiration to help suffering people. On the other hand the belief of a father in the righteousness of his two sons.”

Biography

Christian Lerch

Christian Lerch (1978) started as an independent radio producer after finishing his master of liberal arts, by working for an oral history project in New York, interviewing holocaust survivors. This project kindled Lerch’s interest in radio as a journalistic medium and as an intriguing storytelling tool. Working with audio allows a journalist to flexibly work in the field without a supporting team, that helps to create in best cases trust with the interviewees. On the other hand for listeners following a story through original audio recordings activates the fantasy, thus allows creating individual (audio) images. His work is committed to feature documentaries journalistic and investigative research approach combined with a cinematic background for the production and storytelling. Aside from a trilogy on the devastating effects of the global war on drugs, Lerch is focusing on political and culture stories. In 2017 his work “Papa wir sind in Syrien” was awarded with the Prix Europa for the best European radio documentary.

Why this story?
The Prix Europa Radio Documentary Jury 2017 recognized ‘‘Papa, We Are In Syria’ – Joachim Gerhard’s Search for Lost Sons and Holy Warriors’ as ‘a thrilling 21st century tale told through a treasure trove of audio messages. This documentary takes the listener inside the nucleus of a personal family tragedy set in the defining story of our generation.’ Many radio documentaries are driven by narration. ‘‘Papa, We Are In Syria’ – Joachim Gerhard’s Search for Lost Sons and Holy Warriors’ is mainly carried and structured through the WhatsApp voice recordings of a German father and his two sons. The young men left Germany to join IS in Northern Syria. The astonishing material that makes up this audio documentary puts the listeners right in the middle of an enthralling scene, it provides information while giving insight into rare private emotions.

Explanation by the maker 
The story of young people leaving Western Europe to fight for religious extremists and terror organizations has become a familiar theme in the past five years. Most media stories tend to follow the process of radicalization of men and women, but Christian Lerch chose a different path. He decided to zoom in on the personal and the background of a family. “I was more interested in telling a story about the how, rather than about the reasons why the two young men left their comfortable lives in a wealthy German family in Kassel.” 
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