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.”

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This maker's story

Papa, we’re in Syria

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.


Maker: Christian Lerch

Category: Listen

WDR

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