• Germany’s Horror For Germans, In German Films

    A woman in berlin

    German cinema and television have in recent years begun to address the suffering of the ordinary German during the Second World War, and during the reign of terror perpetrated by the Nazi regime. When I say ordinary German, I refer to those not otherwise specifically singled out by the Nazis for brutality and dehumanization: Jews, communists, socialists, homosexuals, Gypsies, artists, intellectuals and others the Nazis considered deviant or impure.

    It’s a delicate subject still, and likely will be for as long as the war is examined, written about or addressed in film, the tribulations of those who can be viewed simultaneously or separately as the inflictors and the inflicted upon.

    Dwight MacDonald, in his acclaimed essay, The Responsibility of Peoples cast doubt on the holding to account of entire populations for crimes perpetrated by their government, or a ruling regime, arguing that ordinary citizens should not be held to the standard of heroism, expected to have behaved heroically, or with risk to their existence, which resistance to, or non-cooperation with the Nazi regime required. Yet, given the unimaginable scope of misery and death and depravity unleashed on the world by the German nation, any sympathy whatsoever for ordinary Germans, even those not directly culpable for Nazi brutality and criminality is problematical.

    But Germans suffered. At least eventually. In Lore, an Australian-German film, the victims are in fact entirely innocent: children, in this case the children of Germans who were fully complicit in the Nazi grotesquerie. The title character Lore, whose high-ranking Nazi parents have fled in advance of the invading allies, is left to manage not only her own fate, but that of her four siblings, though still only an adolescent girl herself.

    The bulk of the film then is the journey on which Lore shepherds her charges across a ravaged, and predatory post-war landscape to the home of their grandmother and  to relative safety. This landscape fully reveals to her, and to us, what was, for so many Germans, the unseen reality and eventual cost of so many years of war, of internal terror, and at last, defeat.

    One might say that Lore’s coming of age, sexually and politically, reflects the coming of age more broadly of the German people, many of whom remained, or claimed later to have remained in something like a state of innocence, as the world around them was brutalized and viciously corrupted. As Lore confronts what has really been happening beyond her somewhat idyllic home life, which in fact masked her parents’ complicity in a concentration camp, the larger question of many Germans’ convenient incuriosity is inescapable.

    Director Cate Shortland has skillfully made her combined tale of survival, and a unique coming-of-age under frightening duress, spellbinding, moving and certainly harrowing. Saskia Rosendahl as Lore, is brilliant. It is a story undeniably painful, but in its way, stirring.

    Lore’s journey through hell is reminiscent in some respects of the journey made by French writer Louis-Ferdinand Celine through a devastated Germany in the immediate aftermath of its defeat on his way to Denmark, passing by train and on foot through the ashes of the Third Reich, a journey portrayed in a series of novels: North, Rigadoon, and Castle to Castle. But more commensurate with the surreal horror and level of physical devastation Celine saw, is what is witnessed in the extremely powerful film, A Woman In Berlin.

    While not a journey, but a story set in a single city, occupied Berlin, it conveys what Germany and its people had been reduced to in defeat, in the most compelling and visceral way imaginable. Directed by Max Farberbock, and starring Germany’s outstanding, and prolific actress, Nina Hoss, the film is based upon the book of the same name, an autobiographical account of the period April 20 to June 22, 1945, an account published anonymously for the protection of its author. The woman of the title was revealed, several years after her death by a literary editor as Marta Hillers, a newspaper and magazine journalist who occasionally served as a Nazi propagandist, though was not believed herself to be a Nazi.

    As children and old men defended Berlin in the streets until the bitter end, Berliners, already desperate, girded for the coming quest to survive, which would only become more desperate. Seen largely through the eyes of the woman, but depicting the fraught plight of others attempting to survive similarly, some in her company and others not, the privation, demoralization, humiliation, remorse, guilt, regret and physical peril ordinary Germans confronted were overwhelming.

    Showing in such detail, with such excruciating starkness what survival required for these inhabitants of the defeated capital, and the defeated nation under the ruthless occupation of the Soviet army, some scenes literally are a challenge to witness. The perilousness is no less psychological than it is corporeal. To describe what some, and the woman of the title in particular were forced to resort to in order to survive using the word compromise, would be to describe it so inadequately as to do so to the point of ludicrousness perhaps. And of course, many in fact did not survive.

    In the end, the slice of history here so magnificently portrayed cinematically is as unforgettable, or should be as unforgettable as much else about that benighted period of the 20 Century. The film is a harsh, though rich experience of it, and I believe, a great cinematic achievement.

    The three-part movie for German television, Generation War directed by Philipp Kadelbach, also presents a view of life during the war for ordinary Germans, on the home front as well as actually fighting the war itself. More of an everyman tale, or interwoven group of tales, the perspectives of the five young friends reflect the variety of ways ordinary Germans might have experienced the war.

    The five, two brothers, both of whom fight, a female singer, the fiancé of one of the brothers, who eventually serves as a nurse near the Russian front, and a Jew, his fate not unlike the fate of other Jews in some respects, but not in others, are followed from their giddy days as young, quasi-bohemian Berliners simply relishing the headiness of their youth, through to the grim, dejected aftermath of war.

    As one would expect, this is a broader view of the German experience, though the film succeeds quite well as a convincing drama about five individuals in their own right, each interconnected story compelling in and of itself. The photography is especially exquisite, and the vividness of Berlin in the early days of the war, of the battles on the Russian front and of the Polish countryside stand out in particular.

    Generation War is best perhaps at providing an intimate sense of what it was like to be caught up by, and swept along by larger forces outside of one’s immediate interests, and concerns, especially just when one’s life as an adult really has just begun getting underway

    If the film has a flaw, it is that, while it is clear none of the friends are members of the Nazi Party, or as far as we can tell, endorse the Nazis’ views or their regime (we don’t know this to be the case, but we infer it) the film eludes any discussion of politics among the five friends, any opinions, even the most rudimentary, of who the Nazis are, what they are doing, and more broadly, what the ordinary German public is thinking. To some extent, this remains the Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question: how or why the German people, the ordinary Germans allowed all of this to happen.

    How complicitous were they, or perhaps more accurately, to what degrees were they complicitous? Were most swept up in the prevailing nationalism, or simply going along? How prevalent was doubt? How did most Germans feel about the German racial policies? About German military aggression? To what degree were the Germans caught unawares by the ultimate infamy and derangement of Hitler, and of his henchmen? How much of the German complicity, or failure to resist, was simply fear?

    None of these three films provides an answer to any of those questions, nor any sense really of what those answers might be. For that, we must await another more scrupulous German take on that central issue of the ordinary German experience of the Nazi era.


  • Obama, Decimator Of America, And Distant Lands, Or Not


    In the imagination of the Republican caliphate, from elected officials to the glorious low-information base that drives it, President Barack Obama exists somewhere between, and indeed everywhere between a feckless, emasculated, simpering, cowardly example of utter abasement, and an omnipotent figure capable of changing the course of mighty rivers, besieging the land with plague and tyranny, toying with nations and continents, and even moving the celestial bodies around as the mood strikes him.

    One can tell how the enslaved Republican citizen suffers under the iron boot of repressive Obamaism from the testimonials of the afflicted heroically transmitted somehow from the hundreds or perhaps thousands of radio hosts still miraculously allowed to broadcast, attestations of the infamies of their tormentor conveyed by brave resistors from their hiding place on Fox News, from conservative newspapers and websites in the millions, reports of Obama tyranny managing to seep out in something like tidal waves and washes.

    Whether it is the dangers of nuclearization in Iran, or the use of chemical gases against the rebels by Bashir Assad of Syria, Obama’s porridge always is too hot or too cold, never just right. Regarding Syria, Obama has been savaged by the martyrs of dissent as the bastard child of Neville Chamberlain waving the Wehrmacht in, and Pee-Wee Herman with his shameful parts in his hand wanking.

    Whether the result of inferior memory, lack of resources, Attention Deficit Disorder or some other entirely inexplicable, yet benign phenomenon, little has surfaced in the Obama-dominated media about Syria’s Obama instigated and effectuated agreement, and its eventual follow through on that agreement to permit and collaborate in the removal of its chemical stockpiles. This is what a cheeky, cunning wag might refer to as a great Obama success.

    As concerns Iran, from the Sun-Tzu Axis of Bravado and Strategy in the swivel chairs and couches of Fox News and the combat trenches of congressional Republican offices, word comes that Obama has been complicit to the point of crouching with the Ayatollah to effectively light the fuse to the nuclear bomb that will destroy the Middle East and much of the rest of the world. In some miraculous occurrence of silence, inexplicable as the rain of frogs in the movie Magnolia, scant notice has been paid by the Obama-controlled American press, to Obama-initiated secret talks with Iran, which produced multi-nation negotiations leading to Iran’s assent to elimination of its enriched uranium gas under the auspices of international bodies, curtailment of its nuclear activities in exchange for the reduction of sanctions. In some cultures such a presidentially initiated and effectuated outcome would be considered a grand foreign policy triumph.

    Remarkably, accolades for this accomplishment, nor the sight of Republican naysayers and Obama hissy-fitters grazing on enormous troughs of crow in a well-lighted public venue have not materialized from liberalism’s megaphone and Obama’s propaganda organ, the American press.

    Domestically, the putatively Marxist Obama’s assault on capitalism has been noticed with enormous ire by every Republican breathing, or recently dead in the ground. It just hasn’t been noticed by capital. Capital has fervidly procreated, with the coffers of major corporations busting at the seams of bank vaults (notably not invested in job creation, though certainly invested) reported profits unprecedented, and the stock market unashamedly orgasmic.

    In March 2009, the stock market bottomed out for investors at a soul-depleting 6,547. It is higher than 17,000 now, more than 250% of gain and rising. To my knowledge, yet to be scheduled is the ceremony crowning Obama, King of Capitalism. In the wake of Obama’s merrily cutting a swath of devastation across the landscape of America’s economy, unemployment, at 7.8 the month Obama assumed the presidency has fallen to its current 6.1.

    Quarterly GDP declined by 7.8 percent the quarter preceeding Obama’s presidency. During Obama’s reign of horror, 18 straight quarters of growing GDP have occurred. 800,000 jobs were lost the month Obama assumed his presidency as the economy burned and shriveled in the consuming flames of Bush’s Great Recession. In the brimstone pit of Obama’s economy, there have occurred 50 months of job growth, 33 months of them in a row now. 288,000 jobs were created in June, 4.5 million during the Obama presidency. Such is life in the Apocalypse.

    And here’s some news: The budget deficit, which Republicans increase by staggering percentages when they retain control, and cry themselves to sleep at night in woe about when out of office, has been reduced from the 1.4 trillion President Obama inherited from his surplus-destroying predecessor, to a current 492 billion: from 10% of GDP to 2, though this has yet to be trumpeted by Republican mutes, or Obama’s fourth estate. Such is life through the Looking Glass of American media and political culture in the post-truth, post-factual age.

    20 million Americans have been insured under Obamacare.

    Most of this has been greeted by the liberal American press with the chirp of crickets and the rasp of cicadas.

    Republicans retort with an array of fresh ideas: impeach Darwin (right after Obama); eradicate the heinous science that is climatology; eliminate the wanton scourge of contraception; life begins when a man buys a woman a drink; cut the voting out; more reminders to victims of rape they are often sissies; coddle the rich evermore;  corporate impunity from sea to shining sea.

    Two theories pertain when it comes to Ukraine: A) Erstwhile Republican icon, Vladimir Putin looses the separatist thugs, turmoil breaks out in eastern Ukraine. B) Obama coughs, turmoil breaks out in eastern Ukraine. The press is undecided.

    John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, and other oleaginous warriors of Christendom have traced Obama’s culpability in the Gaza feud back to biblical times, time travel and transmogrification among the supernatural powers the man commands when he’s in the mood.

    Liberty has been destroyed, except for the liberty of the Koch’s money, whose speech rights accrue exponentially with every court ruling.

    The chowderbrains contend that Obama is failed and wicked with the stolid conviction of fence posts.

    CNN and Politico hold firm on the narrative of the week like a dog with a dirty sock in its mouth. The narrative of late: Poor Obama.

    Strange times. Strange times.


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