Opening 8 Dec 2005
The documentary film by Jens Schanze, his thesis for the School for Television and Film in Munich, explores the memories of his mother and father (who were born in 1933 and 1931) of his mother’s father, a high functionary of the Nazi Party in Schlesia (now Poland) from 1933 until 1945. Neither he nor his four sisters actually knew their grandfather, who died in 1954, except in the stories and descriptions from their mother who always referred to her father as “that good man”.
In many families in Germany after the war, the children remained silent, never daring to confront their parents with uncomfortable questions about the Nazis or personal responsibility during those years. As time went by, those families often preferred to believe that Nazis and especially those who knew of, or actually committed, terrible crimes, somehow came from other families or were limited to only a very few. But as history has made perfectly clear, the Nazi Party was not made up of a few murderers on top supported by a loyal army and some oblivious followers. The National Archives holds the NSDAP membership cards of over ten million men, many of whom knew well of the concentration camps and even conspired to promote Nazi annihilation policies. Jens’ grandfather was one of them. His job was to give speeches to the coal miners of Schlesia, as quoted by newspaper accounts of the time, on the evils of the Jews and right of Hitler and Germany to conquer the world.
Jens Schanze’s film is noteworthy for the gentleness and love with which he confronts his mother with her father’s past. Patiently, but insistently, he uncovers a family trauma which has lain buried and silent for 60 years. The young director and his camera team accompany Frau Schanze and her husband on a trip back to Naurhode, Poland, her childhood home until 1945. The reactions brought up by the emotional confrontation with the truth for both his parents and his siblings are the basis of this fascinating film, moving many of the audience at the screening, myself included, to tears. It is without doubt, an excellent and important contribution to Germany’s reconciliation with its past. (Adele Riepe)