The Ninth Day (2004)
Director: Volker Schlöndorff.
Starring: Ulrich Matthes (Abbé Henri Kremer), August Diehl (Untersturmführer Gebhardt), Hilmar Thate (Bischof Philippe), Bibiana Beglau (Marie Kremer), Germain Wagner (Roger Kremer), Jean-Paul Raths (Raymond Schmitt), Ivan Jirik (Armando Bausch), Karel Hromadka (Pater Laurant Koltz), Miroslav Sichmann (Pater Marcel Bour), Adolf Filip (Professor Klimek), Vladimir Fiser (Bischof Kozal), Peter Varga (Józef, Polish Inmate), Petr Janis (Pater Nansen), Zdenek Pechácek (Lagerführer), Vaclav Kratky (SS-Mann).
a Catholic priest from Luxembourg is held in the Dachau concentration camp and yet gets a 9-day leave; what? why?
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The priest Henri Kremer from Luxembourg gets knocked down when he responds to a Nazi's comment about him. He is placed in the Dachau concentration camp. He gets abused again when he stands up for a Polish priest being abused by the same SS man. The Germans have a cross erected and pull a man with his hands tied behind him up on to it.
The Nazi officer tells Henri to come with him. Henri starts to head to the second cross recently erected thinking it is his turn to be tortured. But the Nazi tells him that's not where he is going. The priest is taken into one of the buildings where they give him his clothes back and tell him the he is being released on leave for nine days.
The first day. Henri is on a train heading to Luxembourg. A boy gives him the top half of his butter sandwich. It is January 15, 1942. He arrives in Luxembourg. Untersturmfuhrer Gebhardt stops him and tells him to get into his car. He drives Henri to his home and tells him to meet him at Villa Pauly at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Back home his sister Marie greets him. She tells him that the family had been evicted by the SS. His brother Roger greets him followed by his brother-in-law Raymond. Henri learns that his mother is dead.
The second day. Gebhardt goes over Henri's file. Henri worked for the Franco-Luxembourg resistance. After his visit with Gebhardt Henri goes to the cemetery to visit the grave of his mother. Henri was the protégé of the bishop of Luxembourg and comes from a very influential family.
The Germans are pretty satisfied with Pope Pius's relationship with the country. He has always congratulated the Fuhrer on his birthday and called him an esteemed gentleman. And he's condemning the Allied bombing of German cities. Gebhardt's boss tells him that "I don't have any gripes with the Vatican."
Henri explains to his family that there are a lot of clergy at Dachau and they receive special treatment. For instance, instead of receiving a loaf of bread for every four inmates, the clergy get one loaf for every three priests. Henri adds that the Germans want the other inmates to hate the clerical inmates.
Henri meets with Gerard Mersch, the bishop's secretary. He tells Henri that the bishop is not feeling well and cannot receive him. Henri has a flashback of the so-called better treatment of the clergy. A Nazi officer pours wine for the clergy and ridicules them saying that the wine is given to them thanks to the Pope. But the Nazis force the clergy to drink the wine as fast as possible and then place their wine cups on the top of their heads. Henri chokes on the wine and gets sent to solitary.
The third day. Gebhardt talks with Henri again. He tells Henri that the Pope has been friendly with the Nazis. He signed the Concord of 1933. Gebhardt says that the Nazis are engaged in a "holy war" against the Godless Bolsheviks. Henri is skeptical saying that Nazism is not compatible with the goals of Christianity. In Dachau the priests were in charge of the crematorium. Gebhardt tells Henri that he wants him to help reconcile the Catholic Church with the Third Reich. He adds that Henri's bishop refuses to help the Germans. What Gebhardt wants is for Henri to get a statement from the bishop that the church is in agreement with the Germans.
Henri asks again for an appointment to see the bishop, but again he has no luck. He heads back home where he happens to overhear his brother-in-law tell his sister that Henri is endangering the whole family. Henri moves from his bed to sleep on the floor. That night Henri has a nightmare and when Raymond comes in to wake him, Henri attacks Raymond. His sisters calms her brother down.
The fourth day. Gebhardt speaks with Henri's brother at breakfast at a hotel. The brother wants to help Henri, but only succeeds in angering Gebhardt who then threatens the brother with telling the Gestapo that he tried to bribe a Nazi officer. The brother then could go to Dachau with his brother when he returns there.
Henri tells Gebhardt that he still has not gotten an appointment to see the bishop. Gebhardt starts to discusss topics of religion with Henri. Henri becomes angry and tells Gebhardt that he does not want to discuss his faith with him. The Nazi tells him that Judas paved the way to Redemption.
Henri's brother tells him that he is coming to Paris with him whether he likes it or not. But Henri has him stop the car. He starts his return trip back home. Meanwhile, the Gestapo, fearing that Henri has fled, burst into his sister's apartment and start to rough her up. Henri arrives home and scolds Gebhardt asking him why harm his sister and brother. Gebhardt leaves and Henri apologizes to his sister. His sister cries.
The fifth day. Henri has a flashback to an event that has left him very guilt-ridden. He found a water pipe that would drip a drop or two now and then. He kept the water piper a secret and did not share the water with anyone, including his very weakened friend priest Nansen. And this selfishness created a lot of guilt feelings in him.
The sixth day. Another flashback. Henri relives the day he learned that Nansen died. He says: "I see his face every night."
The bishop tells his secretary that he will not see Henri if it is at Gebhardt's behest. Later Henri sees Gebhardt in his office. The Nazi yells at him: "Try a little harder!" Henri is upset by this and falls to the floor. When he gets up he tells Gebhardt that the bishop simply won't give him a hearing. Then Gebhardt tells him to forget about the bishop. He gives Henri a piece of paper and a pen so he can write the following: Luxembourg is a part of Greater Germany; Germany is not anti-Vatican; the Fuhrer wants a dialogue; Luxembourg's priests are willing; the bishop is their spokesman; and the bishop should be condemned for his stance of non-cooperation. Gebhardt then promises Henri that if he writes and signs the statement, every priest at Dachau who endorses the statement, will be released on the spot.
The seventh day. Henri's sister tells him to go to Switzerland. He refuses. The bishop's secretary speaks with Henri. The bishop has finally decided to give Henri an audience. The bishop asks Henri if he knows what happened in the Netherlands. The Nazis deported non-Aryan Christians to the concentration camps. Archbishop Dejong of Utrecht did not acquiesce to the Nazis and wrote a pastoral letter to that effect. The results was that more than 40,000 non-Aryan Christians went to the camps. Henri asks: "Should I be a Judas?" The bishop asks: "It's what Gebhardt wants?" Henri answers: "Yes."
The eighth day. Henri and sister have a short snowball fight. Later he heads over to speak with Gebhardt. He asks the Nazi how he can believe in God and do what he is doing. Gebhardt ignores the question. Receiving an envelope from Henri he tells the priest that he is doing the right thing. Gebhardt opens the envelope to find an empty piece of paper instead of the statement he had asked Henri to give him.
The ninth day. Henri returns to Dachau. He shares one sausage with about 20 of his fellow inmates.
Several thousand clergymen of all nationalities were interned in Dachau's "priest block". Almost one-half of them died there. Henri survived. In 1945 he wrote the book about his experiences on which the movie screenplay was based. (Henri's real name was Jean Bernard.)
Pretty good movie. Here is the story of a priest who was a rather ordinary man, not super-brave nor a martyr, but one who just wanted to do the right thing. He struggled with his conscience regarding what he should do. He could get better terms at Dachau for himself and the other priests there if he cooperated, but then he would have to collaborate with the Nazis. Henri had a strong believe in his God and in doing the right thing and he resisted the temptations offered by the Nazis to help them win the bishop of Luxembourg over to their cause. Good for Henri.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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