Olga (2004)

 

 

 

Director:     .

Starring:      Camila Morgado (Olga Benário), Caco Ciocler (Luís Carlos Prestes), Luís Melo (Léo Benário), Eliane Giardini (Eugénie Benário), Mariana Lima (Lígia Prestes), Floriano Peixoto (Filinto Müller), Murilo Rosa (Estevan), Renata Jesion (Elise Ewert), Werner Schünemann (Arthur Ewert), Guilherme Weber (Otto Braun), Jandira Martini (Sarah), Leona Cavalli (Maria), Milena Toscano (Anita Leocádia), José Dumont (Manuel), Odilon Wagner (Capitão Navio).

 German-born communist activist female pretends to be wife of Brazilian communist leader; both arrested during Vargas dictatorship

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, Germany, 1942.  Jewish Olga Benário has a little girl.  She writes a letter to her.  Olga watches as a truck comes into the camp.  She says she will need all her strength for tomorrow. 

Flashback.  Moabit Prison Courtroom, Berlin, 1926.  Olga enters the courtroom and sits down.  The guards bring in the accused Otto Braun, professor and member of the German Communist Party.  All of a sudden Olga takes a guard hostage by putting a gun to his head.  Other members of her group jump up.  One puts a gun on the judge.  The judge rings a concealed bell ringer to alert the police. Olga hits the judge with her pistol and then runs out of the courtroom with the others.  She travels with Otto to the Soviet Union. 

Flashback.  A group of Nazis attack a group of communist demonstrators.  Olga fights one of the Nazis and gets the better of him.  When she returns to her parents' home, mom and dad are upset with her appearance.  She has cuts all over her face.  Olga says she's going to Berlin.  She heads out on a rainy night after saying goodbye to her father. 

Flashback.  Moscow, 1928.  Olga gives a speech.  She talks about how she and others rescued their comrade Otto Braun.  After the speech, Otto comes up to Olga and tells her:  "Fine words."  The trouble, he says, is that she has no time to be a woman.  Otto is now with another young lady.  Olga next meets radical Elise Ewerts, a.k.a. Sabo.   She joins the Soviet army.  She even learns how to fly planes. 

One day Olga hears a comrade talking about the Brazilian revolutionary battalion called the Prestes Column after its leader Luis Carlos Prestes, a.k.a. "Knight of Hope."  She is very interested in the story.  Her handler Manuilski tells her about a possible revolution in Latin America.  She will go to Brazil in charge of security for Captain Luis Carlos Prestes.  Prestes is in exile in Germany.  Olga meets with him.  Olga will have to pretend to be his wife.  Prestes calls his mother to say goodbye.  She tells him that President Vargas always wanted his support or his death. 

Olga and Prestes, known now as Mr. and Mrs. Vilar, get on a ship.  At night they go dancing.  Afterwards, they go out on deck.  A German fellow comes over to them and asks them:  "Aren't you going to kiss?  It's your wife."  They kiss.  It looks like Olga feels a little weak in the knees from the kiss.  In bed in the room she fixes her hair.  She tells Prestes that their little farce will be over soon.  Prestes, sleeping on the couch, tells her that the kiss they had together:  "I wanted to kiss you." 

At dinner the German fellow, named Fischer, asks Mrs. Vilar if she is a Jew?  She asks what does he think?  He says oh no, thank God!  Fischer is obviously a fascist.  He says the Jewish bankers ruined Germany.  And, according to him, fascism will protect them from the communists. 

Prestes comes back to the room after Olga is in bed.  He is all wet and Olga gets him a towel to dry him off.  She asks him if he has a woman.  No, there's never been a woman, he says.  That is, until now.  He tells Olga that she is beautiful.  They kiss.  They get out of their clothes and kiss again kneeling on the bed. 

Back to the Present.  In the concentration camp, thinking about her memories of Prestes, a tear runs down Olga's face. 

Flashback.  Olga and Prestes travel by plane over part of Brazil.  Prestes asks her to look at his country.  She looks out the window and sees some very beautiful beaches.  She comments:  "It looks like paradise."  When they land in Rio de Janeiro they meet Miranda, the Secretary-General of the Brazilian Communist Party. 

Dictator Getúlio Vargas's Government Headquarters.  Filinto Müller, chief of Police of Rio de Janeiro, assures Vargas that he will stop the rally.  He says the National Liberation Alliance is just a bunch of closet Communists.  Vargas tells Filinto that he (Filinto) has never got over Prestes throwing him out of his Column over a charge of theft. 

Olga is very happy to find that Sabo and she are on the same mission.  Sabo says that with her new clothes, a better hair style and a little lipstick, Olga looks so much prettier.  Olga then meets the other men and women involved in the mission.  Leon Julles Valee handles the finances.  Gruber is responsible for training the revolutionaries.  The American Barron is setting up a radio station.  A man named Ghioldi arrives.  He is an old friend of Prestes.  He has brought his wife Carmen with him.  Miranda's wife is also with him.  Miranda says they are organizing a big rally against the government together with the National Liberation Alliance.  Some of those present wonder if they have enough support to overthrow Vargas. 

Olga goes for a swim.  When she gets out of the water she and Prestes hug.  Sabo talks to Olga about emotions and Olga says the problem is that feelings always get out of control.  She goes to Prestes and says that she has asked Ewerts to consult Manuilski about her return to Moscow.  Pretes is very disappointed and tells Olga that he thought she was happy here with him.  She says nothing.  Prestes tells Olga that no one is at fault for their relationship.  He adds that he needs her.  Olga tells him to let her go because she can hardly recognize herself when she's with him.  Prestes tells her that he loves her.  Olga gets a bit despondent saying that she can't deal with the relationship anymore.  So Prestes tells her that he will let her go, but he has no regrets about what happened. 

Rio de Janeiro Chamber of Deputies.  The men shout:  "Down with fascism!" and "Down with Vargas!" 

Vargas learns that the British Secret Service fear there will be an attempt at a communist revolution in Brazil.  He adds that the National Security Law will legitimately ensure order. 

Naval Barracks in Natal, November 23, 1935.  Vargas wants to know who ordered the revolt in Natal?  It was spontaneous is the answer.  Filinto says he knows Prestes is in Brazil.   

The communist agents meet together.  They worry that maybe Vargas has set up a trap for them with this revolt in Natal.  Olga says they must act right now, but Ghioldi says the have to wait because they just don't have enough support to be successful.  Prestes says he knows the navy will go along with them.  But the consensus is that they will wait. 

Third Infantry Regiment, Rio de Janeiro, November 27, 1935.   The regiment revolts.  Their barracks are surrounded.  And there is a revolt at the Aviation Academy. 

Olga brings the bad news that the Third Infantry Regiment has been crushed.  And no one else has rebelled.  Prestes asks where are all their promised supporters?  He is very disappointed.

Back to the present.  In the concentration camp Olga says that Prestes didn't deserve the defeat. 

Flashback.  Vargas doesn't care if thousands have been arrested.  He wants the leaders arrested.  And Vargas really wants Prestes in jail.  The German investigators have discovered that foreigners have been sent by Moscow to Brazil and they are in on the rebellions. 

The police break in and take Sabo and her husband into custody.  Olga sees them being arrested and she turns around and leaves.  Herr Fischer uses a nut cracker to break some of Ewert's fingers.  Olga goes to tell Prestes to leave.  She will destroy the incriminating papers.  Prestes tells her that the rigged safe will explode upon opening it so they both can go. 

A police agent opens the safe with no problem.  He used the combination.  He finds the valuable papers.  Now they have names and addresses of the cadre members.   Prestes and Olga are given a new hideout place.  Barron says he will contact Moscow.  The others in on the mission must leave Brazil.  Olga answers a phone call.  She tells Prestes that she has permission to return to Moscow, but she has decided to stay with Prestes. 

The news arrives that the safe did not explode. And now the police know who they are.  Miranda has been arrested.  Olga and Prestes realize that they have been betrayed.  Gruber gave the police the combination to the safe.  Ewerts was tortured, but said nothing. 

Miranda's wife Elza was also arrested.  And she talked pronto.  She identified Ghioldi.  Prestes tells Olga that the failure of the uprising was his fault.  Ghioldi is tortured.  They tell him his wife Carmen has been arrested. Ghioldi makes a mistake when he says that he doesn't know where Prestes and his wife are.  Immediately, the police want to know the name of his wife.  He gives it. 

Olga watches a Brazilian parade.  Prestes gives Olga a blouse he sewed for her.  They dance together and later have sex. 

Filinto wants Prestes, dead or alive.  They are closing in on him and Olga.  Prestes tells Olga that he has to get her out of the country.  In retribution, Elza is strangled to death for ratting on the comrades.  The police are coming!  Olga grabs a pistol and tells Prestes that she will hold them off so he can get away.  But when Pretes goes out a back way he finds all his exits blocked.  He returns to Olga.  The police come in and they are about to shoot Prestes, when Olga jumps in front of him.  The policeman decides not to fire his weapon.  Olga and Prestes are arrested.  At the station they separate the two of them.  Before being forced to part, Prestes tells Olga:  "Nothing can change what we had together."

Flashback.  Olga still suffers in the concentration camp. 

Back to the present.  Rio de Janeiro Detention Center.  An inmate named Maria greets Olga.  She tells her not to worry.  There are a lot of political prisoners in the jail.  Olga sees Carmen and goes over to her.  Carmen tells her that Subo is here.  Olga goes over to Subo who is in a near fetal position.  Olga comforts her.  Subo is very afraid that they are going to kill her husband Arthur Ewerts. The police are still busy torturing Ewerts.  Filinto goes to harass Prestes.  He tells Prestes that now they know everything about Olga.  She will be deported. 

Olga is pregnant.  A guard comes to her cell to tell her that she will be interrogated tomorrow.  When she is brought out many journalists take her picture.  She asks someone to take her note saying that she is pregnant to Prestes.  One of the police agents takes it.  Prestes gets the note and is very happy.  He tells Ewerts next door that Olga is pregnant with his child. 

International Red Cross, Switzerland, 1936.  Mrs. Prestes, mother to Prestes, tells the Red Cross administrator that her son and his wife are held incommunicado in a Brazilian jail.  And Olga is pregnant.  She is Jewish and must not be deported to fascist Germany. 

In the shower Olga feels the baby in her womb and cries.  The Brazilian Supreme Court decides that Olga will be deported.  The police come to get Olga.  Maria tells Olga that since she is a Jew they can't send her to Germany.  The women and men start banging cups on the cell bars.  The male inmates begin to start a riot but are stopped by the arrival of a lot of heavily armed prison guards.  The police agent that took Olga's note to Prestes, promises Olga that they are taking her to a hospital and that Maria can go along with her.  He even gives his word, so Olga agrees to go quietly.  

But on the way to the hospital, the ambulance stops.  Maria is taken out of the ambulance and taken back to jail.  They take Olga down to the docks.  There she sees a ship.  As she examines it, she suddenly sees a Nazi flag flying from it.  She gets very scared.  Filinto is there and says that Olga is a gift from Vargas to Hitler.  Prestes gets a note saying that Olga has been deported.  He cries.  On board the ship Olga gets very seasick.  She discovers that Sabo is also on the ship. 

Hamburg, Germany, October 1936.  The Brazilian police agent turns over the two women to the Nazis. 

Barnimstrasse Prison, Berlin, 1936.  A very pregnant and nude Olga has her hair shorn-off.   She gives birth to a girl.  She is not allowed to hold the baby but she keeps begging until they give in and let her hold the baby.  Olga names her Anita after Anita Garibaldi.  The nurse tells her that after six months, Anita will be placed in a Nazi orphanage.  But, in her case, they want to show that the regime has a heart and they will let her keep the baby as long as she can breastfeed her. 

The mother of Prestes is still pushing the mission to save her son and Olga.  She learns that she now has a granddaughter.  Mom is very happy.  She also is happy because the granddaughter can help the cause to get Prestes and Olga out of prison.  She says she will go speak with the Gestapo tomorrow.  She also says she will contact Olga's mother Eugenie to see if she can be of help.  Grandmother gets a letter from Olga saying how wonderful it feels to be with her baby girl.  She writes a similar letter to Prestes.

Grandmother and daughter go visit Eugenia.  She tells them that since her husband died, no one is allowed to say her name.  She says she has no granddaughter because Olga is not her daughter.  Grandmother tells her not to deny them their support.  Eugenie tells them to please leave.  Grandmother says:  "Now I know why the Gestapo said you were a good German." 

Olga's milk is drying up.  So the nurse, four strong women and two guards come to take Anita from her.  She puts up a fight so the male guard clubs her.   She calls them murderers and Nazis!  She weeps.  But Anita is not going to a Nazi orphanage.  She is given to her grandmother and her aunt Ligia.  They give a note to the nurse to give to Olga, but as soon as they leave, the nurses tears the note up. 

Olga is being taken to a concentration camp.  Ravensbruck, 1939.  At Ravensbruck Prestes sends a picture of Anita to Olga.  Olga becomes a leader in camp.  She gets the women to clean up the area.  One day Sabo arrives in the sewing shop where Olga works.  Olga gets up and hugs Sabo.  They are soon broken up by a woman guard who loves to call Olga a "red bitch".  A male guard beats Sabo on the back.  At night Sabo gets very sick and calls out for her husband.  She cries out that they are coming to hurt them again.  Olga comes over to her just before Sabo dies. 

Olga and other women have to put Sabo in a mass grave.  Olga gets lashed by a male guard. 

Grandmother has not has any news from Olga for awhile.  She sorrowfully says that she won't ever see Olga and her son again. 

It's 1942.  Prests is still in the Detention Center in Brazil.

Olga learns of news involving the town of Bemburg.  Someone says it's probably a new concentration camp.   It's true and Olga is one of those to be transferred to the new camp.  She writes a letter to her family saying that she now prepares for death.  And soon enough she is placed in a shower area where gas is released rather than shower water. 

 

Dona Leocádia died in June, 1943 without ever seeing her son again.

Eugénie Benário died in the Teresienstadt concentration camp in 1943.

Getúlio Vargas, elected president of Brazil for a second term, committed suicide in 1954. 

Anita Leocádia lives with her aunt Lígia Prestes in Rio, where she is a university professor. 

Prestes was freed by the amnesty in 1945 and only then received word of Olga's death. 

Years later he and their daughter Anita received Olga's last letter. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1882 – Vargas born in So Borja, Rio Grande do Sul to Manuel do Nascimento Vargas and Cândida Dornelles Vargas of a traditional family of gaúchos.

Vargas begins a military career.

He turns to the field of law.

He is elected to the Rio Grande do Sul state legislature.

Elected to the federal Chamber of Deputies. He becomes the floor leader for his state's delegation in Congress.

Brief stint as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington Luís.

Resigns the treasury position to run for the governorship of his home state.

He becomes Governor of Rio Grande do Sul.

He pushes to stop electoral corruption through the adoption of the universal and secret ballot.

1911 – marries Darcy Lima Sarmanho. They have a total of five children.

1914-1918 – World War I.

1918-1939 – between the two World Wars, Brazil dominant landed interests show little interest in promoting industrialization, urbanization, and middle class programs.

1922  --  the tenentes, junior military officers, were very active against the ruling coffee oligarchy.  This year they staged a revolt, but it failed. 

after 1922 tenente rebellion  --  Luís Carlos Prestes led the "Long March" through the rural Brazilian interior following his participation in the tenente rebellion against the coffee oligarchs. This left Prestes skeptical of armed conflict for the rest of his life.

1922 – establishment of Brazil's Communist Party.

1930 (October 24) – a bloodless coup d'état ousted President Washington Luís and his heir-apparent Júlio Prestes. (Júlio Prestes becomes the newly elected president. He defeated Vargas in this election.)

A liberal, bourgeois revolution breaks the political preeminence of the Paulista coffee oligarchs. The military installs Vargas as "provisional president."

after 1930 – like Franklin Roosevelt in the U.S, Vargas tries to get out of the Great Depression with programs of economic stimulus. Vargas favors capitalist development and liberal reforms. He also poses a serious threat to the elite Paulista gentry.

Brazil now makes a transition from the Brazilian "old republic" dominated by coffee and other commodity production to a government dedicated to stimulating industrial development.

1932 – after the defeat of the Paulista coffee oligarchs, a movement promotes the goal of a new constitution.

In his early years, Vargas had the support of the tenentes.  Reflecting their influence, he advocated  a program of social welfare and reform similar to the New Deal.

1933 (October) – writer and politician Plinio Salgado founds Integralism, a form of fascism. The movement employed a green-shirt-uniformed paramilitary organization, street demonstrations and nationalistic and aggressive rhetoric very similar to the European fascists.

1934 – a new constitution is enacted with fascist influence from Italian corporatism. This element was supported by the pro-fascist wing of the disparate tenente movement and industrialists. These elements also liked the idea that fascist-style programs stimulated industrial growth (under the guise of nationalism) and suppressed the political left.

Claiming that all classes would be united in mutual interests, a form of state-guided capitalism was established.  Vargas was able to promote centralization in Brazil and this did help curb the oligarchic power of the landed Paulista elites, who obstructed modernization through regionalism, machine politics and a façade democracy of the Old Republic.

1935 – establishment of the Aliança Nacional Libertadora (ANL), a leftwing popular front launched by socialists, communists and other progressives.  It was led by the Communist Party and Luís Carlos Prestes, known as "cavalier of hope" of the tenente rebellion. At the time he was not a Marxist.  This movement put a lot of pressure on Vargas. 

1935 (March) – Congress branded all leftist opposition as "subversive" under a National Security Act that allowed the President to ban the ANL. The leftist organization was forced, reluctantly, to begin an armed insurrection.

1935 (July) – the government moved against the ANL, with troops raiding offices, confiscating propaganda, seizing records, and jailing leaders. The government also used arrests, torture and summary trials.

By mid-1935 – Brazilian politics became drastically destabilized.

Vargas uses fascist methods mercilessly to crush the ANL and the political left in general. 

1935 (November) – leftist revolution began. The Vargas regime imprisoned and tortured Prestes and violently crushed the Communist movement through state terror.

1937 – Vargas announces and then denounces a communist plot to overthrow the government. This all was just a part of Vargas’s own plan, the Plano Cohen, to take over the government.

1937-1945 – Vargas established the Estado Novo (Portuguese for "New State") which was an authoritarian government. (It was modeled on the Estado Novo regime in Portugal.)  Vargas's eventual dictatorship was modeled along the lines of European Fascism.  He thought this would lessen class differences and interests and help quell disorder.  As Vargas gained power, Prestes turned to Marxism while in exile in Buenos Aires.

1939-1941 – during the early years of WWII, Vargas maintained neutrality.

1941  --  Vargas goes with the USA and the Allies. 

1942 – Vargas, seeking more power, tolerated a tide of anti-Semitism. It is thought he targeted Prestes's Jewish-German wife Olga Benario to appease his new supporters. Vargas deported the pregnant woman to Nazi Germany where she died in a concentration camp. (According to Prestes himself, he was a virgin until he met Olga Benario.)

1942 – after the sinking of Brazilian ships by German submarines, Brazil declares war on Germany and Italy.

1945 (October 29) – Vargas is deposed by the military from the ministry of war.

 


 

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