Olga Benario - Ein Leben für die Revolution (Olga Benario: A Life for the Revolution) (2004)

 

 

Director:     Galip Iyitanir.

Starring:     Margrit Sartorius (Olga Benario), Michael Putschli (Otto Braun), Oliver Betke (Alfred), Caroline Scholze, Paulina Nikel, Andre Muzzulini.

fate of communist, Jewish-German Olga Benario who worked for a better life for people in Germany and then in Brazil and the consequences she faces from her activities

 

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

Moabit Jail, Berlin. April 11, 1928. Olga Benario has an appointment with the warden of the prison. Already there in the jail are four young men. Olga looks at an inmate named Otto Braun. She pulls out a pistol. The four young men pull out their pistols too.

Olga was born in Munich, Germany, February 12, 1908 of Jewish parents. She has a brother, Otto Benario, who is seven years older than Olga. Her father, Dr. Leo Benario was a well-known lawyer. He is also a Social Democrat. Olga's mother was non-political.

Olga got her first political education when she read her father's case files. She is send to a school where the children of many upper class German families go. She was rowdy and guilty of "improper behavior".

At the age of 15 she joins the Communist Youth group. Her mother finds out and forbids Olga to attend the meetings of the group. Olga just ignores her mother.

April 1924. Olga leaves school. She is arrested for pasting up communist posters.

In the autumn of 1924, Olga goes on a hiking trip. There she meets Otto Braun, who is a teacher and a leading member of the Communist Party. He writes articles for several Communist papers.

Otto travels to different cities to attend political events, but whenever he can get to Munich he goes to see Olga.

Otto has a short stay in jail. This just increases Olga's interest in Otto. The two people fall in love.

February 1925. To become more politically effective Olga moves to Berlin. And there she could also see Otto more often. She again joins the Communist Youth. She and Otto move in together.

Otto gets Olga a job as a secretary at the Russian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she types Otto's manuscripts which gives her even more knowledge about politics.

Early 1926. Olga is elected to be a District Head of Agitation and Propaganda.

September 30, 1926. Olga gets arrested. And so does Otto. They are both accused of high treason. Her father gets her out in two months' time. Otto stays for he is also accused of espionage.

April 11, 1928. Olga and others remove Otto by force from the jail he was in. The result is that pictures of the couple are put up all over Berlin. Olga hides herself with her comrade Liddy Killian.

Olga and Otto head to Moscow as delegates for the Fifth International Congress of Communist Youth.

Otto falls in love with another woman and Olga and Otto agree to separate.

Beginning of 1931. Olga is sent to Paris as a teacher for the French Youth Organization.

July 1931. The police arrest Olga in Bois de Boulogne for her work with the Communists. The authorities tell her that she has to leave France. She goes to Belgium and from there to England.

August 3, 1931. She is arrested while meeting English communist leaders. She has to leave England. The authorities contact the Munich police and they are able to identify "Eva" as Olga Benario. Olga continues to go between London and Paris.

Olga is sent to the Soviet Union for training as a parachutist. She also studies flying. Otto is sent to China under the name of Li De.

January 30, 1933. Hitler takes power in Germany. This worries Olga.

The Communists decide to start a revolution in Brazil. Olga will be sent to Brazil along with Brazilian Captain Luiz Carlos Prestes.

December 29, 1934. The couple leaves for Brazil. Luiz was an exile from Brazil for trying to overthrow the government of Artur da Silva Bernardes. He and his band were chased around by government forces for three years. He then went into exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In Brazil Getulio Vargas overthrows the government and takes power. As a result, Prestes is arrested in Buenos Aires. Later he was released. Prestes goes into exile in Moscow.

Olga and Prestes arrive in Paris after a very circuitous route. They then ship out for New York City. The couple have to play the role of husband and wife and this role playing brought the two together emotionally. Prestes was 37 years old, but was still a virgin.

The couple finally arrives in Sao Paulo, Brazil. By this time the couple had fallen in love with each other. In Brazil they meet their contact, the very wealthy Paraventi. He lets them stay at his place.

The couple meet the other Moscow-sent revolutionaries. Olga and Prestes travel to Rio de Janeiro. Olga loves Brazil and especially Rio. The couple rent a place in Ipanema. They meet regularly with the other revolutionaries. Their driver is Lena Gruber.

After finding out that Prestes is joining the organization for national liberation in Brazil, ANL, thousands join the movement. Many Brazilian military officers are members of the communist KP (Communist Party).

ANL member and worker Leonardo Candu is killed by a fascist group. This leads to a general strike. Now Prestes decides to move against the Vargas government. This plays right into the hands of Vargas, who uses this as an excuse to ban the ANL.

November 23, 1935. Rebel soldiers storm the military garrison in Natal. They take over the garrison. This is followed by a soldier rebellion in Pernambuco.

Olga and Prestes and other communists decide to start the revolution.

November 26, 1935. Olga and Prestes move into the new revolutionary committee headquarters.

November 27, 1935. The revolt begins at 3 am and fails by 3 pm. Thirty people are killed. Hundreds of rebels are arrested. Vargas declares martial law. Many leaders on the left are imprisoned. In prison they are tortured.

The government put the military on alert before the revolution started, so the government probably knew beforehand that a revolt was coming.

Rebels Arthur and Sabo Ewerts are so badly tortured that their bodies can not be identified. Olga and Prestes go into hiding. The KP leader Miranda and his wife Elza are arrested. Another rebel leader, Ghilodi is arrested. Ghilodi and Miranda spill all the beans to avoid being tortured. Elza works for the police now. In retaliation, the rebels kill her.

March 5, 1936. The police arrest Olga and Prestes. She saves the life of Prestes by putting herself at risk to be shot by the police.

Olga does not give her true identity, but in jail many of the inmates know her or know about her exploits. Soon the police find out her true identity. Now Olga fears the possibility of being deported to Nazi Germany.

Olga realizes that she is pregnant. The prisoners treat Olga as a heroine.

Olga's mother and Prestes's sister start up a campaign to free all political prisoners in Brazil. The campaign tries to prevent Olga from being deported to Germany.

Olga is taken from the prison, is put on a stretcher and is put aboard the German ship La Coruna. Sabo is put on the same ship. The ship sails for Hamburg.

October 18, 1936. The ship anchors in Hamburg. Sabo is sent to a camp in Moringen and Olga to Berlin. Olga is imprisoned in a facility on Barnim Street where she is held in isolation.

November 27, 1936. Olga's baby is born. She is named Anita Leocadia. Fearing that her baby will be taken from her, she is able to get a message to her mother-in-law Dona Leocadia to get a relative to the jail to take her baby.

Through the Red Cross Olga and Carlos are able to write letters to each other.

January 21, 1938. Olga's baby is taken from her.

A letter arrives from Dona Leocadia saying that now Anita is with her. Olga is so relieved by this news.

February 15, 1938. Olga is transferred to the concentration camp in Lichtenberg. She is locked in a bunker. She learns that Sabo is being held at the same concentration camp. But she later learns that Sabo is emaciated and has tuberculosis. Olga gets transferred to another building where she is among other prisoners. She gets to talk with Sabo.

March 13, 1938. Austria is annexed by Germany.

1939. German occupation of Czechoslovakia.

As in other prisons, prisoners treat Olga as a heroine. She writes: "I am happy for the respect and warmth I receive in this place."

May 18, 1939. Olga and others are transported to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Olga is put in the Jewish section. There she became legendary for her kindnesses to her fellow inmates.

Olga is taken six times to Berlin for questioning. On one of those occasions her friend Sabo dies.

September 1, 1939. Germany invades Poland and World War II begins.

Early 1940. Germany invades Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France. Conditions at Ravensbruck become worse and worse.

The hospital in Bernburg was transformed into a killing facility and a place where bodies were disposed of. The news of Olga's name being first on a list of prisoners to be killed reaches Olga herself. She took the news bravely. She perhaps was buoyed by her belief that she could escape on the way to the death hospital.

 

 

The film is called a docu-drama but there is more documentary than drama in it.   I try not to do review documentaries on this website.  Nevertheless, the docu-drama was great.  It kept my interest throughout.  The film deals with the histories of socialism, Brazil and the Holocaust.  Margrit Sartorius (as Olga Benario) was very good.  I read one review where the critic complained that the film was too communistic in nature.  I think the critic wanted somewhat of a diatribe against communism in general and Olga Benario in particular.  That's just wrong.  The film was a good rendition of what happened to Olga without the bias of rabid anti-communism. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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