Director: Wolfgang Staudte.
Starring: Paul Esser (Hans Behnke), Irene Korb (Charlotte Blank Behnke), Karl Heinz Deickert (Hellmuth Behnke), Reinhold Bernt (Kurt Blank), Reinhard Kolldehoff (Rudi Wille), Werner Peters (Udo Schulze), Brigitte Krause (Inge).
father is critical of Nazism, while son is in Hitler Youth and may inform on him
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
An inmate stares at a prison wall. There are sounds of bombing in the background. An old woman is killed crossing the street when a shell or bomb hits the street near her. There is a sign in a window saying: "We will never surrender." A German Army headquarters broadcast says the fight yesterday was centered in Bremen. There is fighting in Berlin. The people in the subway listen to it. On the prison walls are notices of men and their execution dates.
Flashback. Twenty years earlier. A young woman meets a young man. It's been a few days since they first met. Her name is Charlotte, but many people call her Lotte. His name is Hanschen. They lay on a blanket in the sun. They talk and walk along a dirt road.
Men line up at the Job Center. Some of the men tease Hanschen for wearing such a fine suit on the line. Lotte looks for a job, but the factory is laying off people. A newspaper headline says there are 4 million people unemployed.
Hans is going to be a father. He becomes very excited about it. He tells Lotte that they will marry very soon. Hans gets a job pushing a carousel around and around with other men. He also walks along the street with an ad on his front and back saying "And nights at the Scala." Another job he does is move huge, heavy sacks from one place to another.
Lotte and Hans marry. Everyone is happy for them, but politics does rear its head with criticism of the high rate of unemployment and growing poverty.
Erna Peschke, midwife. Hans Behnke rings her door bell and shouts to her up on the second floor that it's time for the baby to come. His wife gives birth to a baby boy.
Lotte's brother Kurt comes to visit. He has brought a crib he has made for his nephew. Hans looks for work. A factory sign says: "Not Hiring!" He participates in a demonstration against unemployment and poverty. They lock him and many others up for this. Hans tells Kurt that he is so angry because his son Helmut is so weak from undernourishment. He says he has even begged for work. Kurt comments that there are now five to six million unemployed. And there may be as many as 100 million unemployed worldwide.
A friend comes to visit Lotte and Hans and says: "Heil, Hitler!" He can't wait until Hitler takes over. Hans doesn't like what he's saying and says something about it.. The friend comes another time also and says that Hans should have been at the meeting where they talked against excess profits and against junkers and coal magnates. The leftist Kurt criticizes the friend for believing in Hitler's rhetoric. Hans tells the two to stop arguing politics.
There is a sign up saying they are hiring foremen, fitters, turners and cleaning ladies. Hans wants to apply but he would have to cross a strike barrier and the men there try to stop him from going in and applying for a job. The police have to rush in to put a stop to the ruckus.
The newspaper headline is: "Hitler in power!" Hans fixes the door for neighbors, the Solomons. The wife tells him that they are Jewish, but Hans says he doesn't care. He says he is a trained locksmith. And now he has a nicer apartment. He says he is doing well at work and even gets overtime. He even talks about a set-aside vacation fund for the family. A Nazi comes to speak with Hans. Hans tells his wife that he is not going to say heil, Hitler. The Nazi asks him where was he last evening? Yesterday evening they had the cell meeting. Hans says he was on the late shift. The Nazi says everyone must work hard for the fuehrer. The man notices there is no picture of Hitler hanging on the walls. Moreover, he notices that Hans hasn't displayed his flag. When Hans gets rid of the man and closes the door, the man comes back to listen at the door to Hans's comments with his wife. He writes something down in his book.
The next day another Nazi party member talks with the boss at the factory. Behnke is expecting a promotion but he is not a party member. The Nazi checks over Behnke's file. The next day when Hans goes to work, Kurt pays a visit to Lotte. He asks if anyone has been asking about him? Lotte says no.
The Nazi checking on Behnke asks him if he has seen Kurt Blank Hans says the last time he saw him was 4-5 months ago. Kurt talks to Lotte about going to Czechoslovakia. Helmut sings a popular Nazi song and his mother yells at him to stop it! She gives her brother some money and off he goes. Lotte cries when he leaves.
Hans's boss tells him that he wanted to promote him to pressroom foreman but he says he can't now. He asks Hans why he isn't a member of the Nazi party? Not opposed to it, are you? No, says Hans. The boss says their firm is a "showcase" for the Nazis and there is pressure to get the employees to become party members. In the near future, he may not even be able to keep Hans at his job.
The next day we see that Hans has a lapel pin of the Nazi party. Lotte gets a letter from her grandfather in Prague, but her grandfather has been dead for many years. Actually, the letter is from her brother. Both Lotte and Hans are glad that Kurt made it to Prague.
Hans calls Helmut to help him with the dishes. A truck horn blows its horn and Helmut looks out the window and says that lots of SS men have gotten out of a truck. They are rounding up Jews. The Solomon's are forced into the back of a truck. Hans and Lotte are shocked and upset that they are being taken away.
The Hitler Youth march around singing militant military songs. In school they are taught that the Germans are the master race. The boys are sent out for "field work" where, among other things, they practice throwing grenades.
A long list of German war dead is published with the place they were killed, such as Leningrad, Narvik, Cherbourg, Stalingrad, El Alamain, etc. There are many on the long list who died at Stalingrad.
Hans and Lotte return to their place after a bombing raid. The place has suffered substantial damage. Helmut is out helping to clear rubble. Kurt shows up saying it's going to get a lot worse. Lotte throws her arms around his neck. There is a knock on the dolor. Kurt tells Lotte not to let anyone in. Lotte keeps the man from coming in. She comes out with a bucket to help clear rubble. Kurt wants Hans to print something for him, but Hans is afraid to do it. Kurt asks his brother-in-law: "How long will you be part of it? How long will you help spread the lies?" He says with the printing press work Hans does, he is just helping to print the lies and hate of the Nazis. Hans thinks about it.
At school Helmut learns that traitors are trying to harm Germany. They must keep their eyes open to prevent sabotage for everyone of them is a soldier of the fuehrer. Hans does help Kurt with the printing. The paper says: "End the Madness of Hitler's War." One day Helmut looks through one of the family books and finds the anti-Hitler paper. He's very upset about it.
Hans is called into the boss's office where he is grilled about Kurt. The interrogator says that Hans's wife gave them a different report. The Nazis do the same to Lotte, telling her that Hans's report was different from hers. Lotte is questioned on another occasion too. All of a sudden they bring Kurt in with a cut across his forehead.
A death certificate, August 20, 1944, is signed. Cause of death: heart attack. The certificate is for prisoner Kurt Blank, Oranienburg. Lotte cries when she finds out about her brother, letting the tea kettle just keep whistling and whistling. Helmut comes in to turn off the kettle. Hans gets so mad he throws an ash tray at the Hitler portrait on the wall. Helmut sees this and rushes out to report it to his school teacher. He tells the teacher that he doesn't want to go back home. The teacher gives him a direct order to tell him what happened.
At work the next day the Gestapo picks up Hans. He is interrogated about the subversive flyer found in his home. The interrogator brings the son into the room. Helmut is shocked to see his dad. He looks down at the floor. So does his father.
Back to the present. Hans looks at the prison wall. Smoke from the bombs and shells come into his prison cell. In the streets, Helmut fights on the front line. The Nazis are told to blow up a canal that will flood the subway line killing thousands of German men, women and children. The order is obeyed. The people can hear the roar of the water coming at them. They panic and start to run, but they can't outrun the water. Even dogs are downed by the waters. Some people escape from the waters. Pet birds in cages drown.
The Germans are moving the prisoners where Hans is jailed. Lotte tries to see if she can locate her husband. The Germans are going to massacre the prisoners, but the Russians arrive and start killing the guards. Helmut retreats to a building. He is with his teacher, who sees civilian clothes and tells Helmut to get into them. The teacher starts changing his clothes. He shouts that the Reds will be here any moment. Helmut thinks it cowardly. He probably thinks of his father now and breaks down crying. His teacher runs away. Helmut is taken prisoner. Lotte has been killed.
Helmut in his uniform goes to see his father who lives alone in the apartment. Dad tells him to come in. His son tells him he will leave, if dad wants him to go. Dad just says he was drying the dishes. Helmut tells him to say something or tell him to get out. Dad walks over to him, starts crying and hugs his son. Helmut already knows his mother is dead. He says he has been out of prison for just six weeks. Helmut said he came to the door many times, but failed to knock on the door each time. He only did it this time because his girlfriend Inge asked him to see his father.
Dad gives Helmut some civilian clothes. He then talks to him about a better world to come, to build.
Helmut goes to see Inge. She tells him she hardly recognized him in that suit he's wearing. The couple lays in the grass in the sun by the river. Helmut tells Inge that his parents did something similar more than twenty years ago. Inge says that everything gets repeated, but Helmut says it must not this next time. They must fight and work for peace and against evil.
I really enjoyed the film. The more I study these historical films, the more I find some real gems that deal with the root causes and effects of the evil of such things as fascism and racism. This is one of those films. Here we see the nefarious workings of the fascist system in Nazi Germany where they literally forced people to work for evil. We see the effects on one family in particular. The family is torn apart by the effects of fascism. The brother-in-law is a resistance fighter, Hans opposes the Nazis but has to buckle under or be punished severely, Lotte, the wife of Hans, is terribly worried about the fate of her brother and her husband as they face the evil of fascism. And then there's poor Helmut who is trained to be a fanatic supporter of Hitler in the Hitler Youth. The fascist values so warp his life that he rats on his own father. Will the family survive? Will some die and others live? If they survive, can they reconcile with each other as part of a family? These kinds of questions are not usually dealt with in film, but it is here and it should be watched. The acting was very good and the movie never dragged or slowed.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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