Thursday, 5 September 2013

Habermann (4 Stars)

This 2010 film is based on true events in the Sudetenland, an area in Czechoslovakia, from 1937 to 1945. The names have been changed, but I've been informed that people from this area know who is referred to.

August Habermann is the owner of a mill in the small town of Egau. Like August, the majority of the town is German, but there are a few hundred Czechs. August marries Jana, a Czech orphan who has grown up in a nearby monastery. Before the marriage the town's mayor warns August that Jana had Jewish parents, even though she doesn't know it herself.

August is politically unmotivated. His family has lived in the Sudetenland for four generations, which has weakened his feelings for Germany. "Ich habe kein Vaterland, ich habe eine Heimat" -- "I have no fatherland, I have a home". He is a law-abiding citizen and does what is expected of him, but he contradicts the occupying German forces when they treat the Czechs as inferiors.

I won't go into all the details of the film, but one thing shook me. I'm sorry if it's a spoiler, but since the film has never been released in English I think my readers can forgive me. In 1943 Jana's lineage is discovered, so she's sent to a concentration camp with her daughter. In 1945 she is freed and returns home. When she returns the Russians are in the middle of ethnic cleansing, arresting all Germans and sending them to prison in Siberia. Since Jana was married to a German she was treated as a German. At the end of the film she is thrown into a crowded train compartment with her daughter for the second time, the Jewish stars still on their dresses. Who was worse, the Germans or the Russians? It's difficult to say, because the Russian atrocities are less well documented. A Jewish friend of mine who was adopted by English parents told me that his parents died in prison because they starved to death. It was not customary to give food to "enemies of the state", they could only eat what their visitors brought them. I was told by the pastor of a Baptist church in Stuttgart that he had watched the Russians shoot his father in East Prussia during the war. When the Russians entered his town they rounded up the men, all civilians, and executed them in the central marketplace while forcing the women and children to watch.

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