Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Das Zeugenhaus (4½ Stars)

"There is no more guilt, no more innocence, just grey and grey".

This is a remarkable film based on true events that happened in Nuremberg, Germany, from September 20th 1945 to October 1st 1946. The film's title means "house of witnesses". It was a house where the most important witnesses for the Nuremberg Trials stayed for the duration of the proceedings. The characters in the film are the real people who lived in the house, and the events that take place at the trials themselves are well documented facts, but the conversations that take place in the house itself are fictional. Fictional, but credible.

In 1945 a German duchess (called Duchess Belavar, the only fake name in the film, because she asked for her real name to be concealed) was asked by the American army to look after a guest house in which witnesses for the Nuremberg Trials would be living. They were supposedly voluntary witnesses, free to leave at any time if they wanted to, but as we find out in the course of the film most of them had reached a deal with the Americans that they would only avoid being arrested if they gave evidence in the trials. The shocking fact is that high ranking Nazis and survivors of concentration camps were placed in the same house, living and eating together for more than 12 months.

Among the guests in the house were
  • Gisela Limberger, Hermann Göring's private secretary.
  • Heinrich Hoffmann, Adolf Hitler's photographer.
  • Henriette von Schirach, the wife of the former leader of the Hitler Youth.
  • Erwin von Lahousen, a German general who had served on the eastern front.
  • Rudolf Diels, the man who founded the Gestapo.

None of these witnesses seem to be hardline Nazis. That's probably why they were allowed to be witnesses, rather than standing trial themselves. For instance, Gisela Limberger praised Hermann Göring because he was a real man, a man who was proud to be German and make his country great. Heinrich Hoffmann was Hitler's personal friend and considered Hitler to be a good man who was being misrepresented by the war's winners. Rudolf Diehls was one of the men who had supported Von Stauffenberg's plot to assassinate Hitler, but he had committed many crimes (in the eyes of America) before that time.

Most of the house's guests already knew one another. They all tried to downplay their own involvement in what had happened, and the others contradicted them. Even the concentration camp survivors accused one another. As one man said, "You couldn't survive the camps by being innocent. You had to take advantage of the other inmates to guarantee your own survival".

There are some scenes in the courtroom, but most of the film takes place in the house itself. The atmosphere is intense, performances of all the actors involved is superb.

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