We have all seen movies which tell the story of the last days of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker. RTE recently showed the 2004 movie “Downfall”. I taped it to watch it at my leisure. It is based largely on the memoirs of Traudl Junge, one of Hitler’s private secretaries and perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that it is German.
It was controversial, especially in Germany but it was thought inappropriate to “allow” the Germans to make a movie about their own History. It would incite young Nazis or re-live the pain.
Could the Germans make a movie which could show Adolf Hitler as a three dimensional person? A human being as well as a monster? Could an Austrian actor called Bruno Ganz out-perform Alec Guinness and Anthony Hopkins as Hitler?
Simply…yes. Ganz is actually Austrian and although the movie was in German (English subtitles) according to the reviews I read, Bruno Ganz nailed Hitler’s speech………..Hitler was after all an Austrian who spoke with an Austrian accent. Hitler was of course a human being…..he did not have two horns and a tail……..and so were Josef and Magda Goebbels who emerge (if anything as more evil than Hitler). They did after all murder their own children in the bunker.
We fail to understand Adolf Hitler if we dismiss him as a “monster” who was inhuman. He was actually a human being who was a “monster”. And that after all is even more scary. That he had the charisma, charm even to seduce and corrupt a nation is his legacy.
The movie would necessarily at times…..invite us to feel sorry for those who waited their inevitable fate in the bunker……..and at those times Hitler would launch into a tirade to remind us of the monstrous nature of the Nazi regime. If the reminders of the fate of Jews was not enough, then the hatred and vitriol that Hitler reserved for his own German army and people…….”cowards”, “traitors”, “unworthy of their destiny”…was more than enough. The scenes of street fighting, the boy soldiers, the wandering gangs of Nazis lynching the old men who would not fight, the old and wounded and mentally disturbed left alone in deserted hospitals and medical personnel that operated or stood by their patients in other hospitals, the drunken orgy taking place upstairs in the Chancellory Building………..and of course we know retrospectively the orgy of pillage, rape and destruction visted on the German civilians by the Russians.
So the movie showed us scenes of German and Nazi cowardice. And German ……and Nazi …….heroism. Should that be a problem? I don’t think so. We readily accept the heroism of “good” men…..”our boys”………and we cant accept that “evil” men can be heroic……….they are after all not “good” men….so the actions of Nazis (or Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan?) must be ridiculed as “fanaticism”.
Thus the reality of impending defeat in the bunker affected people in different ways. Hitler committed suicide with Eva Braun. Goebbels and his wife murder their children and commit suicide themselves. Others get drunk, commit suicide, resolve to fight on to victory, or glorious defeat, others simply desert and attempt to break out of the bunker. The group in which Traudl Junge (disguised as a German soldier) finds herself makes it to safety. Another group, they witness being killed.
As the movie ends it features photographs of the main characters and details their fate after the war. Some got to live in relative anonymity. Others were not so lucky….died in Russian labour camps, released as late as 1956, to live “normal” lives until their deaths in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s. Frau Junge herself was still alive when the movie was made and perhaps the last words fittingly were an interview with her.
The official post-war verdict was that she was a youthful follower of Adolf Hitler. And for many years she allowed herself to accept that. Until she saw a monument to a young Germanwoman, who had been killed by the Nazis and as the young woman was born in the same year, she realised that she DID have a choice.
Interestingly many of the folks in the Bunker had “suicide pills” and certainly an interesting sub text was the thought……..”what would I do…….fight on, try to live or bite on the cyanide capsule.