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Posted Friday, September 17, 2004
David Irving, the British revisionist right-wing historian, once declared: Hitler is still big box office.

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London, Friday, September 17, 2004


Sympathetic film portrayal of Hitler leaves Germans baffled

From Roger Boyes in Berlin

GERMANS yesterday emerged stunned and confused from the premiere of the controversial film The Downfall which depicts in graphic detail the last days of Adolf Hitler. The Nazi leader is shown as a tired, sometimes sympathetic man and as a good considerate boss with a tendency to shout too loud. It is a portrait that has prompted an excited debate in Germany about whether it is legitimate to show Hitler as a human being rather than as a monster.

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David Irving comments:

A FEW comments: Joachim Fest of course had to admit at one lecture in the National Archives, delivered when his popular Hitler biography was published, that he had never set foot in an archives in his life. Well, that is one way to write history (he was one of the three real author's of Albert Speer's "memoirs", of course).
   The references to the late Prof Dr Dr Ernst-Günther Schenck puzzle me (he had two doctorates, hence the two titles that he and other Germans were accustomed to use). He was the last doctor in the Hitler bunker. I knew him well, and interviewed him more than once in Austria, and he published memoirs; he was also the main medical and pharmaceutical expert on I relied on when I found and edited The Secret Diaries of Hitler's Doctor (Theo Morell). To hint that Schenck was a war criminal -- without offering evidence -- seems unjust, given that he was never prosecuted in any way.
   He was incidentally eye-witness to the suicide on May 1, 1945 of Walther Hewel, who was Joachim von Ribbentrop's liaison officer to Hitler, and whose widow gave me his diary. Until I visited her, she had lived in the belief that he might not have died at that time.
   Equally unjust is this journalist's description of Magda Goebbels as a war criminal. Or does The Times intend to revive Sippenhaft?

"It went too far in making him human, there was no real explanation for his fanaticism," said Hans Joachim Dribell, a 70-year-old retired engineer. He was speaking after a showing in Potsdamer Platz, only five minutes' walk from Hitler's Berlin bunker.

"If you show someone like this as a human then people might be tempted to forgive him as a human -- after all, to err is human."

But the strongest reaction of the cinema audience -- some 300 at an afternoon showing -- was not to the gentle portrayal of Hitler by Bruno Ganz but to the footage of Berlin under horrific Russian bombardment in the spring of 1945. Wounded German soldiers are shown screaming as their limbs are amputated in an underground shaft; German children fall to the ground, bullets in their heads.

The danger is not that this film, heavily promoted by the tabloid press, will make Germans love Hitler. Rather, it is that the film will feed into the national debate about Germans being allowed to commemorate and mourn their wartime victims.

"Some of the scenes were really repulsive and scary, it must have been disgusting for the Germans," said Marie-Louise Hellblau, a 14-year-old member of a school group from outside Berlin.

The film, in its search for German heroes outside Hitler's bunker, muddles its history. The strongest "ordinary" German in the film is the character of Ernst Günther Schenck, who is disgusted by the drunkeness in the bunker as some orderlies lose their nerve. Yet the real Dr Schenck had been a nutritional expert for the SS and had experimented on 370 concentration camp inmates. Many died.

The narrative of the film is told through the eyes of a secretary, Traudl Junge, who admits that she was enchanted by the Nazi leader. Her memoirs are one of the main sources for the film yet they are often naive.

The confusion of victims with war criminals runs throughout the film and deepens the closer one comes to Hitler. Magda Goebbels, wife of the propaganda minister Joseph, is shown poisoning her children in their bunk beds. For the first time, in over half a century of Hitler films, she is shown to be in torment at the decision.

Many scenes are historically grounded, chronicled by the popular historian Joachim Fest who advised the film-makers, Bernd Eichinger and Oliver Hirschbiegel. But even excellent actors cannot rescue a script that leans too heavily on potted history and selfserving memoirs.

"It was not great what Hitler did," said Marie-Louise, leaving the cinema into the Berlin sunlight. "He was a bit of a beast, wasn't he?"

© Copyright of Times Newspapers Limited 2004.


Related stories on this website:

Two new films show that Germans are learning to confront Hitler's legacy | Germany breaks the Hitler taboo | Media angst over Hitler hype
German Government tries to ban Hitler's book Mein Kampf | Simon Wiesenthal Center also tries to ban book from giant Internet bookstores | Internet comment on antisemitism provoked by such bans | Amazon still banning sales at request of German justice ministry | Mein Kampf voted one of the 100 books of the 20th century -- banned from Frankfurt book fair | Swedes tried, failed to ban Mein Kampf | Czech Mein Kampf Publisher Sentenced (2004) | charged
Günter Grass breaks taboo, writes of sinking of liner Wilhelm Gustloff with 8,000 dead in January 1945
Florida-style poll Konrad Adenauer tops German TV viewers' Popularity Poll (Some Restrictions Applied)
Tide turns against the Shrew German Magazine names Lea Rosh [proponent of Holocaust Memorial] as Most Embarrassing Berliner of the year 2003
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