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Alone in Berlin

Directed by Vincent Perez

Germany, 2016

HOME, 5 July 2017

Alone in Berlin

One of those ‘not all Germans were Nazis’ films; 13 Minutes, the film about Georg Elser’s failure to assassinate Hitler, was another.

When Otto’s (Otto is played by Brendan Gleeson) son dies on the Eastern Front, his eyes are suddenly opened. A tipping point has been reached. He realises that Hitler’s regime is murderous and rotten. So he, together with his wife (Emma Thompson) go out and about all over Berlin, placing postcards denouncing it.

For Otto, it is important that he watches people as they read these cards: perhaps because seeing their cowardice and complicity salves his own. Or it could be he wants to be caught. Anyway, it is a curious sort of sadism.

There is one telling scene where a suspect (not Otto) is asked to prove that his son is alive (one postcard mentions the death of a son, so the police believe that the perpetrator has lost a son also). The man holds up a postcard-sized photograph of a healthy, happy young man in army (not SS) uniform holding up a dead child on his bayonet. These photos were by no means uncommon (see Christopher R Browning’s Ordinary Men), family mementos of deeds of derring-do. As we know, the Wehrmacht and not only Einsatzgruppen led by the SS, took part in mass murder and killed women and children.

And this is the irony of Otto’s project, heroic though it might be. What his postcards assert is not really news. It is what everyone knows. And it can hardly have come as a surprise to readers of Mein Kampf or those who had witnessed the impact of the Nuremberg laws (i.e. the German populace as a whole) that Hitler’s regime was bent on a murderous Rassenkampf.

Of course, not all Germans were Nazis…