Der Stellvertreter aka Amen (2002) The Disillusioning Reaction of the Catholic Church to the Holocaust

In the beginning of Costa Gavras´ Der Stellvertreter aka Amen we see how a group of children with special needs is transported to an extermination camp and gassed. When this is being found out people are shocked and taken aback and, together with the Catholic Church, they fight these practices that are ultimately stopped.

This noble reaction of the Church is not repeated however when they are asked for assistance in stopping the extermination of Jews. Nor do the alerted Allies help. Der Stellvertreter explores the shameful failure of the Catholic church and the rest of the world.

The SS officer Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur), head of the Institute of Hygiene, is a chemist and the developer of the lethal gas Zyklone-B. He thinks that this deadly gas is used to free the concentration camps from vermin and must find out that it is actually used for exterminating Jews. He witnesses this with his own eyes and his outrage and revulsion are so intense that he decides to alarm the Catholic Church. Only one young priest, whose family is of great influence in the Vatican, Riccardo Fontana (Mathieu Kassovitz), feels the urge to support Gerstein, travels to the Vatican and informs the Pope. To no avail. The Church won’t act.

The Church fears many things. They are afraid that communism might spread and are grateful to the Nazis who stopped it. They are afraid that they might not be spared by the Nazis if they oppose too openly. And, as the movie seems to say, they ultimately don’t care too much about the Jews.

Gerstein and Fontana will go on fighting and trying to inform people, to make at least the Allies act. The Allies however don’t want to act as they don’t want to negotiate with criminals. Every time Gerstein and Fontana inform someone about the extent of the atrocities the numbers have risen. From an initial hundred thousand they are soon in the millions. These numbers are symbolized in the numerous takes of riding trains we see during the movie.

As an ultimate sacrifice and because he thinks it is his Christian duty the young priest joins a transport of Italian Jews to one of the concentrations camps.

Kurt Gerstein is a historical figure. After the war all the important figures of Nazi Germany were incarcerate. Gerstein, facing trial and before killing himself, writes a report on everything he has seen. Years later he is found not guilty and rehabilitated.

As interesting as the theme of this movie is I did not find it completely compelling. Maybe because it is based on a theater play (Rolf Hochhut’s Der Stellvertreter aka The Deputy)? I don’t know. I think you will have to find out for yourself. 4/5 stars but still valuable.


4 thoughts on “Der Stellvertreter aka Amen (2002) The Disillusioning Reaction of the Catholic Church to the Holocaust

  1. Cliff says:

    I am not a defender of the Catholic Church, we have a German Pope and a Pope possibly who has reportedly even been served a subpoena concerning possibly covering up child abuse allegations.

    None-the-less, one needs to find out what the truth is. Suffice it to say, there is much question with a series of anti-Pope Pius books and movies out there.

    “The fact that the case against Pius XII does not hold up on the evidence—that the continuing denigration of the wartime pope is a defamation—has not prevented those convinced of the pope’s guilt from going ahead to trumpet it to the four winds anyway. Such is the approach of the recent book by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair. Goldhagen relies on sources whose evidence has been shown to be thin, shaky, biased, unsubstantiated, and even patently false—and then he goes on to accumulate many more errors of fact and judgment of his own. Just as the myths of Aryan racial superiority and Jewish racial pollution drove the Nazi extermination program, so the myth of the supposed complicity of Pius XII in the crimes of the Nazis drives the continuing campaign to vilify the good and honorable pope and man that Pius XII was. A scapegoat is needed to explain the failure of European civilization to counter the murderous ideology of the Nazis, and so the wartime head of the Catholic Church is targeted.”

    • Thanks for your comment and the link. I do think you are right. We have to be careful whom we believe and what we believe. Maybe readers will look at the link after having read the review. I wasn’t totally convinced by this movie. I still would say Gerstein is guilty. He could have left Germany and tried to make people understand from outside of Germany. Maybe the success with the children made him believe the church might be able to help. I think whatever the Pope would have said at the time wouldn’t have changed much. I liked the prist a great deal. I think there were quite a few ctholic priest who tried to help and were also deported.
      I don’t know Goldhagen’s book. Maybe t is part of what has been termed “Holocaust industry” a while back.

  2. Cliff says:

    Also note, , surely this should be a less biased website out there.

    “Pius XII’s pontificate began on the eve of World War II. In the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, drafted by Pope Pius XII when he was still a cardinal, Pope Pius XI warned Catholics that anti-Semitism is incompatible with Christianity. Read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches, it described Hitler as an insane and arrogant prophet and was the first official denunciation of Nazism made by any major organization. Nazi persecution of the Church in Germany then began by “outright repression” and “staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum of publicity.” When Dutch bishops protested against the deportation of Jews, the Nazis responded with even more severe measures. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2500 monks and priests while even more were sent to concentration camps. The Priester-Block (priests barracks) in Dachau lists 2600 Roman Catholic priests. During the war, the Pope followed a policy of neutrality mirroring that of Pope Benedict XV during World War I. In 1939, Pius XII turned the Vatican into a center of aid which he organized from various parts of the world At the request of the pope, an information office for prisoners of war and refugees operated in the Vatican under Giovanni Battista Montini, which in the years of its existence from 1939 until 1947 received almost ten million (9.891.497) information requests and produced over eleven million (11.293.511) answers about missing persons.

    In April 1939, after the submission of Charles Maurras and the intervention of the Carmel of Lisieux, Pius XII ended his predecessor’s ban on Action Française, an organization described by some authors as virulently antisemitic and anti-Communist.

    In 1939, the Pope employed Jewish cartographer Roberto Almagia to work on old maps in the Vatican library. Almagia had been at the University of Rome since 1915 but was dismissed after Mussolini’s anti-Jewish legislation of 1938. The Pope’s appointment of two Jews to the Vatican Academy of Science as well as the hiring of Almagia were reported by the New York Times in the editions of November 11, 1939, and January 10, 1940.

    During the Soviet Union’s acts of aggression against Finland, the Winter War, Pius XII condemned the Soviet attack on 26 December 1939 in a speech at the Vatican. Later he donated a signed and sealed prayer on behalf of Finland.

    On 18 January 1940, after over 15,000 Polish civilians had been killed, Pius XII said in a radio broadcast, “The horror and inexcusable excesses committed on a helpless and a homeless people have been established by the unimpeachable testimony of eye-witnesses.

    In his first encyclical Summi Pontificatus ( October 20, 1939), Pius XII publicly condemned the invasion, occupation and partition of Poland under the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. ”


    Plenty about this whole matter including the Holocaust and books and media expressing anti-Pius theories and information at the above web page.

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