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.

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NaPolA Elite für den Führer aka Before the Fall (2004) Looking into the Mechanics of Black Pedagogy

To call this movie brilliant is an understatement. The German movie NaPola is quite an achievement. It perfectly illustrates the German concept of Schwarze Pädagogik meaning Poisonous or Black Pedagogy. Psychologists believe today that this harmful pedagogy was one of the root causes for the success of Hitler and the wide acceptance of Nazism.

NaPola is the story of two boys,  their friendship and “the pity of it all”. Friedrich (Max Riemelt) personifies the Nazi ideal to a high degree. Strong, able, intelligent. A talented young boxer. It doesn´t take long and he is recruited for one of Hitler´s NaPolA´s (National Political Academy) where the elite of German youth is trained, educated and above all fanaticized. NaPolA´s are in part boot camp, in part higher education. Once in school, he meets Albrecht (Tom Schilling), the son of a Gauleiter. Albrecht is the very opposite of Friedrich. He is  frail, sensitive and intellectual. His father, a fanatic,  obnoxious idiot hates his son´s guts. Albrecht personifies everything  he despises. Too small, too weak, too spiritual. Because Albrecht´s father is a Gauleiter, life at the NaPola is not so difficult for him  as he is protected. For Friedrich it is not difficult as he is very sporting and strong but many of the others show sings of being traumatized. Discipline, total obedience and endurance are the key words of this education. As unlikely as it seems, the two boys like each other a lot and become very close friends until the tragic end. The story of the two boys is exemplary for many stories of children and young people who were sent to NaPola´s. Towards the end of the war, when it was quite obvious that Germany was going to lose, Hitler sent all the boys from the Napola´s to the front where 50% of them died.

Everybody who knows me or follows this blog knows I am a sucker for great score. None other than Angelo Badalamenti (see all the scores and listen to his work on his fantastic Homepage) who did the scores for two of my top favourite movies Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway (Yes, they are not war movies.) did the score for NaPolA. It´s perfection. Badalamenti is no Hans Zimmer, he is far more subtle.

This is a 5/5 star movie and  a must-see for many reasons.

I would like to point out that whoever is interested in some psychological analysis of the Third Reich may find ample material in Erich Fromm´s The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness and Alice Miller´s For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence.

Further war movies with children or young people can be found on my list Children in War Movies.