I am taking a film course at Christopher Newport University about film and memory in post World War II European films. In this class we are studying european films that have been made after World War II, but focus on World War II in some capacity. It is interesting to view how Europeans have dealt with World War II in their popular memory. What myths have they created about the war? How have they dealt with the war?
One case study that I would like to explore in this article is that of Germany. As you should know, Nazi Germany was overwelming defeated in April of 1945. The Allied powers closed around Berlin, from all sides. It was in these last, few, desperate hours that Adolf Hitler committed suicide. In the years since the war, the Germans have coped with the holocaust, the Nazi's brutality, and their own brutality in the war. Several films such as Das Boat and Downfall will be explored in this article.
Das Boat is a german film that takes place solely on a U-Boat. The horrors of the Nazi regime are not shown. The holocaust is not mentioned. This film focuses solely on a U-Boat crew as they attempt to fulfill their mission at sea and be honorable German soldiers. The U-Boat captain is an overt Nazi critic and many of his staff have no love for the Nazi authorities, but fight because they believe it is their duty as Germans. This is interesting to a film minor and a history major. The Germans who wrote and directed this film carefully choose to depict the German sailors as anti-Nazi, and didn't even mention the greatest Nazi atrocity of the war, the Holocaust. Das Boat is a film that remembers the war as a war where germans fought to protect their homeland, and that the average-joe-solider had no love for the Nazi state.
Downfall is another German film, but instead of focusing on the average German fighter, focuses on Adolf Hitler himself. Downfall is a movie solely about Hitler. This is the first German film that has a German play the role of Hitler. The movie Downfall is also an important title, because it is not just the downfall of Nazi Germany, but the downfall of Adolf Hitler. This film takes place during the last week of the war. Berlin is slowly lost, the german soldiers lose the city inch by inch. It even shows the children soldiers who bravely fight in the streets for their leader and city. This film makes little to no mention of the Holocaust. But, it portrays Hitler as a delusional, sycophant. The film chooses to remember the war in the eyes of the people around Hitler. It portrays the Germans as brave fighters in the face of overwelming odds. Hitler is shown as a crazy, near insane, nut-job. His rants in the film are the highlights of the movie. The atrocities of the Nazi Regime are glossed over in this and are rarely talked about, if talked about at all. Like Das Boat the film doesn't focus on the evil's of the Nazi State, but shows the bravery of German soldiers and officers in the final days of the war.
So, what is the historical memory of World War II in the eyes of the modern German state? What myths have been established? Das Boat and Downfall show the courage and bravery of average German soldiers. Hitler is shown as a misguided sycophant in Downfall but the officers and women around him are shown as loyal Germans willing to fight to the death. The modern German state chooses to remember the war as a war where the Germans fought bravely and lost. The Holocaust isn't mentioned in either film and the war-time brutality of the Nazi's isn't shown. Modern Germans would like to forget these things and choose not too. In modern Germany certain words such as Nazi or National Socialist are not even permitted and you can go to jail for being a fascist or a Nazi. The German people are scared beyond recognition because of this conflict.