The Disney series “Deutsches Haus” tells of the great Frankfurt trial against SS murderers, which showed Germans the horror of the Shoah 60 years ago. Screenwriter Annette Hess tries to portray horror with great tenderness.
Why is the German Bruhns family of innkeepers the focus of your series about the Auschwitztrial – shouldn’t you have focused on the Jewish victims?
Fortunately, there are no obligations to a specific narrative perspective. I come from a German family and I am the granddaughter of the perpetrator – that’s the only thing I can say authentically. The main character, Eva Bruhns, interpreter at the trial, follows somewhat the model of my mother, born in 1942, who in the 1960s was exclusively concerned with finding a man who, if possible, would become a doctor or teacher. The Auschwitz trial completely ignored it for now. Then I witnessed my mother’s awareness of… crime the Germans grew up.
How did this appear?
For example, we once visited the Bergen-Belsen memorial. I was twelve years old and my… Mother He only walked ten meters and then had to turn back because he was crying so much. She was also greatly affected by the series “Holocaust”. This has been a development for her over the years, which is more compressed for Eva Bruhns, the character in the film.
In the series there is a scene in the kitchen of the Bruhns family restaurant in which the kitchen assistant says: ‘I want to hear about the trial against the SS.Men I don’t hear anything, my husband fell in the east and that’s the worst.’ Is it this attitude that the series is against?
Exactly. Such phrases express the suppression of these incomprehensible crimes. It is put into perspective and downplayed. Then they say, ‘Some people just had bad luck.’ Or: ‘We too have had difficult times.’ ‘It was a war.’ This attitude is the theme of the series.
Can indifference be an expression of anti-Semitism?
In any case, simply staying out of it and remaining silent plays into the hands of anti-Semitism. I believe: you cannot live apolitically. If you don’t say or do anything against racism and injustice, that’s also a statement; it has the effect of silent approval. Followers and accomplices – they are much closer than you think.
Can you understand the behavior of those who remained silent and repressed?
Most people would rather run away than show moral courage. This is human. And the Federal Republic could only be rebuilt after the war through repression. I thought a lot about why all but one of the defendants pleaded not guilty. It may be impossible to admit that someone is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. How is anyone supposed to live with this guilt?
The trial 60 years ago did not consider the Shoah as a whole, but rather it was necessary to prove that individual perpetrators committed individual acts. Of course, this individualization makes everything very exciting – but isn’t there a risk that the scale of the crime will be lost sight of?
The pure numbers remain abstract, millions of deaths – you cannot imagine that. That’s why you have to say names that highlight individual destinations. I worked for a long time on reading the indictment: I assembled a text from the original 800 pages that names the enormous number of crimes, but also repeatedly highlights individual names and fates. That alone creates emotions, empathy and perhaps a feeling of this hell.
But it was not discussed in court whether the Auschwitz concentration camp was run by a band of murderers who killed together – regardless of who directly made what contribution.
The process could only be carried out through the legal means of those years. As I said: the defendants had to be convicted of specific crimes. You had to have the name of the victim, the name of the attacker and a witness who saw it. Preferably two. The criminal investigation was therefore completely inadequate. But the trial still managed to tell the Germans what happened in this concentration camp. At the beginning of the trial, 70% of Germans were against the procedure. In the end, the population demanded death sentences. After that, no one could say they had never heard of Auschwitz.
Now, in these weeks, we are all looking at Israel and Gaza, at the terror of Hamas and Israel’s response. Can your film contribute to this? conflict to understand?
I think that viewing the Holocaust can create an understanding that Germany has a special role in this conflict. I am the granddaughter of a perpetrator; my grandfather was a police officer in Poland. And I cannot help but, first of all, be massively opposed to any form of anti-Semitism. That’s what I’m doing with this series too. I am extremely terrified that the Jews in Germany are afraid again. This is what touches me first.
Do you agree with the argument that the grandchildren of perpetrators do not have to tell the grandchildren of survivors what they can and cannot do to ensure their safety?
Of course, we cannot tell victims’ grandchildren what means of defense are appropriate. At the same time, I think we can all agree that violence against civilians in general is a crime. Violence in all forms terrifies me. I am a convinced pacifist. However, I am aware that I feel this from a comfortable and privileged position.
Signs could be seen at demonstrations calling for a free Palestine from Jordan to the Mediterranean – and with it the destruction of Israel. Does your film feel like a commentary on the news?
This news shocked us at first. It is clear that the series arrives at a special time. But I think it would be completely obscene to announce it now. Our first title when we started working on the series was always: tenderness. We speak about horror with caution and tenderness. This arises exclusively from the witnesses’ descriptions – in the minds of those watching. In the series we talk about where racism, exclusion and anti-Semitism can lead in just twelve years.
They filmed in Poland, not far from Auschwitz.
In Krakow and Katowice. The memorial is a good hour away, the cast and crew drove there. Much of the crew was Polish. Among them were the grandchildren of the victims. We had some very touching conversations and I’m grateful we were able to film the series together.
In the Bruhns family, whose “German House” gave the series its name, you condense a variety of German destinations. Even the little boy has to play war all the time. This seemed a little intentional to me.
If you look closely at any family, you will find all of these. Of course it’s condensed, but it’s also about five hours of narrative. And it’s also entertainment, you have to dramatize it – otherwise you’ll fall asleep. The train also needs to have good traction so you can get on and enjoy the ride.