Feature by: Jack Foley
DIRECTOR, Oliver Hirschbiegel, provoked a great deal of controversy
when he broke one of the taboos of German cinema by depicting
Adolf Hitler as a human being in his new film, The Downfall (Der
Yet the film-maker remains admirably defiant in the face of any
criticism, stating that Hitler does not deserve to be perceived
in any other way by history.
"Why would you create a myth around this man?" he asks.
"That’s the last thing he deserves. He’s the
worst mass murderer in the history of mankind, and the most monstrous
thing is that he is human, he deliberately did what he did and
knew exactly what he was doing.
"The man was not insane, he had a clear plan and that meant
murder and destruction. That’s the way we had to deal with
it, so I never understood that point really."
When pressed on the issue of the discomfort this might create
for viewers who are not prepared to see him portrayed as anything
other than a monster, Hirschbiegel continues:
"I understand that, but on the other side as Germans we
have a responsibility to deal with our own history.
"We will always have a responsibility for what happened.
Of course, I’m not guilty, I was born after the war, but
as a German I have to deal with that responsibility.
"And it will go on for hundreds and hundreds of years to
come, we can’t get away from it. So we have to start asking
all these questions and undergo this painful process of investigating
and examining the background to it. I think the film works as
an inducement to do just that."
The Downfall does, indeed, force people to examine the events
surrounding the rise and fall of Hitler.
Why, for instance, did a nation embrace
him so wholeheartedly in the first place? And what lessons can
be learned from examining the past, especially when considering
the dictatorships of the moment?
If anything, Hirschbiegel's harrowing account of the final days
of Hitler serves as a fascinating insight into the horror that
took place, while providing a pertinent reminder that history
must never be allowed to repeat itself.
It even exposes the suffering of the German nation itself - a
nation that Hitler was prepared to sacrifice for failing him and
which the political leader came to view with almost as much contempt
as the Jews.
And while the director wasn't born when the events took place,
his fascination for the subject was inspired by his mother's personal
involvement in Hitler's movement.
He explains: "My father was 15 when they drafted him in
1945 to man anti-aircraft guns.
"He couldn’t care less about all that, he was more
interested in chasing girls.
"With my mother, however, it was a bit different. She was
a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, which was the Nazi
youth organisation for girls.
"She very much believed in this ideology, she believed in
Hitler as their hero. She enjoyed her time with all the other
girls, because they were sent out into the country. The way she
talked about it they were having a ball.
"For her, it meant freedom. And it came as a shock when
the Americans came and destroyed the portraits of Adolf Hitler,
explaining how bad this man was.
"As a matter of fact, her talking about that time triggered
my interest for it when I was about 12 or 13. I started reading
practically every book I could get my hands on."
Viewers only have to witness The Downfall to realise that Hirschbiegel's
research continues to have lessons for all of us.