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Germany: New Film Asks -- Did Hitler Have A Human Side?

  • Roland Eggleston

A new German film about the last days of Adolf Hitler in the Berlin bunker raises questions about the character of the Nazi dictator responsible for the deaths of millions. Did he have a human side known only to a few, as well as the brutal face seen by the entire world? RFE/RL reports from Munich on "The Downfall."

Munich, 2 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- There is Hitler the dictator, a leader who brought death and misery to millions.

But is there also Hitler the human being, a man with a fondness for children and chocolate cake?

This uncommon view of Hitler forms the background of a new German film that is causing international controversy even before its release later this month.

The film, "Der Untergang," or "The Downfall," tells the story of Hitler's final 12 days in a Berlin bunker before committing suicide on 30 April 1945.
"It is too soon for Hitler and the Nazis to be seen as some sort of historical figures whom we can examine as if they had nothing to do with our own lives. We should never forget that we still live with the consequences of his crimes."


The film is based in part on diaries kept by his personal secretary, Traudl Junge, who survived the war and later turned her journals into a book that was published only after her death, in 2002.

Another source for the film is a book, also titled "The Downfall," by a prominent German author, Joachim Fest. The book, which is drawn from interviews with witnesses who were with Hitler in the bunker, attempts to depict the Nazi leader's final days.

The Nazi era is a common theme on German television. But until now, there have been no German films portraying Hitler's private life.

"The Downfall" caused an uproar after a private viewing, with critics saying parts of the film attempt to portray Hitler as an ordinary human being.

Some Germans say it is still too early to look at a dictator responsible for the death of millions as a normal man.

Among them is Doris Encke, whose grandparents died in a concentration camp.

"It is too soon for Hitler and the Nazis to be seen as some sort of historical figures whom we can examine as if they had nothing to do with our own lives. We should never forget that we still live with the consequences of his crimes," Encke said.

The film has set off a heated debate in German and European media, with newspapers suggesting that Germany is softening its stance on Hitler.

The movie's producer, Bernd Eichinger -- a leading figure in German film -- says "The Downfall" shows the human side of Hitler without diminishing the enormity of his crimes.

He rejects the popular view that Hitler was a psychopath, arguing the Nazi leader was a complex demagogue with a talent for motivating his followers.

The new film has prompted a fresh round of German movies about Hitler and some of his aides. People like Encke say they are concerned that such films may glorify figures who still hold some appeal, despite their horrendous crimes.

"There are still some people who admire Hitler and the Nazis. I believe this can be dangerous. Films about Hitler and those around him should show them for what they were -- criminals who wanted to oppress the world," Encke said.

In October, the main German television station will present a three-part documentary on Hitler's notorious propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Later in the year, Goebbels will be the focus of a feature film based on his personal diaries.

Early next year there will be another three-part TV documentary about Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, who at the end of the war defied Hitler's orders to destroy German industry, railways, and coal mines. His two sons still live in Munich.

Eva Braun, who married Hitler two days before their deaths in the bunker, is also a constant source of interest in Germany. In August, some of her personal home movies were shown on German TV.

Like some scenes in "The Downfall," they show the "human side" of Hitler, a man dressed in casual clothes laughing and joking with children.
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