Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Good German Of Nanking

The Good Nazi?

German Films Delve into Difficult History

By Lars-Olav Beier

The biopic genre is booming and new screen epics are in the works to celebrate a host of German icons. This week "John Rabe", a film about a Nazi who saved tens of thousands of lives, opened in cinemas across the country.

He looks anxiously at the sky, watching the low-flying fighter planes drop their bombs into the fleeing crowd. It is December 1937, and German businessman John Rabe, the representative of the Siemens Group in the eastern Chinese city of Nanking, is witnessing Japanese fighter pilots as they attack the company's facility there, killing helpless civilians.

In that moment of despair, he suddenly has an idea. Rabe, a long-standing member of the Nazi Party, quickly orders his workers to unfurl an enormous swastika flag that the party had sent to him in China. Then Rabe and large numbers of Chinese crouch under the flag. The ruse works, and the Japanese, allied with the Germans, call off the attack.

The German-Chinese-French co-production, which cost €15 million ($20 million) to make, opened in German theaters this week. The film dives head first into sensitive territory. It is a heroic epic about a Nazi, albeit not a particularly fanatical one, who, driven by circumstance, reluctantly ends up saving the lives of innocent citizens. This is the sort of subject only American directors have taken on in the past, most notably with Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List" in 1993. In German movie theaters, however, the concept of the "good Nazi" has always been taboo.

Continued at Der Spiegel.

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