On Seeing the Movie, “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days”

German made. German acted. For the German people. Finely acted. Portraying the Nazi system of justice, the Nazi ideology, the Nazi automatons. (The Nazi salute had the valuable function of detecting and enforcing compliance, and may have had some brain-washing effect.) Also, portraying some German heroes, a German heroine dying for Redefreiheit (freedom of speech). One most interesting scene portrays the German bureaucrat in conflict with that heroine.The script and director of this film reveals the underground feelings toward the Nazi automata. Very subtle signs in the facial affect of the antagonists and protagonist could only be achieved by a German director. Look closely. It pays to have some familiarity with that period and the nature of German society at that time. (I taught the German language in secondary school in the late 50s.)

When I was in Germany with the U. S. Army, I went to a German movie house. Showing was a film of the opening of the concentration camps, the chambers and ovens and instruments of the murderous business there, and the huge piles of clothing and suitcases and the naked skin-and-bone bodies of the victims which were not yet disposed of. The walking dead, nearly naked, struggling to walk through the now open gates with the painted sign above, “Arbeit macht frei” (Work Liberates). The theater was packed tight. I sat at the rear. The people, bolt upright, unmoving, deathly quiet, sat in stony silence.

One of my duties was to attend the war-crimes trial of Hermann Goering, Hjalmar Schacht (on the stand when I was there, eventually acquitted), and others, those in the first show trials of Nazi leaders. I was appointed to report back to the GIs in my company what I had witnessed in Nürnberg in the trials. I mention this because the Sophie Scholl movie shows Sophie shouting at her judges, before her sentence was pronounced, that they soon would be standing where she was. I was able to see what she never got to see, her Nazi persecutors confronting their crimes in a court of international law.

This film of Sophie Scholl indicates that the people of Germany are still in a process of coming to terms with their past.


I did research in Germany on a history over the twenty-year period after the war focusing on instruction in communication, to determine the nature and curriculum of German schooling in public communication, one of the chief means by which the Nazis were able to attain and hold power over a populace unable to resist Nazi party line. I found no stories at that time of cases of Germans standing up to Hitler’s regime, of course. There was that attempt on Hitler’s life by some German officers.

The German constitution contained, at the time of my study, a model statement granting the right of free speech. One democratizing innovation in Germany after the war was the beginning of public opinion polling. I was so accustomed to seeing it that I never thought about it for what it is, vox populi as a function of governing, a sort of crown of thorns for office holders. Such a process might be appropriate now in countries where American forces exert their influence; I do not know its present status in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, etc.

I had been granted a Fulbright scholarship to pursue that study in Germany. However, I turned it down because my two sons were ready to begin their primary education, and I felt it might have a disruptive effect on them to spend a year in a foreign land. I took one summer vacation to do it.

I am of German descent. How did I feel about that, my German name, my being there with the army, amidst all the destruction brought down on the land of my ancestors? I happen to love the music of Wagner, favored by Der Führer. which was banned in Israel until a German symphony recently played Wagner there. I know his music was shunned by broadcasters during the war to some extent. I felt no shame. But I was interested enough to write my dissertation on that culture. I could easily disassociate myself from the fate of those native Germans because I was a twice-removed American. German culture was naïve in political experience to say the least. Only after the war did they learn about opinion polling.

I played (American) football in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium (where Jesse Owen, a black man, chagrined Hitler and his pure Aryan athletes in 1936 by beating them) just after the concrete swastika was dynamited by our soldiers. I played first-string QB. When I was discharged and in my home town, I took a date to the Northside Theater in Mishawaka to see a movie. As was the usual program, short subjects were shown, a Mickey Mouse and a newsreel. That night, they showed a “March of Time: Germany Today”. There I was, running across the screen in that football game in Berlin. I rose in my seat and shouted, “That’s me!” I inquired of the manager how I could get a copy of it. Nah! I’ve looked ever since.

I experienced one episode that has an interesting irony. One day, I was standing in the chow line when behind me there was a distrubance. I turned around to see a G.I with a long, two-pronged spinach fork in his hand. He was swaying drunkenly and aiming the waving fork at my back. He slurred, “You goddamned dirty Jew!” (I am not.) I turned my back on him. After a few moments, I felt his full weight come down on my back. I flipped him over my head in a jujitsu move, slamming him on his back on the floor. I jumped on top, straddling him. He looked drunkenly dazed. “You know I could pound your face in, don’t you!” I got up and proceeded through the chow line, not looking back. The next morning, by chance, he and I shared a jeep ride to the train station where he was sent to ride to redeployment to the States and I on guard duty on a train going to Vienna through the Russian zone. Not a word. A sober Gaddis said nothing.

The irony was this: the war we fought to end the regime of those who used a Holocaust, a genocide targeting the Jewish people, to inflame the German people to prosecute a world war toward the end of world domination was fought by many in American ranks who held those same genocidal prejudices, and I, in some way, evoked those nasty feelings in that drunken loss of his inhibitions to expressing his latent hostility to Jewish people.

In another swastika event, we own an American Indian blanket, purchased in Colorado by my late mother-in-law on a stage-coach trip to Grand Lake, CO, in the thirties. Its design incorporates what looks like a German Hakenkreuz/swastika but in reverse. It was hung on a wall of a home we were selling. The realtor reported that some lookie-loos said they would never buy any house owned by Nazis. So I cut out a little piece in the newspaper that explained the nature of that symbol in Native-American terms, and stuck it up by the blanket.

My forbears were North German farmers. There were 18 sons and several daughters. All the sons were killed in the Franco-Prussian war of 1880-1881. The father picked up the daughters and emigrated to the United States.

I remember driving through Western Kansas many years ago heading west. I stopped at a farmhouse to get a drink of water. They invited me in for a glass of water. The mantel held many photos of their relatives and life in Germany. One had a Nazi flag. And there was a flag there with the Hakenkreuz.

German empiricism is well known. I have a bit of that in me. And I believe in a family motto, “LABOR OMNIA VINCIT IMPROBUS”. (Steady Working Conquers All.) There is another saying, “Genie ist nichts als ungeheueres Energie” (Genius is nothing but monstrous energy.) I have been led to think I can have it two ways: if I can’t make it with brain power, I can succeed with hard work. Then what can brain power AND hard work produce? I have no excuse.

So you see what watching a good German movie puts in my reflective mind.


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One Comment

  1. I don’t normally respond to posts but I will on this case. WoW 🙂

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