Wednesday, April 05, 2006
I just saw Sophie Scholl - The Final Days, very moving and inspiring German-made movie (and an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year). In the movie, Julia Jentsch plays the role of a valiant 21-year-old hero a member of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance movement who stood up against the Nazis and denounced Hitler as a liar as she stood strong against the relentless challenges of Nazi interrogator Robert Mohr (played in the movie by Alexander Held). I remember the 1982 movie on the White Rose directed by Michael Verhoeven that made an impression on me and encouraged me to read about the subject. But since then records of Scholl's interrogation and incarceration that had long been unavailable were discovered in former East German archives, and the director of the new movie, Mark Rothemund and screenwriter Fred Breinersdorfer have been able to recreate in an almost semi-documentary style the last six days of Sophie's life, after she and her brother Hans (Fabian Hinrichs) are arrested in February 1943. The Scholl's interrogation by Gestapo Agent Mohr is one of the highlights of the movie. Mohr is not a typical evil Big Screen Nazi, but a dull bureaucrat. It's an intellectual and moral duel between the young woman whose commitments to political and cultural freedom is grounded in her strong religious beliefs and the soulless and spineless man who identifies with the regime not out of fear or strong ideological commitment, but because that's what everyone else is doing. He is Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros. At the end of the interrogation we sense that Mohr realizes that even if he kills Scholl, he has lost the battle with her. She has the moral high ground. I just finished reading Richard Overy's The Dictators about Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, in which he challenges the traditional "totalitarian" model of ruthless control over a captive populace and notes that "broad sections of German and Soviet public supported the dictatorships, often with enthusiasm and devotion, or at least with a general approval." Those who supported or went along with the systems "acted out of complicity, not fear and did so because they found their own expectations and beliefs reflected to some degree in the dictatorships." There are always going to be a lot of Robert Mohrs around us and very few Sophie Scholls.