The "Second Generation", a view from Germany: On Malte Lunin's "Two or three things I know about him" (2004)

Régine-Mihal Friedman

It will require both scholarship and art to defeat an encroaching anti-memory.  
Geoffrey Hartman1

By choosing to open his intensely personal documentary with two startling and tightly related scenes, the director Malte Ludin confirms his mastery in filmmaking and stresses the strategic importance of film beginnings to suggest, to convey, to summon the signification of the whole endeavor. The French have coined the term of "générique" for these initial moments: the "genesis" that "generates" the oeuvre to come.2

The first scene opens in medias res as an elderly lady, elegant and still good-looking, faces us claiming vehemently: "It is my right to see my father as I want to see him …as I see him… you have your own view and I am sorry for it." And when her invisible interlocutor tries to argue that this cannot be a matter of opinion, she adds even more violently, already reflexively closing the film on itself: "if you thought that with your work… your film… you can change anything, you are unfortunately mistaken."

 On the screen, the credits begin to run. An elaborate cross-editing alternates shots of a librarian or an archivist looking through rows of rolling shelves, obviously searching for a definite file, and colorful period pictures of Nazi rallies and their usual paraphernalia of red swastikas and rows of stiff men, here in brown uniforms. The soft masculine voice heard before, makes then a stupefying, chilling assessment: "This is the story of my father, ein Kriegsverbrecher [war criminal]; of my mother, my sisters, my nephews and nieces." An SA leader is now facing us, stout, half smiling, and the voice-over concludes: "[…] A typical German story."



The irony of this last phrase is sustained by the grotesque trombone music that will henceforth accompany any resurgence in the film of the Nazi past and its dignitaries.

 On the floor of the library, the title of the film emerges: 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß. It intimates the tight intertwining of the personal with the political, the familial with the historical, of the public and the private spheres, alluded to by the juxtaposition of the first two scenes and by the intricate montage of the shots in the library with the old Nazi pictures. However the challenging allusion in the title to Jean-Luc Godard’s fragmented, speculative, avant-garde essay: 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967) issues a challenge that this study will attempt to take up.

Recentering the Subject

Based on interviews and testimonies, relying on records and thorough investigation, quoting from filmed interviews and home movies, Malte Ludin’s work belongs conspicuously to the vast category of films historically known as documentaries and recently renamed "nonfiction cinema," this other pole of filmmaking which symptomatically is defined by the first. However, subgenres are now multiplying steadily, wandering away from what seemed to be the documentary’s raison d’être :to capture the real; be it social, historical or anthropological, its avowed purpose was to transmit knowledge. However, the ongoing and inevitable implication of the observer in the observed – the interactive mode practiced by Jean Rouch – has led to a recognition and acknowledgement of the insistent, pervading presence of the "I" in the so-called "truth-genres." "Knowledge," says Michael Renov, "is now widely held to be colored by experience and subjectivity rather than the result of purely rational inquiry."3 Novel forms of self-expression have thus developed over the last two decades, arousing scholarly interest and inspiring extensive scholarly research.

At first sight, 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß fits perfectly the kind of film de famille analyzed by Roger Odin, whose research strives to distinguish between close categories of cinematic practice.4 Thus, to the conventional "home movies, " based on communion and on the consensual celebration of family values, he opposes another sub-genre he terms "I home productions," which focus on conflicts – leading at times to tragedies – stemming from within the kin ties. Here the narrator is a personal subject, acting and speaking as an "I" whose explicit intention is to raise questions, to make a statement. Henceforth, this kind of film is not reserved for the family circle, but is intended to be shown publicly inside the movie theater or on television.

Odin proposes 3 possible kinds of communicational processes in these I homeproductions. As they are I-centered, they are openly autobiographical: "a strategy for the affirmation of the self in front of the family, for the construction of an identity [...]" Paradoxically, they use the public space to perform a kind of psychoanalytical cure, albeit a strange one, because of its diffusion. Moreover, these "I home productions" may also have a social and political aim: they can be "metamorphosed into a public cry."5 In an additional remark that could have been inspired by Ludin’s film, Odin writes: "the enunciator can be an I who speaks to a you through an us."  He recalls moreover that in time past, such productions could appear in the experimental space of the art institution, now doomed to vanish or to change.

Michael Renov has also reflected on the blurred boundaries between close genres engaged in performing subjectivity on the screen, stressing that "memory, inner truths and family secrets are the order of the day for non-fiction films as well" and surveying the multiple channels that convey nowadays the autobiographical impulse. His celebrated book The Subject of Documentary has provided further academic research with a new paradigm that he terms "domestic ethnography" which "subscribes to the belief that ethnography (the careful description and explication of culture) begins in the home. It is always relational. A ›pas-de-deux‹ between a self and a familial Other rather than an outright self-examination."6 Domestic ethnography is thus grounded on consanguinity and co-implication:

"Because the lives of artist and subject are interlaced through communal and blood ties, the documentation of the one tends to implicate the other […] consanguinity and co(i)mplication are its defining features. By co(i)mplication, I mean both complexity and the interpenetration of subject and object identities […] The point to stress is that for this mode of ethnography, the Desire for the Other is, at every moment, embroiled with the question of self-knowledge […]"7

With particular relevance for the apprehension of Ludin’s film, Renov stresses furthermore:

"For the domestic ethnographer, there is no fully outside position available. Blood ties effect linkages of shared memory, physical resemblance, temperament, and, of course, family-forged behavioral or attitudinal dysfunction toward which the artist can – through his/her work – fashion accommodation but no escape."8

His/story, Their Story

This sense of doom – no escape, no exit – coupled with "the Desire for the Other […] figurable as dread or longing" in Renov’s terms,9 looms large in Ludin’s undertaking. The director performs not only as the domestic ethnographer of his kindred, a large German family comprising of six siblings, all born under the Third Reich, their spouses and children. He is also the historian of their own inescapable past, as offspring of a notorious public figure of the Nazi era. Hanns Elard Ludin’s trial and infamous death on the gallows after World War II, as experienced and borne in mind and soul by his kin, open in the film the first chapter of the family saga. If the truth about the execution could not be hidden from the older children – Ludin’s sister Ellen, for example, was brutally informed of her father’s hanging by her schoolmates – the younger ones, like the director born in 1942 and the youngest child Andrea born in 1944, were told that he had fallen in action on the battlefield. For Barbara, or Barbel, the eldest living sister whose burst of anger opens the film, the return of the missing father has been a recurring vision in her dreams. While Ellen tells about her haunting nightmares following the execution, Barbel evokes her elated spirits in the morning, awakening as "if nothing had happened."

"Something happened," however, and Malte Ludin evokes metaphorically, but shows also perceptibly on screen, the Kummerkiste as "trunk of sorrows," where the secrets of "the typical German family" are hidden.

Letters, photo albums, recordings and film excerpts relate the irresistible ascension in the Nazi hierarchy of an ambitious young man, born and educated in an educated family, who chose the military after completing high school. An early and unwavering supporter of Hitler, he was therefore tried and expelled from the Reichswehr, and after imprisonment joined the Sturm-Abteilung in 1931 "because of the quality of the men and because of Hitler’s personality"; at age 28, Obersturmführer Hanns Elard Ludin had 300,000 SA men under his command.

 In 1941, he was sent to Slovakia, then a satellite and willing collaborator of the Great German Reich. As ambassador and minister, Ludin was also in charge of the implementation of the Final Solution. During his mandate in Pressburg (Bratislava), 8,975 Jews were deported to the death camps. He was held responsible later for the repression of the local underground movements that developed when the Third Reich began to crumble. Yet, in April 1945 he was still celebrating Hitler’s anniversary. He went into hiding but was captured by American troops who handed him over to the Czech authorities. They sentenced him to death: he was executed at the end of 1947.

 How has it then been possible that in face of these irrefutable historical facts, contending versions have come to compete in the memory of the family? Sixty years after the events, the three sisters who are still alive strive to conjure up, each one in her own way, the figure of the paterfamilias as hero, or as martyr, in any case as the victim of a miscarriage of justice. In the third generation, two of the Ludin grandchildren reveal that for them the image of their grandfather that had long prevailed was that of an underground fighter of sorts, whereas the family adamantly denies that such a narrative was ever circulated. In their often distressing, disheartening dialogues with their brother whose avowed purpose is to break this ongoing "legacy of silence," the three sisters reaffirm stubbornly their unshakeable belief in their father’s innocence and refuse to consider themselves as "children of perpetrators," endorsing rather the role of "victims of historical circumstances."

 In his investigation about the father whom he never actually knew, Malte Ludin the director recalls – in the film as well as in various interviews he gave to the press after the successful release of his oeuvre – that he grew up with the version dispensed by his familial and social milieu at a time when this kind of heritage was not considered infamous. According to him: "In postwar Germany, it even tended to be approving."

In Ernst von Salomon’s influential bestseller of the same period, The Questionnaire(1951),10 Hanns Ludin is sympathetically depicted as a kind fellow, an edel (noble) Nazi, long unaware, despite his preeminent function, of the fate of the Jews whose deportation orders he had himself signed. His dignified acceptance of his fate and eventual condemnation as  a prominent member of a murderous regime are reported by von Salomon and concisely summed up in Ludin’s premonition: "I’ll certainly be hanged." Von Salomon’s contention that Ludin as a diplomat should have benefited from immunity has probably substantiated the family’s wishful thinking regarding his presumed guiltlessness.

 In the film, Malte Ludin reads aloud his father’s last letter to the public prosecutor, asking for a milder punishment, arguing that he had acted under the orders and directives that he had received but that he had committed no crimes. The phrase he wrote, "Ich kann mich nicht schuldig erklären" (I cannot plead guilty), is repeated four times by his son, at first disparagingly, almost sneeringly, but at the end on the verge of tears.

 In the wake of the students’ revolts, culminating in the events of 1968, and this rebellious generation’s harsh disparaging of their forebears, all of them suspects of fascism, Hanns Ludin became for his son not only "one more Nazi like many other Germans," but even ein Nazischwein (a Nazi pig), as he once provocatively termed him during a family gathering.

 At once film critic, scriptwriter and cineaste for many years, Malte Ludin began, following the fall of the "Iron Curtain" in 1989, a professional collaboration with his wife-to-be, the Czech-born film director Iva Svarcova, whose "view of Nazi history came from the side of the victims." This was indeed the main incentive for  devising 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß, where, in Svarcova’s view, the turmoil and display of emotions become more significant than the historical unfolding. It is noticeable however that even if the Kummerkiste divulges its contents according to a historical chronology, it exhibits both authors’ personal "heterology," a notion coined by Michel de Certeau and signifying "a discourse about the other which is also a means of constructing a discourse authorized by the other."11 Elaborated further by Edith Wyschogrod, heterology becomes for the historian, the philosopher, the filmmaker "a moral imperative to speak for those who had been rendered voiceless, to give countenance to those who have become faceless, and to give hope to the desolate."12

 Thus, with Malte Ludin’s return to Bratislava – Mein Vaters Tatort (the place of my father’s deeds) in the director’s words – the Jewish tragedy turns out to be the touchstone of his filmic endeavor, and his father’s personal involvement in the Final Solution becomes the crux of the matter. He himself confesses in his film that by consulting his father’s files, he "still nourished the hope to find something that exonerates him… that at some point, he dissented, refused or obstructed […]"

It must be stressed that, historically, Hanns Elard Ludin was convicted as a war criminal by the Czechs for the part he took in the history of secessionist Slovakia. In the verdict there is no hint whatsoever at what later came to be termed "crimes against humanity," and the destruction of the Slovakian Jews is neither evoked nor emphasized among the multiple victims of a murderous regime. It is this significant omission indeed that the film wants to restore.

Je sais bien…mais quand même… (I know… but still [I believe])13

Ludin’s art, as hinted at before, is at its best in the register of irony. For example, when he listens to a former neighbor describing to him in detail the inner layout of the magnificent mansion where the ambassador’s family was living, Ludin sums up dryly: "I was born in an ›aryanized‹ home." Later, his cross-editing alternates between Barbel’s nostalgic childhood memories of games with her siblings, nursed by young maids in colorful Slovakian attire, and the reminiscences of Professor Jurej Stern, then a child of three or four years, who spent the same years hidden by a farmer in his cowshed. When Barbel evokes their songs and theater performances, Jurej Stern recalls that, reduced so long to silence, it took him years to recover his speech ability and to overcome his stammering.

In this "conversation-piece" of sorts, the filmmaker has opted for encountering one by one his "familial actors,"14 preferring the face-to-face interview rather than a larger group confrontation. This sui generis, intuitive reconstitution of the site of the analytical talking cure becomes relevant when analysts as well as cultural historians have come to consider that the cardinal concepts of psychoanalysis can be applied to collective as well as to personal phenomena, particularly in the case of historical trauma.15 Interestingly, Ludin’s choice can be compared to films and filmed interviews by the second and third generations of the Shoah questioning their victimized parents. On both sides, the film directors manifest their conviction that an expressive face, demeanor, body language, distinctive wording may convey much more than articulate assessments.

Moreover, Ludin displays his intellectual and psychological sensitivity by carefully choosing a revealing setting for each one of his protagonists. Thus, for example, the Slovakian born poet Tuvia Rübner who emigrated to Eretz-Israel as a child, recites an heartbreaking poem against the background of heavy drops flowing on windowpanes like tears. In die Luft (In the Air) is dedicated to his little sister murdered with her parents in Auschwitz .Ludin’s deliberate and intentional "mise-en-scène" comes to the fore in his multiple confrontations with the unshakeable Barbel, who sometimes appears working in her studio on a still amorphous sculpture, but more often against the lush background of her library, sitting in an armchair, surrounded by flowers and books and reflected, duplicated, in a mirror on her left.

In Barbel’s discourse, any allusive notion to atrocities perpetrated under the Nazi rule has been carefully expunged from her vocabulary. She speaks of resettlement and emigration when her brother says deportation, and clings to deportation when her brother speaks of annihilation. According to her: "In Poland, Jews were organized in groups of partisans and consequently may have been killed […] In a war, people are killed […]" It seems however, that even if both Ludin and Svarcova have underscored the forceful power of emotions over knowledge, Barbel, more unremittingly than her sisters, voices through denial and negation, the grieving of a split consciousness already revealed in her restorative dreams. To quote the late Freud:

 "Whatever the Ego does in its efforts of defence, whether it seeks to disavow a portion of the external world or whether it seeks to reject an instinctual demand from the internal world, its success is never complete and unqualified. The outcome always lies in two contrary attitudes, of which the defeated, weaker one, no less than the other, leads to psychical complications.''16

Commenting on Freud’s life-long reworking of the notion of Verleugnung (disavowal), Laplanche and Pontalis recall that this process has to do with a partly non-acknowledged external reality. Disavowal, they write "is used by Freud in the specific sense of a mode of defence which consists in the subject’s refusing to recognize the reality of a traumatic perception […] Inasmuch as disavowal affects external reality,Freud sees it as the first stage of psychosis."17

At the end of the film, when her brother asks Barbel why she changed her mind and finally agreed to join his project, she concedes that it was in loving memory of the family’s dead, suggesting also that by her determination and dedication she remains the only one able to do them faithfully justice. However, from former testimonies, it becomes undeniable that the eldest siblings Erika and Tillman had been heavily burdened by the revelation of their father’s wrongdoings. Tille, who had already left Germany for South Africa at the age of sixteen, demanded from his brother when he told him about his filmic undertaking "to keep his children out of it." Malte Ludin recalls that his sister Erika had been at once the closest to their father and also the most hurt and offended by the revelation of his past when she was fourteen: "living in a constant dilemma between love and hate, self-castigation and repression." Most movingly, Heiner, Erika’s former husband, evokes his wife’s existence as "a creeping suicide."

In a milder way than her sister Barbel, and developing an other kind of argumentation – another defense mechanism that Ernest Jones calls "rationalization"18 – Andrea appeals also to common morals in order to exculpate her father: "It is impossible that a man who writes to his wife in 1945 that his children can be proud of him…that cannot be someone who knows that Jews are being killed… who knowingly sends people to their death… even the worst criminal cannot be that schizophrenic!... I just can’t believe it!"  Barbel also resorts to familial breeding, rejecting any possibility that her father could have been "such a liar" and invoking the "old German virtues" of Aufrechtigkeit (honesty) practiced in their family circle. Here Malte Ludin has subtly framed his sisters’ apologetics by showing on the screen overwhelming evidence in the form of undeniable documents signed by the father and then photographs recording the visit to Bratislava of Goebbels, the master of delusions.

From Counter-memory to Working-through                 

Some years ago the notion of counter-memory was developed by scholars and cultural historians to designate not only "the residual or resistant strains that withstand official versions of historical continuity" according to Michel Foucault, but also to underscore the polymorphous nature of memory as historically situated and therefore operating under the pressure of challenges and alternatives. The working principle should be, according to Natalie Zemon-Davies and Randolph Starn, that whenever memory is invoked the question to be asked is: by whom, where, in which context, against what?19

Unwittingly, the film raises these same questions with bold integrity: nowhere before has the discrepancy between irrefutable historical facts and the steadfast construction of another memory – a counter-memory of sorts – been exposed on the screen so openly. Nowhere before have the members of an extended German family confronted on the screen their own contending versions in their effort to reconstruct a viable, acceptable past, the dividing line appearing to cross between the second and third generations, and even more precisely between the feminine line of the three still living sisters – the mothers – and their children.

 The elaboration of such a counter-memory has been vividly portrayed in Peter Sichrovsky’s highly controversial Schuldig Geboren (1985). In his preface, Sichrovsky noted that the children of perpetrators he interviewed for his book considered themselves as the victims of their parents’ past, and regarded their parents as victims as well, although they kept obstinately silent about their personal history.20 Conversely, because they were the children of "normal" parents, they refused to judge them and exculpated them, even when they had been faced with irrefutable misdeeds. In any case, Sichrovsky in his "psycho-sociological documentary" stressed that in the 1960s and 1970s nobody cared psychologically for a whole generation, born during the war or in its immediate aftermath, and deeply split between "the inability to mourn" of their parents and grand parents still infected by their fascist up-bringing, and the values advocated outside the family by a fledgling democratic nation.

 In my opinion, it is no coincidence that these dissensions depicted by Sichrovsky were taken up and addressed some years later by an Israeli psychologist of German descent. Dan Bar-On’s influential Legacy of Silence. Encounters with Children of the Third Reich21 introduced some groundbreaking notions such as the powerful image of "the double-wall": the silence of the parents who refused to speak and that of their children who dared not ask. He also extended the original Freudian concept of working-through used in personal therapy "to explain the laborious psychological process that an individual must undergo in order to express repressed childhood experiences." The concept was reworked after World War II to understand how survivors coped with the trauma originating from the Holocaust and the intergenerational aftereffects of this trauma on the children of the survivors. Bar-On and his team of therapists base their own work on the assumption that in the context of intractable conflicts and in order to reach some degree of reconciliation, working-through may be defined as learning "to live with" the painful past and to overcome the feelings of unresolved pain and anger. Moreover, the practice of the interview has evolved: the telling of the personal life-story becomes an acknowledged therapeutic tool at the same time that it appears as a powerful historical document. Bar-On and the practitioners that he has trained, use the story- telling approach to work-through “traumatic experiences arising from inter-group intractable conflicts, emphasizing the ability of the person to learn to live with the painful events of one’s past while developing an ability to listen to the pain of the other.”22

In various interviews he gave to the European as well as to the American press, Malte Ludin has underscored the importance of Bar-On’s research, beginning for him with Legacy of Silence, and his influence on his own workTherefore in 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß, Bar-On is credited as the psychological adviser. Says Svarcova: "Psychological counseling was simply essential for navigation in this crucial test between loyalty to the family and loyalty to the truth."

Reassessing the title: 2 oder 3 Dinge die ich von Ihr weiss

The abundant critiques and comments elicited by Ludin’s film confirms that the work is attuned to the sensibility of the time in various ways. The journalist Ralph Eue makes us aware that the conflicts that the director had addressed in his film, others were elaborating in literature at the same time. Interestingly, "the trunk found in the attic" - the Ludin family’s Kummerkiste – is also, according to present literary research, a recurrent icon and motive in the texts of the new generation of German writers. The Vaterliteratur of the last decades, its anger and rebellion, has given way since the turn of the millennium to the Familienroman which is, according to Carola Hähnel, mostly autobiographical and haunted by the National Socialist legacy and the immediate aftermath of World War II. Moreover, she notes that "a great part of the present literature focuses on investigating a member of the family suspected of being involved in the crimes of the Nazi era."23 Ralph Eue puts it more mildly and more in accordance with the results of the psycho-sociological research evoked above, by saying that the works of the new German literary trend are "somewhere between the poles of an attempted reconciliation and the surveying of the given distance".24

If the attempt at reconciliation within the family is indeed one of the declared purposes of the film, "the surveying of the given distance" is, fortunately, not on the agenda of the director, and his personal emotional involvement pervades his oeuvre sometimes despite himself. Moreover if the title suggested that the film were about the director’s father, its substance reveals that an indomitable mother figure is the actual core of the work.

Therefore my final claim will be that the title of the film is misleading and Ludin should have remained faithful to Godard’s original designation: 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle (1967) even if Godard himself tried, as he usually did, to mystify his audience by proposing for elle twelve possible interpretations.25

 While Ludin himself acknowledges that nothing essentially new was disclosed about his father during his systematic research for the film, 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß nevertheless forcefully reveals the tremendous power of "the woman beside him," Erla, the wife and the mother. Ludin begins his film by confessing revealingly that were she still alive, he would not have dared to make the film, adding that "she had a very long life!" which suggests perhaps that his undertaking had often been postponed.

The first glimpse of Erla in the film comes from an overly conventional home movie recording some festivity where the ancestor is at the center of her large family. Later in the film, similar images recur: surrounded by her kin, she holds a baby in her lap, showing it to the camera. In the family album, the pictures of her as a young woman reveal her radiant Nordic beauty, blond, slender and trained as a dance teacher in eurhythmics. Her maiden name, Erla von Jordan, may relate her to the German nobility, allowing her to easily "enwrap her interlocutor in her upper-class charm" in Iva Svarcova’s account. This almost innate capacity to create a distance but at the same time to subjugate, is felt even by her children, as recounted by Barbel, who fervently tells her brother how, when she was seated in the back seat of her mother’s car, she was often tempted to stroke her hair but never dared to do so.

Interspersed in the film, two filmed interviews reveal Erla’s proud awareness of her influence on her husband, of her share of responsibility in the decisions he took. One film was shot by her son Malte shortly before her death, when she was 91 years old, and her memory fails her several times. The other one, recalled in Svarcova’s interview and  subtly entitled Die Frau seines Führers (His Führer’s Wife) was made for NDR television in 1978. For her, it was a further attempt to restore her husband’s reputation and memory, which was her life-long endeavor. Hanns Ludin is presented as a man of principle, an idealist of sorts, who, in mutual understanding with his wife, refused to act out of his own interests or to promote his career. Three more excerpts relate to turning points in their personal as well as their public life.

On his way to Bad Wiessee on June 30, 1934, "the Night of the Long Knives," Ludin’s life is spared by Hitler’s personal intervention. His best friends, however, have been murdered in the massacre of the SA, which leaves him outraged and desperate. "I told him," says Erla to her interviewer, "that there is no omelet without breaking eggs […]" No less disturbing is the sheer triteness of her response to other incidents she relates with almost the same inhuman equanimity. She describes how she met once the Swiss ambassador’s wife who told her about Auschwitz as a place where the Jews were being gassed. Back at home, she finds her husband with an important guest from Berlin who reassures them both: Auschwitz is ein Rüstungsbetrieb (an ammunition plant) where Jews are put to work. "So we believed him!" she says, and adds: "I thought that we should have locked them all up because they cause us so much harm abroad."

In the last excerpt, she refers to January 1945 when her husband confided to her that they were led "by a bunch of criminals" and she remembers her reaction: "I said to him that we have to take the bad things with the good […]"

In one of her interviews, Iva Svarcova quotes from Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich’s Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern (The Inability to Mourn) (1967) a statement she considers as one of the premises of their joint work with Malte Ludin: "The attempt to distance oneself from painful memories of guilt and shame is a general human need." Yet, in the film, when Ludin asks his sisters about these same feelings, they react as if the offense were in the question and reject it with repugnance. However, with the aid of Alexander Mitscherlich’s challenging assessment in Auf den Weg zur Vaterlosen Gesellschaft  (Society without the Father) (1963) I dare to suggest the following interpretation to Ludin’s oeuvre.

As a result of her multiple appearances in the film, her various verbal interventions and her children’s discourse about her, "Erla," so forcefully present in absentia, becomes the main protagonist of 2 oder 3 Dinge, die ich von ihm weiß. Moreover, in her Nordic appearance and physical training, in the way she fulfilled the role bestowed on her as a mother who, in the span of a decade, bore six children for the Third Reich, and in her active devotion to and support of her high-ranking husband in the Hitlerian hierarchy, Erla appears as the perfect incarnation of the feminine ideal praised by Nazi ideology.

Perfect and redoubtable: Erla appears not as "the woman beside him" as in her son’s description of her, but as the reincarnation, behind the mass leader, of  what Alexander Mitscherlich has described as "the imago of a primitive mother-goddess." Following Alexander Mitscherlich ,and continuing with his fertile insight  and his feminization of Hitler, I have replaced "the Führer" with the "mother-goddess" in Mitscherlich’s description of Hitler’s ,applying it to the image of Erla that emerges from the film.

 :"[S]he acts as if [s]he were superior to conscience and demands a regressive obedience and the begging behaviour that belongs to the behaviour pattern of a child in the pre-Oedipal stage […] the tie to [her] never reached the level, so rich in conflict, where the conscience is formed and ties with it are established […]"26

The spell of the mother-goddess so influential on the second generation, nevertheless seems to have spared her grandchildren. If the parents, the mothers especially, despite of their culture, their energy, their professional autonomy, are still involved in a desperate struggle with their harrowing double legacy, Fabian and his ten cousins, all of them appearing in the film, all of them intelligent, articulate and considerate, seem to have found for themselves "the surveying of the given distance."

This Article was previously published in: Jose Brunner (Editor), Mütterliche Macht und väterliche Autorität: Elternbilder im deutschen Diskurs. Tel Aviver Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte 36 (Göttingen, Wallstein Verlag, 2008)

  • 1. Geoffrey H. Hartman, (ed.) Introduction: Darkness Visible, in: Holocaust Remembrances; The Shapes of Memory, Oxford 1994, 10.
  • 2. Régine-Mihal Friedman, Génériques. Entre Ecphrasis et Mise-en-abyme, in: Christine B.Verzar/Gil Fishhof (eds.), Pictorial Languages and Their Meanings. Liber Amicorum in Honor of Nurith Kenaan-Kedar, Tel Aviv 2006, 3-16.
  • 3. Michael Renov. Family Secrets : Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business and the Jewish Autobiographical Film. NFJC.2006, 3.
  • 4. Roger Odin,  Le Film de Famille, Paris 1995.
  • 5. Roger Odin,  From Home- Movies to  TV Home Productions and I Home Productions: A Semio-Pragmatic Approach,  Assaph Konoa, 1, 1998, 198ff.
  • 6. Michael Renov, The Subject of Documentary, Minneapolis 2004, 217 ff.
  • 7. Ibid., 218.
  • 8. Ibid., 218.
  • 9. Ibid., 219.
  • 10. Ernst von Salomon, Fragebogen: The Questionnaire , tr. by  Constantine FitzGibbon, New-York, 1954, 498-525.
  • 11. Michel de Certeau, Heterologies : Discourse on the Other. Tr. B. Massumi  Manchester ,1986  .68.
  • 12. Edith Wyschogrod,   An Ethics of Remembering. History, Heterology and the Nameless Others, Chicago 1999. 38.
  • 13. Octave Mannoni, Je sais bien…mais quand même, La Croyance,  Temps Modernes, 212. 1964, 1262-1286.
  • 14. Documentary theory speaks generally of "social actors« (see Bill Nichols, Representing Reality. Issues and Concepts in Documentary, Bloomigton, 1991), but here we deal with "domestic ethnography.«
  • 15. Dominick LaCapra, History and Memory after Auschwitz, Ithaca, 1998. 43ff.
  • 16. Cf. Sigmund Freud, Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence, Standard Ed. 23, (1940[1938]) 275.
  • 17. Jean Laplanche/Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, Vocabulaire de la Psychanalyse,  Deni (de la Réalité), Paris, 1967, 115-117.
  • 18. Laplanche /Pontalis, Vocabulaire : Rationalisation, 387 .According to them, the term was introduced by Ernest Jones in his  Rationalization in everydaylife, 1908.
  • 19. Natalie Zemon-Davis/Randolph Starn, Introduction, in: Representations 26 (1989), 1-6.
  • 20. Peter Sichrovsky, Schuldig Geboren. Kinder aus Nazifamilien, Cologne 1987.
  • 21. Dan Bar-On, Legacy of Silence. Encounters with Children of the Third Reich, Cambridge and London 1989.
  • 22. Dan Bar-On/Fatma Kassem, Story-Telling as a Way to Work-through Intractable Conflicts: the German-Jewish experience and Its Relevance to the Palestinian-Israeli Context, Journal of Social Issues, 60,.2004, 289-306.
  • 23. Carola Hähnel, Presence du Passé National-Socialiste dans la Littérature Allemande Contemporaine. Allemagne d’Aujourd’hui. 178 (sous le direction de Carola Hähnel). Octobre-Novembre 2006.
  • 24. Interviews with Malte Ludin  and Iva Svarcova  in the press book:
  • 25. Jean-Luc Godard , 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, le scénario. Paris 1971, 10.
  • 26. Alexander Mitscherlich , Society without the Father, a Contribution to Social psychology. Tr. by E. Mosbacher, London 1969, 284.

Regine-Mihal Friedman is a professor in the department of cinema and television at Tel Aviv University. She has published extensively on Nazi cinema. Her Ph.D. thesis on this topic was published in Paris as a book entitled L’Image et son Juif, on the Jew in Nazi cinema. She has also written on the representation of women in Israeli, German and French films and is working on a book dedicated to the personal testimonial films emanating from the second and third generations born after the Holocaust

גר-מאניה,ספטמבר 2009