10 July 2010

"Downfall" by Oliver Hirschbiegel

We were on vacation in Germany. Should we?  Should we not?  My wife and daughter were against going. They thought they could not bear the pain. I wanted to go to the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.  I had a reason.

Two books made me cry when I was a teenager. The rise and fall of Third Reich by American War correspondent William Shirer was one of them.

Accumulating power by dispensing with constitutional framework, securing popular support by arousing national sentiments, eliminating everyone who could speak truth to power, conveniently identifying a powerless minority as the main reason for all malaise in society and lowering the bar on national conscience are all standard hallmarks of insecure and greedy politicians suffering from a paucity of wisdom. Our own country has several examples of this.

Adolf Hitler went a step further. He did not stop with taking away the hope, opportunities and wealth of his targets like politicians everywhere try to do. He took away their dignity and their lives.

I could identify with the boy whose body was used (even as he was alive) for conduct of physiological and emotional experiments. I could identify with the old lady who wore make up and danced to demonstrate she was young and therefore should be allowed to keep her life. I wept for the husband who saw his sick wife get into the van that would double up as her killer and transporter to graveyard at the same time.

I had to visit Dachau and pray for the people who were denied a chance. It may mean nothing. On the other hand, it might.

In the end we agreed on a short 1 hour tour instead of the normal 4 hours tour. The German taxi driver politely suggested we should understand World War I to understand World War II. We did not reply.

This is what we saw:

Rows and rows of 6x3 bed spaces that would house the prisoners.

The 10 yard distance between death and survival that we crossed in a minute; but the prisoners had to brave a moat, a wire fence, a yard covered by sniper fire and a tall compound wall.

It took thousands of lives of one heroic army to put an end to this ugly saga and leave its call sign: "never again" hopefully.

Adolf Hitler was a monster. Brought shame to Germany (which did not deserve this principle or leadership). Brought misery to millions of innocents.

The movie Downfall depicts his last ten days. Bruno Ganz is a good actor. He probably did what he was asked to do well. However, if you did not have the benefit of prior knowledge, and discover Hitler through this movie, you might think of him as one more General who lost a war.

That, sadly, is too big a failure.

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