Tony Barta. 'Recognizing the Third Reich: "Heimat" and the Ideology of Innocence'. In T. O'Regan & B. Shoesmith eds. History on/and/in Film. Perth: History & Film Association of Australia, 1987. 131-9.


Tony Barta

How should we understand the concept of an "unmastered past"? I've thought about it alot in relation to Germany, in relation to Edgar Reitz's new film Heimat, and also in relation to Australia. It won't hurt to approach Reitz's enterprise from this furthest away, closest to home point of view. Australians, like a good number of other peoples, have a past which we can hardly claim to have come to terms with and there is a very big question as to how best to get us to engage with it.

There has been not much filmmaking - or, for that matter, much historical writing - on how white Australians happen to live with such material and mental taken-for-grantedness in a continent recently belonging entirely to black, Aboriginal, peoples. The violence with which they were, and still are, displaced is something Australians know in a distant way, and now sometimes have put to them directly on TV. This has begun to happen quite insistently on the minority channels (ABC and SBS).[1] It is proving to be hard to attach land rights as an issue to a genuine recognition of historical responsibility on the part of white Australians. What kind of historical film, I want to ask, will effectively help to do that? What will get through to Australians that their "Heimat" is theirs only because it was taken violently from others, that it is a quarter acre suburban block, a memory of summer, a set of relationships, an identity implicated in genocide?

Like almost everyone else I associated this problem with Germany long before I thought about it in relation to Australia. My attempt to get close to the problem of recognizing a past - and the more difficult, because more implicating step of recognizing this past as one's own - has taken place in Germany. For more than ten years I have been working in Dachau, and, from far way, on Dachau, with an undiminished primary aim: to tell the history of that place in the twentieth century not as concentration camp history, not as "German history", but as experience, memory, processes of involvement and of insulation. I hoped the associations of the name "Dachau" in the larger story of Germany in this century would help me to set up a dramatic counterpoint between people's lived lives and the disaster visited (as they saw it) upon them. I know, as on one level they know, that their everyday lives, habits of mind, preoccupations and prejudices were causally connected to that disaster; I also know - and this knowledge I really gained from them - that distancing themselves from the atrocities of Nazism is not just "defensiveness": it is a matter of sure knowledge of how things were and a determined if not very optimistic hope that this reality will enter the historical record. Only when there is a history which does justice to people's knowledge of the realities will they accept any of it as really applying to them.

This I think is Reitz's clear, and in part openly proclaimed starting point. In the publicity for his film he emphasises "memory" and "story". But his central concern, the context of memory and story, is the ability to deal with history.

Telling stories has a great deal to do with remembering. Memories are always a part of one's experience; they are personal. When the ability to remember is joined with the ability to organize the images that are recalled, stories originate. That doesn't mean sticking exactly to the memories. The original truth is best contained when told freely. We Germans have a hard time with our stories. It is our own history that is in our way. The year 1945, the nation's "Zero hour", wiped out alot, created a gap in people's ability to remember. As Mitscherlich put it, an entire people have been made "unable to mourn". In our case that means "unable to tell stories" because our memories are obstructed by the great historical events they are connected with. Even now, 40 years after the war, we are still troubled by the weight of moral judgements, we are still afraid that our little, personal stories could recall our Nazi past and remind us of our mass participation in the Third Reich. That is the problem. We have so many little stories that make up our past that can't be told, can't be true , that are stifling us, perhaps because they are so normal and for that reason so blind to history they don't dare be told.

Our film, Heimat, consists of these suppressed or forgotten little stories. It is a chronicle of both a family and a village and is an attempt of sorts to revive memories.[2]

There have been two particularly good critiques of Heimat. One, generally positive, is by Thomas Elsaesser,[3] the other, relentlessly negative, is by Leonie Naughton.[4] I agree with both of them. Yes, it is true, as Naughton argues, that Reitz virtually excludes from his film class conflict, capitalism's relationship to fascism, and most of the political content of fascism itself. The persecution of Communists, Socialists and Jews is nowhere brought into the foreground and even the more recent ideological conflict accompanying the physical division of Germany recedes completely. Heimat she argues tends "to reconfirm bourgeois aspects of German popular memory." Despite attempts by the left to reclaim some stake in the concept "Heimat", mainly through the conservation movement, the word has accretions of conservative and fascist misuse which are not easily shaken loose. The Nazis made it symbolic of the simpler, more wholesome rural life they claimed as truly German, everything that the city with its exploitation, rootlessness and class conflict was not. Socialism came from the city, National Socialism from the land, the Heimat of all that was good and true.

Reitz's Heimat does, as Naughton says, promote "a sentimental and revisionist history of Germany" which "recovers and expresses this mythical past, oblivious to violent class conflicts and political struggle." Its evocations of mothers and fathers, of blueberries and your first model aeroplane, are not just innocent memories recovering "a palatable history that has been immensely popular with the German viewing public. It has prompted a new wave of patriotism and nostalgia for a past that has become `denazified'." In so far as the film is concerned with Nazism at all (and this I have to come back to) it undoubtedly "presents a bourgeois history of the Third Reich, a homespun tale of innocence."

If this is the whole story, and the innocence is not called into question by any more complex layering of messages, then it is perhaps not too harsh to call the formerly leftist and progressive Reitz a renegade. But his film is not "an uncritical view of Germany's recent past" and it may in fact be one of the most successfully critical productions of the post-war German cinema. Certainly Reitz's fellow progressive filmmakers have stood by him. Kluge campaigned for it to be included in the Venice festival (where it won the critics' prize) and Syberberg, who has thought most radically about how to render the German past and its ambivalent present references on the screen, sees it as a major achievement.[5]

Elsaesser admires the achievement without losing sight of the problems. He, too, in commenting on Heimat's "leisurely pace, the emphasis on the changing seasons, the idyllic moments of picnics and outings," notes that what seems to disturb things is scarcely ever the big events paid attention to by the historians. The drama is in the good things of life, and the way they are undermined "not by the dramatic intrusion of political events, or even the war, but by the scars that the small sins of commission or omission, petty injustices, moments of cowardice, indecision or opportunism leave on relationships." The closest Elsaesser comes to Naughton is in this paragraph, which is also the only one to refer to the political context of its screening:

Given the century and the country that Reitz is dealing with, such political minimalism may seem excessively conservative. In fact, Reitz might well be accused of telling a revisionist sentimental history of Germany: a film of and for the apolitical 80s. The ideological climate of even ten years ago would not have allowed such a project to pass as anything but apologetic: abroad because Schabbach seems to have few Nazis and even fewer who are anything worse than fellow-travellers, and at home because West Germans would have been afraid of not having the "correct" attitude to their own political past.[6]

This business of "the correct attitude to one's own political past" is part of what Foucault was working at in his Cahiers interview on "Film and Popular Memory."[7] Interestingly, the discussion is centred around Ophuls' The Sorrow and the Pity which has very nearly as much to do with German memories - those of soldiers in Hitler's occupation armies - as with French ones.

There is of course no one, general "popular memory"; there are dominant versions of the past, and we can readily discern their political motivation in all post-war countries. People have been subject to a "reprogramming" of popular memory, which existed but had no way of expressing itself, especially not against the relentless tide of film and TV versions of "their history". "So people are shown not what they were but what they must remember having been." The dominant version, depicting all Germans as passive followers of Hitler, has always been offensive to the millions on the left, particularly working class people, who never dreamt of voting for Hitler and to the thousands who actively resisted his regime. Their popular history has systematically been suppressed in West Germany. However, while the dominant version in one way works so strongly in favour of those who did not resist Hitler it has certainly not been equivalent to their popular memory. This has been a key component, and one very difficult to deal with, in the phenomenon of "the unmastered past." Germans have been told very insistently what they must remember having been - particularly middle-class Germans, the people both blamed for their failures in the past and reassured about their successes in the present. So the class most associated with National Socialism's popular success has had its genuine popular memory of National Socialism suppressed ever since the debacle of 1945.

The reasons have to do with the extraordinary political success of the middle-class despite this debacle. In 1933 they were successful in having a regime installed which eradicated socialism, secured their very threatened economic well-being and promoted the traditional values they felt comfortable with: authority, moral simplicity, community. Although this regime also promoted other values, and did other things, which they were uncomfortrable with, and in fact became Germany's greatest ever moral and political disaster, that did not affect the balance of class forces in West Germany after the war. Nazism had not changed Germany's class structure: its mission after all had been to safeguard it, and this, amidst the ashes of Hitler's catastrophe, remained its historic success. The petit bourgeoisie - and indeed the bourgeoisie as a whole - were securely placed to rebuild from their position of strength in the Third Reich. Rebuild they did - spectacularly. That was the political success of the Adenauer regime (Adenauer had not resisted the Third Reich; he had grown roses) and of the "economic miracle." With some help from the Cold War, with release from tyranny into political activity, and with economic incentives, the working class was mobilised brilliantly to play its part in this new order. West Germany, as proof that the petit bourgeoisie can after all survive the industrial revolution - salaried, yes, integrated into large capital, but with its value system intact - is a spectacular phenomenon. The Germans (having failed Hitler's expectations as well as Marx's) found their destiny in far outshining those other nations of shopkeepers, France and England.

What the bourgeoisie have been denied in Germany is not material and political success but their historical consciousness. Others have told them, insistently, what to remember: that they put Hitler into power and that they are therefore implicated in his crimes. For those who lived through the regime this process began the moment the war ended. The extent of Nazi atrocities was revealed to them for the first time, newspapers and cinema screens were suddenly full of the horrific images which are now called up by any of the words used to designate the period: Nazi Germany, Hitler regime, Third Reich. Where the Allies found concentration camps nearby, local people - particularly middle class people, assumed to be Nazis - were taken to see what they had wrought. The defensive reflexes immediately brought into play were expanded, practised and toughened by the attempt to sort out blame and responsibility into categories of culpability. While the war crimes trials emblazoned the atrocities of the regime on the general historical consciousness every adult individual had to prepare an articulated, documented defense for purposes of "de-nazification."

All this, it has to be stressed, had a much more personally accusing emphasis in the Western zones of occupation. In the Soviet zone more Nazis were more decisively removed from positions of influence but ordinary party members were not automatically suspected of criminal associations. The Marxist premises of the new authorities, German as well as Soviet, put the emphasis on restructuring the economy, society and state which had been responsible for Nazism. Radical measures in land reform and the nationalisation of big industry accompanied the purging of elites. This is the basis of the East German claim to have mastered the past which produced fascism, and of the charges that fascism remains structurally possible in West Germany. While East Germans were being asked to vote in a referendum to expropriate the "War criminals and Nazi criminals," transferring privately owned enterprises "into the hands of the people," West Germans were being told that the piles of emaciated corpses depicted in American posters were the responsibility of every one of them. "You stood by and watched without saying anything: that is the guilt each of you bears."[8]

The millions of honest individuals (and thousands of less honest ones) who had to cope with this were unlikely to be left in the lurch by their newly emerging politicians, media and opinion leaders. What I am calling "the ideology of innocence" was not just the spontaneous reaction of people unequipped to see themselves as the accomplices of mass-murderers, it was an extensively ramified world view articulated (as all ideologies are) in the service of interests content to be upstaged. The lack of structural reform, the restoration of the old elites and the old economic power groups, would all be more secure amidst a populace preoccupied on the moral-political plan with distancing themselves from identification with fascism on the one hand and anti-fascism (associated with communism) on the other. When denazification was suddenly dropped with the onset of the Cold War and the founding of the West German State, it was in a climate of opinion remarkably willing to openly identify with Nazism as an ideal - which had, however, been badly carried out.[9] Clearly people had found a way to preserve their personal integrity without much shifting their perceived moral and political position. A majority preferred to assert openly that they had nothing to be ashamed of (even if ignorant people were to construe them as Nazis) because they themselves were innocent of any wrong-doing.

The ideology of innocence has as many variants as there are historical situations implying blame or responsibility. The easiest and strongest form of distancing - as in Australia - is time. ("I haven't killed or dispossessed anyone, that was all long ago.") That was obviously not available to Germans in 1945, though it is in 1985. Physical distance was often invoked - "those things happened far away, in Russia" or "we were never allowed down there" (the camp on the outskirts of Dachau). Or there could be honest ignorance - not necessarily wilful ignorance - of what was going on. But the safest distancing, particularly important in the German case, was along lines of moral innocence through political powerlessness.

In the dominant political culture of modern Germany - bourgeois, morally upright, threatened - the theme of political powerlessness has had that mythical and "reconfirmed in experience" quality essential to the psychological embedding of ideology. Often the power was allocated outside Germany: that other people have done things to Germans - have caused them economic misery, have taken away their "freedom" as a nation - has been a staple of the political right. Now it could be admitted that a few Germans also had much to answer for. But once again, and very plausibly, given the institutions of the dictatorship, ordinary Germans had been powerless to prevent the disastrous turn of events. Being powerless, they were innocent.

This theme can have a left adaptation as well - after all, people can't be held responsible for alienated power, power exercised over them. As I've indicated, this was the basis of the East German approach to Nazism. The offer was also made by the left in West Germany but could not be accepted by an unrepentantly anti-communist majority and in any case was overridden by the Western approach of personal denazification. A mitigating factor was the relaunching of electoral politics; both the SPD and the Christian Union parties offered a healing amalgam of democratic credentials and nationalist rhetoric. With the narrow victory of the Union parties, followed by state sovereignty, remilitarisation and integration into the Western blocs of NATO and EEC, the West German bourgeois could feel securely rehabilitated.

All this went with solid reluctance to make gestures that might be construed as acknowledgement of responsibility for Nazi crimes: it required, for example, a long campaign by former prisoners before the concentration camp site at Dachau was reopened as a memorial in 1965. For over a decade very few West Germans visited the site: they were far outnumbered by foreigners. It served, however, as one of the focal irritants for revisionist, neo-Nazi campaigning. During the 1960s this emerged into the open as the style of right-wing extremism in the Federal Republic - that is, the right wing of the ideology of innocence. Because of the very large reservoir of ideology and feeling it tapped into, right revisionist agitation was more significant than the numbers at meetings or the sales figures of publications might indicate.[10]

Finally, at a time when the first indisputably non-Nazi generation was starting to make a mark in public affairs and when their children in turn were beginning to ask questions, came the "Hitler wave" of the mid 1970s. In books, films and magazines emerged a glamorous, far-seeing political and military genius whose disastrous epic at least ended in a Gotterdammerung such as the world had never before seen.[11] Former Nazis, nostalgic veterans, curious schoolboys could be absorbed equally by the sweep of "history" so recently participated in and by the minutiae of SS regalia, Afrikakorps badges and Nazi party pageantry.

Then, in 1979, came the screening of Holocaust. Certainly there is evidence for the view that it was a political corrective. Even if some would remain fascinated by Nazi evil, the scope of the crime, at least the emphasis was again on the murderousness of the regime and the terrible experiences of its victims. Care was taken to make the victims a normal German (if Jewish) family and all the stops were pulled out to assist identification. All over again, Germans were faced with the question, "What did we allow to happen?"

Reitz was horrified not by what Holocaust depicted but by what it was and what it did. Not one scene in it, he said, not one character, rang true. They were the inventions of Hollywood scriptwriters and casting consultants who had "expropriated" German history, removing it from those who had come to terms with it. That was a very serious matter. The reaction in fact showed that people still weren't dealing with their own past even if they objected to foreigners telling them what to think. "Along comes the Uncle from America, pulls Holocaust out of his pocket, millions watch the box, thousands phone in, ten thousand break into tears ... Their longing for a `block-buster' is like the petit bourgeois yearning for a Fuhrer - even today."[12]

The tears shed over Holocaust were crocodile tears, says Reitz, because people never recognized for one minute what was happening on the screen as their experience, something they could be genuinely sorry for. The block against dealing with the terrible aspects of the past in a genuinely personal and emotional way had not been broken through by Holocaust; rather it had given a new stimulus to the personally safe idea of collective guilt - the easiest way of either (on the moderate right) "accepting responsibility" or (on the far right) repudiating it as ludicrous.[13]

Already in 1979 Reitz proposed an alternative strategy:

If we are to come to terms with the Third Reich and the crimes committed in our country, it has to be by the same means we use every day to take stock of the world we live in. We suffer from a hopeless lack of meaningfully structured, aesthetically communicated experience... One should put an end to thinking in categories even where this terrible past of our history is concerned. As far as possible, we must work on our memories. This way, films, literary products, images come into being that enlighten our senses and restore our reflexes.[14]

The process of restoring historical reflexes, Reitz could see, also required an alternative aesthetic strategy, clearly distinct from the dominant Hollywood forms. Narrative coherence, pace, action and suspense would become less important; slowing down, close observation of detail and of character, narrative discontinuity would alert viewers to the idea that here was something different, proportioned not in the stereotypes of historical drama but in the idiosyncratic significances of experience. Experiments with form would be the main outward signal of this new approach: Heimat is obviously not a conventional feature - though some of its parts come close to being self-contained cinema films - and it is not a standard TV series either. The episodes do not build from one to the next, there are no tense situations requiring resolution which will compel us to turn on next time. In as far as it is possible to free any representation of people's experiences from references to family drama and still retain accessibility for a popular audience, Heimat succeeds. Its rhythms and visual style are thoroughly different from those of TV soap or the romance of the "Heimat film" genre. It aims to show characters and situations as having been less clear-cut than the script formulae of TV drama allow and it makes a fair fist of avoiding simplistic oppositions.

Behind the aesthetic decisions, then, are important propositions about how people need to be engaged in the enterprise of historical understanding. Human foibles, cognitive triggers of authentic speech, location and light, particular rather than general observations, provide more historical accessibility than even the most powerfully rechoreographed encounters between immediately recognizable categories.

If you look at history didactically, you are dealing with nothing but abstractions. It won't do to divide people up into good and evil, oppressors and oppressed, capitalists and proletarians. If you look closely, you'll see that these divisions run through the individual character. This explains why a system as criminal as National Socialism could actually look quite harmless. It only involved one part of the individual; apart from that his life looked quite ordinary. You have to show this paradox. It's all too easy, and misleading, to do what they did in Holocaust: "here are the goodies, there are the baddies," and everyone goes home happy and reassured.[15]

Some would say Reitz has not traded any less in happiness and reassurance and that a trace of didactic impulse, at least references to political considerations outside one village, would make the gap between history and experience a little less glaring. Reitz is confident that the gap can be "filled" by the thousands of "irritatingly detailed" memories people have of the past, but the questions of selection remain: which details, from whose memories, constructed into what kind of story?

If the story was only about Maria, ageing gracefully through 11 episodes and 63 years it would indeed be politically anodyne: she really is very busy making beds and getting on with things bravely. But there are many other people in that major section set during the Third Reich (Episodes 2-8) worth following as they make their adjustments to the new world of National Socialism. The former prostitute Lucie, of course, is the most enthusiastic - and comes closest to caricature. Instantly recognizable as a now almost folkloric type (everyone knows someone like her), she gets a grand new villa on credit she would not have got if she had not bullied Eduard, mild dreamy Eduard, into becoming a party member and village mayor. Eduard mainly wants to keep taking photographs - his "Freundlich, freundlich" is a refrain through-out the film, just as the photographs themselves feature as marvellous, still-moving, family groups and as an album which gives a retrospective introduction to each episode. The only harm that Eduard ever does, even in the years when he was henpecked into putting on an SA uniform, is to encourage a one-eyed village boy to pot insulators with an air rifle. It is not his fault that the boy becomes a sharp shooter and is killed in Russia.

Eduard's brother-in-law, Robert, has a jeweller's shop; the quintessential small businessman of provincial Germany, he is careful, honorable and kind. His wife, Pauline, sees a fast moving item in rings with death's heads. In the evening, doing the books, she tells Robert things are looking up. Perhaps, with a growing family, they should take the vacant apartment upstairs. We know - and of course, they know, though nothing is said - that the Jewish couple who lived there have gone. Later we see - a cinematic glance - their children at the upstairs window, and then safely tucked up in bed. How much of this will be real to Robert's generation, and to the children who will now be watching the film at the same age as their parents were then? All of it, I believe, and not just sentimentally.

Relative insulation from the political repression and ideological radicalism of the regime during "the good years" before the war does not altogether exclude that reality from the picture. True, only one member of the family, in distant Bochum, is arrested and the nearby concentration camp accidentally discovered by the one-eyed Hanschen is never referred to in any conversation. That is arguably a more realistic and powerful message - underscored by the avuncular this-is-how-we-shoot-them menace of the SS guard - than reiterated references to a continuing political struggle in which very few participated. Only Maria's brother Wilfried, making a career in the SS, and her father have any enthusiasm for the new order; when we finally have to listen to a sustained broadcast of a Hitler speech it is because people would be listening then, for the outbreak of the war they didn't want. And that the war dominates memories, rather than, say, the concentration camp, should not surprise anyone. Most families have dead from the war, few from any kind of political killing. If someone were to suggest that there are not enough atrocities represented in the film I would ask why they were not shaken by Wilfried's cold-blooded murder of the downed pilot, or the shooting of the prisoners in Russia - and even more, perhaps, by the methodical filming of it.

These recognitions, too, have to be made amidst the apples in the cellar, the red of the post office bike, dancing with Otto on that marvellous night. And even more importantly the recognitions are no longer safely quarantined within a past sealed off at 1945.

Historiography, political commentary and artistic representation have conspired to make the Third Reich extraordinary, a bizarre twelve year holiday from everyday normality. Since in many ways people's lives had continued fairly normally through that time it became very difficult for them to attach their own knowledge (Reitz's memories) to the purely political characterisation of it. And since connection to that political characterisation was also not to be admitted, the years 1933-45 have paradoxically remained among the least examined, a hiatus in every life history.

Reitz really does work very insistently on reintegrating these lost years into privately recognized and publicly admissable consciousness. He does it not only in the span of the story - after all, the Third Reich is smack in the middle of Maria's life - but by his strategy of incorporating the political history of Germany (more absent than present on the screen) into a larger twentieth century perspective in which even the most politically resistant will have to recognize the impossibility of insulating personal experience from history. This strategy extends through the whole iconography of the film, its many connections between modernity as an attraction and personal destiny, and into the sense of historical time the characters are situated in.

Of his photographer, Gernot Roll, Reitz noted during the shooting:

Gernot's shots always have this certain fascination. They describe a world which seems to stretch out in all possible directions. They are more than just compositions... I always know that the world is never excluded from his shots, that history always blows in from right outside the frame.[16]

In this respect frame composition echoes the overall construction of a film in which the ostensible focus, Maria, is contextualised not so much by presence - all those busy around her - as by absence. The departures - of Paul for America, of Anton, Ernst and Otto into the war, of Hermann into cosmopolitan high culture - are equally her personal story and history on a world scale. All the motifs which recur throughout the film to lure the men away and to bring the world to Schabbach have to do with the technologies of communication: radio, telephone lines, road construction, motorbikes, cars, photograpy, film, optics, electronics and (most wondrously for Eduard, Ernst and the cinematographer) flying. It is the scope of these innovations, not the old staple of Schabbach as centre of the world, which backgrounds the viewer's perception of the lives we observe. And since the lives are shown to be more deeply influenced by the technological revolution of the twentieth century than by the coming and going of even the most radical political regimes, we are led to construct an historical time and a "time of consciousness" which extends through 1945 in the actual continuity of both experience and historical process.[17]

In this achievement there are political ramifications. When Maria's sons come home from the war they become founding fathers of a new society in which money, and capitalist development are much more prominent than before. Because Reitz's critique of West German values, sensibilities and character types is much stronger than his criticism of the sterling folk we have met earlier, whose values and human qualities held up so well during a testing period, there is indeed a standing invitation to look back to happier times, when men built roads and strong women gave their hearts to them. Now none of the men are easy to like; instead of Otto and Pieritz who were so winningly human (and non-Nazi) we have a set of males who might all, come to think of it (but do audiences come to think of it?) find reasons for making an accommodation with such a regime. The more successful Anton, the less successful Ernst, the complacent millionaire Paul and the artistic sensation Hermann all have a depth of shallowness very troubling to plumb. Deprived of their moral superiority this generation of sons (the fathers of the 1980s) can no longer look back on their fathers as merely "historically failed." They have to come to terms with a more unrecognizable Third Reich, full of the small moral failures (and victories) of real life.

I'm not at all confident that the recognitions I've suggested will take place in the people Reitz hoped to reach. Heimat certainly could function as an aid to sentimentalising and de-politicising the past: for many people it is bound to be self-exonerating, as every other historical representation has been. The ideology of innocence became the most powerful of all ideologies during the Third Reich and its buffettings since 1945 at the hands of first denazification, then collective guilt, then the unmastered past have only served to thicken its skin. Whether Reitz's film has penetrated the skin or massaged it will be very hard to judge. But I am sure he has his aim right.

What gives the ideology of innocence its purchase within individual world views is its fundamental premise, enormously attractive and very readily confirmed in experience, that there is a private sphere in which all the truly important matters for which one has responsibility are contained. One has responsibility for those matters of conduct and morality because they concern people one knows - more or less significant others - within the range of one's ordinary powers. All societies have only a small minority of individuals who really believe that they have power over the constituents of "history." Society, the economy, the state are not entities most people believe they can influence. They are expressions of a public sphere manipulated by experts and by "impersonal forces." Only exceptional individuals - the kind who make revolutions or resist them, who end up in Reich Chancelleries or concentration camps - do not believe in the inaccessibility of alienated power.

There are however important limits to holding the public sphere responsible for one's conduct in the private one. If a person acts irresponsibly towards others within the immediate circle on the basis of connection to the external power, and claims the external power as the reason when it is not, that person is acting in bad faith and will stand condemned by those whose condemnation matters most, the people in his Gesichtskreis those who know him face to face. So Paul never really expects to justify deserting his family and Anton recognizes that an appeal to the forces of international capitalism will not save him morally if he sells out his workers. Paul's mother knows that for Wilfried to forbid her feeding French prisoners of war on the basis of regulations or higher national good is bad faith and bad character - and tells him so.

Character is what counts in the personal sphere. Character is that which is best known, perhaps only known, to the significant others of family and community: it has been formed among them. Character is what people remember of someone, along with the situations in which it shows up. And in our own experience it is the situations which reveal or test our character that we remember. So too, "formative experiences" remain to form the memory: a love, or a loss, is more significant than a regime, or an economic cycle. A love or a loss might also signify a public sphere, historical reality, but such memories, we know, do not constitute history.

Reitz's experiment is to reconstitute history and to restore contact with it. He will have succeeded if he enables people who have suppressed their participation in "German history" to see the history in terms closer to their memory of the experience. Without doubt many of the fifteen million people who watched Heimat on TV will use it to constitute an experience they never had and to avoid a history still very hard to grasp. Some will have watched to escape into the past and from the past. But when they return home from their escape I suspect they will find that the historical dimensions of home (of Heimat?) look different. The wall blocking off everything before 1945 as a separate time and problem will have gone. The past, no longer safely cut off, runs uninterrupted through to the present. History, for as long as people can remember uninhibited, turns out to have been inhabited by people who can remember and be remembered. What they can recognize in memory others can recognize as part of history. With luck - and the film has to leave this open - they will recognize that there is much more to remember as well.


1. John Pilger, The Secret Country (ABC), Alex Bostock and others, the Rainbow Sepent series (SBS), discussion forum Is There Anything to Celebrate in 1988? (ABC), Four Corners' Black Death (ABC), and the major fictional epic Women of the Sun.

2. Heimat publicity booklet, p. 24.

3. Thomas Elsaesser, Heimat, Monthly Film Bulletin, Feb. 1985.

4. Leonie Naughton, "Heimat: Backs to the Past," Filmnews, August 1985. I am indebted to Leonie not only for discussion but for her file of reviews as well.

5. Sight and Sound, Spring 1985, p. 125.

6. Elsaesser, pp. 50-51.

7. In John Tulloch ed., Conflict and Control in the Cinema, a Reader in Film and Society, pp.537-50.

8. Christoph Klessmann, Die Doppelte Staatsgrundung, Duetsche Geschichte 1945-1955 (Bonn, 1984), has a comparison of the two policies, pp. 78-99; an American poster is reproduced on p. 308. See also John Gimbel, A German Community Under American Occupation, Marburg 1945-52, Stanford, 1961, and Lutz Niethammer, Entnazifizierung in Bayern (Frankfurt, 1972). Niethammer calls denazification "the American surrogate for anti-fascist reform" and shows how the purging of individuals rather than institutions was a partial and contradictory policy.

9.American Military Government Surveys found that between 1945 and 1948 there was an upward curve, as high as 55 per cent, for those seeing National Socialism as a good idea but badly carried out, while the numbers holding National Socialism to be a bad idea fell from 41 to 30 per cent. R.L. and A.J. Merritt, Public Opinion in Occupied Germany. The OMGUS Surveys 1945-1949 Urbana, 1970, cited by Klessmann, p. 91. Wolfgang Benz (ed.), Rechtsextremismus in der Bundersrepublik (Frankfurt, 1984). On Dachau, see the chapter by Barbara Distel pp. 224-236.

11.Claus Heinrich Meyer notes the significance of "the last days of Hitler" theme in this phenomenon, and reminds us that the Mitscherlich's phrase "the inability to mourn" has to do centrally with the inability to mourn for the lost leader, not his victims. "Die Veredelung Hitlers. Das Dritte Reich als Markenartikel" in Benz, pp. 45-67. See also Susan Sontag, "Fascinating Fascism" - which, however, (as with her essay on Syberberg) stops short of suggesting how to go about de-fascinating fascism. Both essays are in Under the Sign of Saturn (London, 1983).

12.Reitz in Medium, May 1979. Quoted in Elsaesser, "Memory, Home, Hollywood," Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1985.

13.On this see Barton Byg, "Holocaust and the West German `Restoration,'" Telos, no. 42 (Winter 1979-80), pp. 143-9 and Im Kreuzfeuer: Der Fernsehfilm Holocaust - Eine Nation ist betroffen (Frankfurt, 1979), esp. the essay by M. Mitscherlich-Nielsen.

14.Quoted by Elsaesser, "Memory, Home, Hollywood."

15.Interview with Paul Pawlikowski, Stills, November 1984, p. vi.

16.Heimat publicity brochure.

17.On questions of time and perspective cf. John Berger, "Go Ask the Time" and Gunter Grass, "The Tin Drum in Retrospect," Granta 15, Spring 1985.

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