Lore (2012) – and German guilt after WWII

Poster for the film 'Lore' 2012


Lore is the 15 year daughter of Nazi parents who are arrested (or run away, we are never exactly sure of their fate) at the end of the Second World War due to their involvement in the extermination policies carried out by the German Fascists.

The story revolves around the eponymous heroine leading her younger siblings on a journey through war-torn Germany, from one occupied zone to another, in order to reach the home of their grandmother who lives in what has become the British sector. In that way it’s a ‘road movie’ but it also concerns the ‘coming of age’, or ‘sexual awakening’, of the teenager.

If you look at the film just from those aspects it works quite well. There are good performances from the, mainly, young cast as they try to come to the terms with their now plebeian existence, after a life of luxury and privilege which came with having parents at the top of the fascist hierarchy. Although, at first, they don’t seem to realise the full extent of their predicament, events and circumstances teach them that things have changed for ever.

But what I soon started to think about when watching the film was the dearth of films, made by Germans, about the final days of the war, what led up to it and the immediate aftermath. This was even more so when I realised that although the film was in the German language it was made by an Australian director.

The only films I can remember that have tried to analyse the attitude of the German people (here I’m not particularly interested in the attitude of the Nazi grandees, hangers-on or sycophants. They were either executed, recruited into the US space industry or became leaders, movers and shakers in the new ‘democratic’ West Germany) were by the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died in 1982.

Here I’m more interested in the attitudes of the ‘normal’ Germans, the ones who had tolerated the 12 years of ‘The Thousand Year Reich’, who had turned a blind eye to the persecutions, beatings, arrests, deportations and, the eventual, elimination of an increasingly diverse section of the population. This started in the very first days of fascist rule with the assault on Communists and Socialists but was later to encompass those with disabilities, homosexuals, Romanies and Jews – whose elimination was put on an industrial footing – generally anyone that the Nazis considered ‘deviant’.

Fassbinder did have a fascination and curiosity about the issues that came out of the period of fascist control of Germany (after all, it was his history, his heritage, though not necessarily his responsibility, being born in 1945). This was especially so in his trilogy of post WWII films; The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola and Veronika Voss. Although these are mainly set in the years after the chaos of the liberation of country he, at least, attempted to look at the legacy of the fascists.

For the film Lore, so many years after the defeat of fascism, introduces a number of issues that have never really been addressed as to the responsibility of the country as a whole for what had led to the destruction of such a huge part of Europe, as well as the horrendous loss of life that surpassed 50 million.

For example: the mother who weeps uncontrollably (not for her own condition after a vicious sexual attack) on hearing the news of Hitler’s death; the singing of Hitler Youth songs, under a portrait of Hitler, in the old peasants house where the children went to seek food; the anti-Semitism expressed by the young woman herself on a number of occasions as well as the denial of the existence of the death camps (‘they are merely propaganda and the same pictures taken from a different angle’) by the German travellers in the train; and on arriving at the almost pristine farmhouse at the end of their journey, the attitude of their grandmother (‘no one is guilty’) and the attempts of the maid to establish some sort of normality, all demonstrate a nation in denial of its own past.

If you deny what happened then there is nothing to atone for and perhaps accounts for the prevalence of ex-Nazis in different aspects of European society in the intervening years and the simmering of fascism, not always very far, below the surface. Lore herself displays an element of rebellion at the end of the film but the rest of German society just goes on as before.

When referring to Hitler and fascism, Bertolt Brecht, the German dramatist, wrote: ‘Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.’

If we don’t recognise what it was we won’t be able to prevent its ‘resistible rise’ the next time.

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2 thoughts on “Lore (2012) – and German guilt after WWII

  1. First i have to remind You that by thinking in terms like “German Guilt” You enter the realm of Nazi thinking. There is nothing like “guilty peoples” as the Nazis believed because guilt is individual and Germans behaved quite differently during Nazi rule. Some time ago there was a documentary about Jews in Germany during WW2.
    A Jewish woman who then was on the run told she was desperate because she had no place for hiding anymore. She asked an unknown woman on the street whether she could help her. The woman gave her the key to her flat. So she survived. If she wouldn’t have been asked by the Jewish woman she would have remained an ordinary German later accused of not having helped Jews (like You do).

    Are You really sure what You would have done?

    Not “the Germans” murdered the Jews but the dictatorship that came into being 1933. And the governments of some of the nations most critical against “the Germans” weren’t innocent in regard of this.

    My grand father complained about the new government a short time after Hitler was appointed chancellor. Being red and living in a mostly red district in a German industrial town didn’t help him. He was denunciated by one of the few Nazis there and was interned in one of the new concentration camps as ca. 100000 others. He lost 30 kg because of bad treatment but luckily was released 4 months later. Hitler had to do a coup d’etat to install a dictatorship because he failed to get a majority of votes (last free elections Nov. 1932 NSDAP 33,1%). The left parties never dropped under 40%. Because of the strong results of the Communists the Conservatives and big business panicked and Hitler’s defeat made him chancellor. The behavior of our enemies was an important factor in the destruction of democracy. They violated the agreed 14 points by dictating the Versailles Treaty. Instead of reparations as defined (compensation of private losses) they demanded compensation of all war costs. Because of that the German governments couldn’t do anything against the great depression unlike the US under Roosevelt. Germany had to pay or to be austere until death. That changed with Hitler. The war enemies obviously didn’t want to cooperate with Democrats instead they preferred Nazis. After war they treated the German civilian population and the German POWs ill by denying them enough food. Instead they destroyed the economic infrastructure. Their propaganda accused all Germans to have known of the Holocaust and to have supported the Nazis. These insane accusations and the bad role model of the Allies themselves proved to be very good for Nazis. Guilty people were helped by criminalizing not guilty people. Strangely the Allies preferred Nazis for most posts. No wonder it wasn’t possible to talk about Nazi crimes for a long time (including the Anti-Nazis who were thrown into the same bag as the Nazis only because they were Germans as my father told me). Great thing for the Nazis! They really had to thank the Allies.

    My opinion of some peoples will forever be negative because of the role their governments had in the destruction of German democracy and the rise to power of the Nazis (and the hardships my grand father had to endure in KZ), their vile post war defamations against people who hadn’t done anything wrong, they behaving like Nazis by starving the population (my mother nearly perished) and ill treatment of POWs (Manfred my father’s brother survived live in a US camp near Liege in Belgium but many died every night. Every morning he had to put dead bodies into bags).

    Sorry, but You are part of that because of Your arrogant and ignorant statements.

    • Hello Walter,
      I’ve delayed in replying to your comments as I have had trouble in getting my head around what your point was substantially about.
      It’s such a long time since I saw the film ‘Lore’ that I will have to address my reply to your comments and not to argue, again, what I might have written more than 4 years ago.
      I have never said, written or believed that ALL Germans were guilty for the rise and existence of Nazism. As a Communist I praise the efforts of the German Communists in their street battles against the various fascist groups before Hitler’s election victory in 1933 – and we must also remember that the first victory of German fascism came in 1919 with the slaughter of the Spartacists by the state sponsored Freikorps. (Those murdering scum and dregs of humanity who relished the killing of the trenches were not just a German phenomenon, to the shame of the British we allowed the Black and Tans to murder with impunity in Ireland in the early 1920s, I mentioned their role in the political scene post-1914-19 war in my blog on Armistice Day.
      I also accept that some people but themselves at great personal risk both in the early days of Nazi control from 1933 and well into the war to defend and protect those being persecuted by the Fascists. But they are the exception that prove the rule. Most people didn’t – whether for fear or because they actually agreed with Hitler. The argument about percentages in elections is spurious and is one of the principal weaknesses of bourgeois democracy – most parties win with a minority of the vote.
      But you can’t just forget that a sizable proportion of the population of Germany supported the Fascists in the 1930s, 40s and beyond. Going across the Atlantic to Chile we saw in the referendum on the fascist Dictator Pinonchet’s desire to ‘rule’ for another 8 years that although the ‘No’ vote won still 44% of those who voted supported the Fascist (after the country had been under the military boot for 15 years).
      I agree with your points about the western powers installing Fascist functionaries in positions of power after the defeat of Germasny and that the ‘ordinary’ German man and woman suffered. My question is ‘why do you seem surprised?’. What else did you thin they would do – give power to the people? Your naivete would be laughable if the circumstances were not so tragic.
      And I never condemn Germany and the German people forgetting the history of my own country. Yes, tens of millions dies because of the rise of Nazism but many more have suffered and died over the centuries at the hands of British imperialism, from slavery, dominance of whole continents and the planned genocides of peoples in different parts of the globe. As a citizen of the UK I would also be ‘guilty’ of those crimes if I have not spent most of my adult life fighting against its present day manifestations.
      Don’t try to re-write history. The German people, at all levels, knew what was happening in the extermination camps. Buchenwald concentration camp was only 8 kilometres from the city of Weimar, the ‘cradle of German culture’. Trains travelling across country full of people and returning empty should have pressed some buttons. The fact that the British and Americans also knew about the slaughter in the camps and did nothing about it is an important fact, often ignored, but that doesn’t absolve the Germans for what was happening in their soil, planned by the sons and daughters of the German people.
      If the Germans were not guilty in the 1930s and 40s then they can prove that by making sure that such groups can never again gain such prominence and power. That is not guaranteed if we look at the present surge in support for right-wing parties.

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