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.