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A century's history in Germany: The Count and the Comrade

img  Claudia Lindner

It tells the story of Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg, a German military officer and large landowner, and Fritz Perlitz, a communist activist and party operative in the GDR after the war. When we learn their biographies, it becomes clear that they had absolutely nothing in common. While the first one received a traditional noble education and lived a life as squire and noble landowner, the latter was a worker and convinced communist activist since the age of 15. Their first and only encounter  before the nazi regime happened during the Great Depression at a farm workers' strike in 1931, when the count laid off the striking workers and the comrade supported the workers on behalf of the communist party.

After the nazi seizure of power in 1933, Fritz Perlitz was politically prosecuted as communist and worked for the resistance in the underground, in Germany, Czechoslovakia and fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Franco fascists. At the end of this war, he fled to France where he was imprisoned with others later and brought to the German concentration camp of Neuengamme. There, being a Civil War veteran, he suffered from special repressions and had to work in demolishing commands, clearing away the debris of war in cities.With this hard and dangerous work, he was injured and was brought to the infirmary of the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen where he met Hardenberg. Hardenberg was a loyal military officer during the war, though he actually didn't like the war and never set any hopes in Hitler. As a convinced monarchist, it wasn't because of democratic principles that he became a co-conspirator in the Stauffenberg-operation, but because of the fear that Germany would perish if Hitler went on with his war. So Hitler had to be removed and a new – or rather old – monarchist system should be established. When the conspiracy failed, Hardenberg was prosecuted by the SS and attempted suicide, which failed. Finally, he was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and met Perlitz there.

All this is told in the interviews with both men's next relatives, living friends and comrades and colleagues. Director Ilona Ziok lets them tell their stories and let the viewer share their diverse and contrary opinions without commenting on it. And it's indeed the total absence of an off-comment which allows the viewer to form himself a view on the stories of both men. The interviewees are lively and through their statements one gets an idea of the milieu both men lived in and which shaped them deeply.

When Perlitz and Hardenberg met in Sachsenhausen, they started to discuss politics, but it became clear that they were convinced of their political point of views and had firm opinions which won't change easily. But what they had in common, was their antagonism to Hitler and the war. And they became friends. The communists in the camp also helped the count survive who originally wanted to die to escape the nazi prosecution, and showed him how to get through nazi interrogations. And for a moment, it seemed that two incompatible worlds come together. But when the concentration camp was liberated and the war was over, both went back where they came from.

Both came from what is today considered the Eastern part of Germany which was the Soviet occupation zone then. Hardenberg wanted to return to his land-holding and Perlitz became a party secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (SED), charged with the realization of the land reform in the Soviet zone, thus charged with the expropriation of noble landowners in his home district Seelow where the Hardenberg estate was. After the land reform Hardenberg couldn't return to his former estate and became a trust manager for the house of Hohenzollern in West-Germany, the former German imperial family. So, while their lifes drifted apart again after the war,  they were still linked through history and their mutual respect remained. When the Iron Curtain was up, contact between the two was nearly impossible, also because it was impossible to have a West-German acquaintance who was a former squire while the SED system expressedly despised squireachy.Both remained faithful to their convictions while history took its course. In the later years, Perlitz was shunt off to meaningless duties in his party, being „unreliable“ because of relatives in West-Germany. In 1958, Hardenberg died, Perlitz died in 1972. Both didn't live to see the end of the GDR and the German reunification. They didn't live to see how the red carpet was rolled out for the former masteries of Hardenberg in their hometown, didn't live to see how everything Perlitz stood up for vanished, even the public memory of antifascists like him. Pictures and statements document the zeitgeist so persuasively here, too, that it leaves behind a gloomy impression of restoration.

The strength of the movie lies in the waiver of an often so educational and judgmental comment and by this giving the viewer all opportunity to get their own idea of both personalities portrayed here. Their stories are intriguing and thrilling, so that a comment would be completely needless. Certainly, most viewers would politically more tend to one side or the other, but the comment-free film and the eye-witnesses' statements make the viewer always also respect the person on the other side.

80 years of German history come alive in this biographies, and in their diversity they are the frame of any 'decent' attitude in nazi Germany. Amid all these documentaries dealing with this epoch of German history, Ilona Zioks film is an unusual piece of work. But because it only relies on interviews and archive footage, the film might unfortunately have a hard time to find its cinema audience, though maybe the interesting opposition of this contrary lives could fascinate historically-interested moviegoers.


Original title: Der Junker und der Kommunist

Deutschland, 2009, 72'

Director: Ilona Ziok

Music: Manuel Göttsching

Production and distribution: CV-Films Berlin

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