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The confessions of an apolitical girl

A German Life
Goebbels' self-proclaimed apolitical secretary tells his version of historical events. The result is an important document for posterity, but is this all we need?


The Austrian documentary A German Life consists mainly of interview footage with the then 104 year old Berlin-born Brunhilde Pomsel. Pomsel was one of the few who were in Hitler's bunker during the last fateful days in Berlin. The intimate interview is broken up into chapters by partly shocking archival footage, including from the Warsaw ghetto. The footage, filmed by Germans, shows skinny skeletons, naked Jewish bodies, women, children and men slipping into a mass grave on a wooden slate. At the bottom of the huge trench, they are stacked like wood cubes to accommodate as many as possible. A woman who is let down has a terribly painful facial expression that seems frighteningly tormented and at the same time alive – even though she is clearly dead. Tortured in the face of hunger in the hermetically sealed ghetto in Poland's capital.
Pomsel was employed for the last three war years as secretary to Josef Goebbels in the Berlin propaganda ministry, after working for a period in the National Socialist National Broadcasting. Prior to that, she worked for a Jewish lawyer (Dr. Hugo Goldberg) who, with the aggressive advancement of anti-Semitism in the 30s, received fewer and fewer assignments. Pomsel sighs heavily as she tells of life in the Third Reich. She opens the interview with a question to the camera: "Is it bad if people try to do something for themselves that is good for them, in the place they have been assigned – but at the same time aware that they are hurting other people? But you don't think so far, we thought short-term and were indifferent. "

“The strict Prussian, dutiful obedience was imprinted in us from childhood. With understanding and love you did not come far. ”

World war one. Brunhilde Pomsel was born in 1911 and grew up in Berlin in the 1920s, where she trained as a stenographer. She remembers her father's mobilization as a World War I soldier and his return home after four years. “The world was different at the time – we weren't particularly open to each other, but we lived close together with a special closeness between family members. If we were uneducated, we were beaten – with understanding and love you did not come far. The strict Prussian, dutiful obedience was imprinted in us from childhood, "says Brunhilde. The world of today is impossible to understand for today's people, she states, and asks: "Should I blame myself for not being political? No, on the contrary. If I had been politically conscious, it could have quickly led to my being rotted. ” She admits that when she was young she was cowardly, naive and stupid, not interested in politics, but rather concerned with superficialities, nice clothes and good pay. Manager Goebbels she portrays as elegant, noble, well-dressed, short-growing and limping. A brilliant actor. A furious "dwarf" who acted as a political demagogue but was polite in the office. Here's how it goes. We hear about an everyday life in Nazi Germany, where most people were concerned about family and friends, safe surroundings and a well-paid job that gave them the opportunity to enjoy daily life. A close Jewish friend of Brunhilde Pomsel even accompanies her to the entry into the National Socialist German Labor Party for ten national lands a little south of Berlin. Enrollment is a condition for her to get the job in national broadcasting. When she later gets a job with Mr Goebbels himself, her friend Eva Löwenthal is not allowed to visit her anymore because of the general situation, as Pomsel describes it 70 years later. Eva had lovely eyes, reddish hair and was witty. Eventually, the two lose contact, something Pomsel himself finds natural with regard to conditions in Germany. She believes for a long time that her girlfriend has moved out of the country with her family, despite the fact that she has repeatedly pointed out in the interview that Eva and her family were poor.

"The world of today is impossible to understand for today's people."

Big and small gears. You are left with the feeling that Brunhilde Pomsel knows much more than she wants to tell – but after all she has not killed anyone. Here we are at the heart of the problem: Pomsel was just one of thousands of gears in a deadly machinery that led to mass killings of Jews, Romanians, gays, political opponents, Russian prisoners of war and other innocent civilians. One day, the case file of resistance siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl (22 years old) lies on her office desk in the Ministry of Propaganda. She is told strictly that she does not have access and orders to put the folder in the safe. Pomsel obeyed the order and was proud of himself and his obedience, even as curious as she was. Equally, she apologizes to Sisters Scholl's cruel fate, depicted in depth in the final days of Sophie Scholl's 2005 film: They were beheaded in a guillotine by sharpshooter Johann Reichhart in 1943. Furthermore, Pomsel speaks of the understanding of concentration camps as educational institutions, where criminals and criminals made good citizens of the new German Aryan community.
Although this has become a gripping film narrative with a distinctly personal voice, it is tempting to call for a more expanded perspective on the source material. After all, there are many other diligent gears in this system, which could be as interesting to focus on: In 1945 and the following year, over 1000 German scientists and engineers including Wernher von Braun were invited and brought to the United States to further the rocket research they had begun. on under the Nazi regime (the secret "Operation Paperclip"). von Braun received a total of 70 honorary doctoral titles in the United States and Germany in the 25s, and he helped develop the Saturn V rocket that enabled the US moon landing. Similarly, engineer Helmut Gröttrup, along with over 1000 other engineers and German scientists, were deported to the Soviet Union in 1946 to assist the Soviets with their missile program. That led to Sputnik and Gagarin. In 1953, Gröttrup was allowed to return to Germany. Brunhilde Pomsel, for his part, was also a Soviet prisoner of war for five years. She served as a prisoner, among others, in the Buchenwald concentration camp, an original German concentration camp that became a Soviet prison camp after the war. After that, Pomsel worked as chief secretary in the German federal broadcasting ARD. She was 106 years old, had no children and was never married. Her friend Eva Löwenthal was murdered in Auschwitz, which Pomsel tells about in the film.
Could it be more important to produce a documentary about the scientists and engineers who, with their own eyes, saw forced laborers die in concentration camps? Those who got away with the honor in retention.

Hans-Georg Kohler
Hans-Georg Kohler
Kohler is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid. Artist.

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