"The Facts Behind the Guilt"? Background and Implicit Intentions in 'Downfall'

in German Politics and Society
Author: Jurgen Pelzer1
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The film Downfall, released in 2004 at the height of an unprecedented "Hitler wave," has to be seen in a long tradition of literary and cinematic attempts to deal with Germany's "unmasterable past." The filmmakers claimed that by focusing on Hitler's final days before the end of WWII they had discovered "new territory" and presented the "facts behind the guilt." This article points out, however, that the film is historiographically based on the account by Joachim Fest's book Downfall-in which the author, as in his earlier work, follows a methodological approach that personalizes history and focuses on Hitler as "singular personality," rejecting any systematic analysis of political and social context. The film goes even further in its unscrupulous blurring of fact and fiction and simplistically juxtaposes a very small group of perpetrators (basically Hitler and Goebbels) and the large group of victims, i.e., the general population that only wanted to survive. Such an attempt to focus on a tragically failing, isolates Hitler, who alone is to blame for nation's "Downfall" is hardly suitable to help Germans to step out of the shadow of their past.