GDR’s national Identity in “National Foundation” films: "Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt" and "Ich war neunzehn"

An investigation

Thesis (M.A.), 2010

74 Pages, Grade: "Merit"




Genre: Anti-Fascist Film

Genre: Anti-War Film

Genre: Biographical Film

Genre: Road Movie

Genre: Western

Conclusion and Further Work



Chapter 1 Introduction

“National Foundation” Film

This dissertation will examine two DEFA films produced in the 1960’s by Joachim Kunert and Konrad Wolf, both born in the 1920’s who became part of East Germany’s 2nd generation of filmmakers and who explored the causes of National Socialism and the remedies for the dreadful catastrophe that overcame Germany between 1933 and 1945.

The collapse of the Reich in 1945 saw the end of the 12 year National Socialist reign of terror over Germany. The Nazi’s had ensured that they had control of cultural life in Germany and had invested heavily in a film industry that created a national myth in order tosupportNazi Party aims and which manipulated the public. The defeat of Germany saw the discrediting and failure of fascist, national identity, myth making, artistic stereotypes and the foundational films produced in Germany during the period 1933-45.

By the 1960’s DEFA, the GDR’s state film production company had been exploring the origins of National Socialism for twenty years, starting with Wolfgang Staudte’s Die M örder sind unter uns, 1946, DEFA. The GDR’s state film company, DEFA, was given the task of” […]restor[ing] democracy in Germany and remove all traces of fascist and militaristic ideology from the minds of every German[…] (Allen, 1999,3). These films were produced to enable the Germans to have an “honest confrontation with the military and moral catastrophe that […]the Germans had brought on themselves[…]” (Barnouw,2008,48) and sought to “develop a cinematic language[…]to confront the recent German past (Pinkert,2008,20).

The “grammar” of DEFA anti- fascist films was established by such films as Staudte, Die Mörder Sind Unter Uns or Irgendwo in Berlin , 1946, Gerhard Lamprecht, DEFAand Die Buntkarierten , 1949, Kurt Maetzig, DEFA or Rotation ,1949, Wolfgang Staudte, DEFA. These films were made by a generation that had grown up in the Weimar period and who had experienced the slide from Weimar chaos to National Socialist Dictatorship at first hand. The film makers were born in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, Staudte in 1906, Lamprecht in 1897 and Maetzig in 1911. Their early films are an almost emotional expression of the moment of defeat containing heartfelt investigations of the causes of the catastrophe from within the Soviet Occupation Zone and later in the GDR. The 1950’s saw DEFA turn its attention to films which explored the everyday concerns of GDR citizens struggling to build a new state centring on the Berlin films of the middle of that decade.

The 1960’s saw DEFA return to the subject of the war. Now the films have a different view point, that of the young men, who actually fought in the war and were now building socialism in the GDR. This generation, born in the mid 1920’s to early 1930’s, was perhaps the most important generation to the GDR, since they, in the 1960’s, were beginning to come in to positions of influence, but had spent their formative years under National Socialism. They grew up unnaturally quickly by serving on the Front in the Wehrmacht or as Flakhelfer while still teenagers.


This dissertation will examine; Joachim Kunert’s 1965 Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt, DEFA , based loosely on the 1960 novel by Dieter Noll of the same name and Konrad Wolf’s 1968, autobiographical, Ich war neunzehn, DEFA. Kunert was born in 1929 and Wolf in 1925.These films quickly became key stones in the national identity of the GDR.

Both films describe similar stories . They are the stories of German young men born in the mid 1920’s but fighting on opposite sides of the World War II, Holt with the Wehrmacht and Hecker with the Red Army. They are both immature and, as a result of National Socialism, both have characters that are not yet fully formed. The films describe the process that they have to go through to reach maturity. Both are looking for answers to the questions of their true identity and what is the true Germany. They reflect experiences of the generation of German men born in the 1920’s. The GDR magazine Film Spiegel said ” Werner Holt[…]verkörpert den deutschen “Landser” seiner Generation“ (Filmspiegel, 3/1965) and Hecker was described by Wochenpost as a man who “ [Eine Uniform] trägt, die damals den Deutschen gegenüber als die des Feindes bezeichnet wurde, und deren Träger auf Deutschen schießen mußten[…]” (Rehahn, 1968a)

“National Foundation” Film

The films will be examined, not in terms of plot and narrative, but in terms of how they use genre to contribute to popular notions of national identity in the GDR. The term “National Foundation” film was suggested in an article by cultural historians Thomas Elsaesser[1] and Michael Wedel[2]. They propose that it is possible to understand a 1960’s or 1970’s German film’s description of Germany’s national identity through an examination of the film’s genre rather than through an examination of plot or narrative.

” it no longer seems too farfetched to think of the common basis of several directors' cine-matic versions of 'national foundation films' as rooted in the classical movie tropes, such as the frontier with its definition of national identity and otherness, its geography of homelands, enclaves of civilization, and minority reservations? What the road movie is for Wenders, the family odyssey for Reitz, and the female melodrama for Fassbinder had already emerged in Wolf as a keen appreciation of the classical western, in the manner of John Ford, Robert Aldrich, or even Sam Fuller!” (Elsaesser, Wedel, 2001, 20f)

Elsaesser and Wedel describe a “national foundation” film as one that explores identity through genre and which helps amend and develop the notion of national identity in the public’s imagination.

The use of genre, instead of plot and narrative, as the basis for reforming the national identity is, perhaps, understandable given that the period 1933-45 contains so many unpalatable truths. The familiarity of genres and their shorthand allows a mass audience to identify more readily with the narrative and plot rather than simply react against any didactic message that the director might want to communicate.

Although Elsaesser and Wedel use the term in relation to comparable East and West German Auteurs working in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s such as Konrad Wolf, Wim Wenders, Edgar Reitz and Rainer Fassbinder. This dissertation will employ genre to examine Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt and Ich war neunzehn and expose how Kunert and Wolf used it to create a new popular East German national identity.

This dissertation will describe the films, and the context in which the films were made. Once these steps have been taken the GDR’s national identity will be investigated through an examination of the following genres; anti-fascist film, anti-war film, biographical film, road movie and western. Thisamends the list of genres suggested by Elsaesser and Wedel, allowing the dissertation to examine the films in their own terms as anti-fascist films, where Wolf himself said: “Es gibt keinen Sozialismus ohne Anti-Faschismus” (Wolf, 1985, 339) and ignoring Melodrama since love interest plays a small part in both films.

Die Abenteuer Des Werner Holt

Released in 1965, the film is loosely based on Dieter Noll’s the 1960 novel of the same name. The film tells the story of Werner Holt and Gilbert Wolzow, both born in 1924, who become friends at Gymnasium . Holt is studious and easily led while Wolzow is the son of a General and fascinated by war. The film opens with them preparing for the final defence of a town somewhere on the “Ost Front”. In the process of this they findtheir Commanding Officer, who is about to abandon his post and leave Wolzow and Holt to fight on their own. Wolzow arrests the officer and relieves him of his command,initially they are going to hang the officer but resolve to make him drunk and prevent him from running away. Holt, as radio operator, is ordered to make contact with the regiment and the camera concentrates on his face as he forlornly calls, “Hier ruft Adler[…]” and relives the events that have brought him to this point through a series of flashbacks.

He recalls the Gymnasium where he met Wolzow and became friends. He recalls excitement at being called up and serving first, as a Flakhelfer, and his slow disillusionment as he experiences the war at closer and closer hand. Intertwined with these memories are the women he has met and who have signposted the bankruptcy of the regime he fights for. His memories become ever more regretful as he recalls the senseless deaths and desertion of friends.

The horror of the last 3 years experience culminates in this last stand in this unnamed village. Surprisingly the first attack of the Red Army is repulsed, however Holt sees his hero, Wolzow, shot a 16 year old as the boy runs from the advancing Soviets in terror. Holt’s repulsion at this act finally jolts him out of his lethargy and in to action. He deserts, threatening to shot his best friend in the process. As he runs he is called back as Wolzow has been taken by the SS who are about to lynch him. Holt returns to see his friend hanged. In a final act of anger and disillusionment he takes up a machine gun and shots the lynch party dead. He runs from the scene, finally having realised the moral failure of all that he has believed and escapes in to the future.

Ich war neuenzehn

Based on director Konrad Wolf’s war diary and set In the last days of World War II. The protagonist, Gregor Hecker, is a 19 Year old Communist German serving with the Soviet forces and is returning to his homeland. He last saw Germany, when he left as an 8 year old and emigrating to Moscow with his Communist parents. Although born in Köln, he considers Moscow, where his mother lives, home. He serves in a propaganda company with his friend Sasha and Chingis the driver. Hisweapon is a loudspeaker truck. Together they try to persuade, with little success, Wehrmacht soldiers to surrender.

He is at home amongst the Soviets, however during the film he meets his fellow countrymen and tries to understand how the Germans could have allowed the National Socialist regime to exist. Instead of a single type of German he finds that Germany is made up of those that supported National Socialism, those that suffered under National Socialism, those that have suffered from the war, Socialist resistance fighters, ordinary soldiers who did as they were told and fanatical Nazis that want to fight to the last bullet.

His odyssey begins in Bernau, where he unexpectedly becomes “Town Commandant”, he acts as negotiator for the surrender of the Spandau Festung, via Sachsenhausen Concentration camp, then to Sanssouci and arrives at a farmhouse on the last days of the conflict, where he is trying to persuade the fleeing columns of Wehrmacht soldiers to surrender. Here Gregor is forced to defend the farm from the fleeing SS who open fire on him, killing Sasha. Gregor fights side by side with a Wehrmacht soldier to defend the farm house. Gregor swears to hunt down the SS and promises to build a new Germany where the SS will have no home.

Context and Background

These films were, of course, produced against the changing political and artistic backdrop of the late 1950’s and 1960’s. The 1950’s had seen the publication of a number of biographies of former Wehrmacht soldiers in both East and West Germany. The East German novels fitted with the State’s anti-fascist discourse and set out to show how the “Landser” heroes of the novels, “[sind] den falschen Weg gegangen”(Heimann, 2000, 54).Such novels include Kameraden, 1956, Bis zum letzten Mann, 1956, Die L üger, 1956 and Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt, 1960, this last becoming the donor for Kunert’s film (Heimann, 2000,54). To add intellectual weight to the cultural discussions about the causes of the war and the experience of the ordinary soldier, the SED had commissioned its own historical study of the causes of the National Socialist dictatorship and the catastrophe of the war. The first edition of this work was published by the Plenum of GDR Historians under the title: “ Der Zweite Weltkrieg 1939-1945. Wirklichkeit und Fälschung” (Heimann, 2000,39).

While this literary and academic work was underway, the post-war generation of film makers were enjoying the fruits of the so called “Khrushchev Thaw” of the mid 1950’s which allowed DEFA filmmakers greater artistic freedom and the ability to make better films (Allen, 1999, 9). The “thaw” allowed “Ost Bloc” film makers to look at new methods of film making, such as Neo Realism and French New Wave which in turn influenced the GDR’s film makers, Wolf himself acknowledging Truffaut’s work as having influenced him. (Herlinghaus ,1982, 242). The Moscow film school, VGIK[3], was also a strong influence on DEFA film making, with Wolf studying there between 1949 and 1951 and the Soviet films such as Kalatozov’s Летят журавли (The Cranes are Flying) ,1957, Mosfilm, which Kunert claimed influenced his work saying “ Mich hat damals mir ein Film tief beeindruckt, das war der sowjetische Film[…]”Die Kraniche ziehen” (Kunert,2010).

It might be imagined that the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 would restrict the artistic opportunities for film makers, however initially this was not the case. Allan states:

“It is one of the paradoxes of the GDR’s historical development that with the building of the Berlin Wall […] artists and writers felt that they would enjoy a greater degree of autonomy than hitherto. This mood is perhaps most aptly summed up by Klaus Wischnewski […] Dramaturg […] with DEFA- in an article written some years later in Neues Deutschland […]” Now that the border has been made secure, at last we can get down to the business of intensifying the critical aspect of our cinema.” (Allan, 1999, 11)

This freedom and opportunity to explore new subjects was not, however, to last. DEFA filmmakers were criticised in 1958 at a Film Conference staged by the Ministry for Culture. It criticised the filmmakers’ methods representing a reaction to the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and a return to some of the political/artistic dogmas of the early 1950’s (Allan, 1999, 10). Despite this, by concentrating on films with an anti- fascist theme such as Frank Beyer’s F ünf Patronh ülsen, 1960, or Gerhard Klein’s Der Fall Gleiwitz , 1961, film makers were able to make creative and interesting films (Allan, 1999, 11).

Any openness in the film community was quashed by Honecker’s attack on DEFA film makers at the Eleventh Plenum of the Central Committee of the SED in December 1965 that changed the atmosphere for film makers in the GDR, Honecker said:

“The German Democratic Republic in which we live is an honest, upright state. […]Appealing to some abstract notion of truth, these artists have concentrated their attentions on the alleged deficiencies and shortcomings of the GDR. Some artists and writers seem to believe that the process of a socialist education can only be successful if it represents all these deficiencies and shortcomings in their entirety. They fail to realise that the effect of these works of art is to retard that process and to hinder the development of a socialist consciousness on the part of the working classes […] The matter is quite straightforward […] we cannot afford to propagate nihilistic, defeatist and immoral philosophies in literature, film, drama and television.” (Allan, 1999, 12-13)

This assault on the creative industry created a sense of crisis (Allan, 2010) and as a result a number of films made in 1965 and 1966 were simply shelved. The speech would continue to poison the creative atmosphere in DEFA for the future. Despite the so called “Honecker Thaw” of the 1970’s, his speech in 1965 may have affected GDR film making until the demise of the state in 1989. It is interesting to note thatany film, no matter how praised at the time could fall foul of the state. Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt was itself “shelved” in 1985 due to the number of actors in the film who had emigrated to the West, (Zulassungsprotokoll 349, Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt) .

The discussion of the issues around creative freedom and the GDR’s film output leads to the final part of the background against which these films were made; that is the Central European politics in the 1960’s.

The GDR’s origins were turbulent; the uprising in 1953; mass flight from the nation leading to the construction of the Berlin Wall and its overshadowing by FGR. The GDR’s insecurity was heightened by the ambivalent attitude of its protector state, the USSR. This insecurity was, further, compounded by the neighbouring Federal Republic claiming it was the legitimate inheritor state for the whole of Germany (Fulbrook, 1995, 23-26).The Cold War thrust the GDR and FRG in to the front line of the constant conflict between Communism and Capitalism. The FRG had begun to rearm in 1955 and introduced conscription for the West German Bundeswehr in 1956. By the mid 1960’s the Bundeswehr consisted of 438,000 soldiers while the National Volksarmee, NVA, consisted of 195,000 soldiers. The Bundeswehr also outmatched the NVA in terms of materiél (Spiegel 23/1956, 34). As a result of this Der Spiegel declared in 1965 that if the NVA were to attack the FRG on its own it would have “Keine Chance” (Spiegel 23/1956, 34). This weight of German military might weighed heavily on the minds of the SED leadership. Conscription in the GDR could not be introduced until the Wall had been built and the leadership was at pains to legitimise the fact that in any potential conflict Germans would actually be taking part in a form of civil war in the midst of wider international conflagration. Fulbrook describes the situation, “The West Germans were not only the “brothers” of the East Germans; they also had to be presented as their bitterest enemies” (Fulbrook, 1995, 26) and Ulbricht, General Secretary of the SED, himself explained;

"Alle Angehörigen der Nationalen Volksarmee müssen so erzogen werden, daß sie einen Krieg zwischen der DDR und der Bundesrepublik nicht etwa als Bruderkrieg auffassen. […]Die Soldaten der Nationalen Volksarmee müssen wissen, daß jeder, der die Errungenschaften der DDR antastet, als Klassenfeind zu behandeln ist, auch wenn er der eigene Vater, Bruder, Schwager oder sonst wer ist."(Spiegel 23/1956,34)

While the films, Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt and Ich war neuenzehn were produced for an East German audience and tell stories that are particular to the German experience they were created at a time of international tension and within this politics of “friend/foe” (Fulbrook, 1995, 26). This background, while not subject of the films, will leak in to the body of the films and some of this background will be exposed by an examination of the films through the lens of genre.

The films will now be examined through the means of the following genres; anti-fascist film, anti- war film, biographical film, road movies and western. These genres will expose the “National Foundations” of the GDR and the result of the investigations will be summed up in the conclusion.

Chapter 2 Genre: Anti-Fascist Film


The introduction to the 1968 edition of the GDR’s publication, Das Braunbuch , highlighting which members of the West German establishment had served under the Nazis, contained the following phrase „Es gibt zwei Deutschlands - ein linkes und ein rechtes, ein antifaschistisches und ein neonazistisches, ein sozialistisches und ein imperialistisches.“(, Vorwort,). The GDR saw its national identity as lying completely within anti-fascism, indeed Konrad Wolf, as a convinced socialist, returned émigré and former Red Army soldier commented “Es gibt keinen Sozialismus ohne Anti-Faschismus” (Heinze und Ludwig, 1985,339).

The films, Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt and Ich war neunzehn were in the terms that DEFA understood them as being key documents of the anti-fascist genre. They still stand as examples that explain what the genre stands for and which messages this genre transmits about the national foundation of the GDR. While the genre is didactic the films within this genre are designed as a product for a mass audience and which would engender a mass appeal. Many of the considerations of the filmmaking process were simple ones and summed up by Kunert when discussing Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt ’s production with the author of the novel, Dieter Noll, “Ich besuchte Dieter Noll und wir waren uns schnell einig aus seinem Roman einen Film zu machen. Er überlieβ mir die Entscheidung für Fernsehen oder Kino. Für mich war es klar; Kino” (Kunert, 2010). Other decisions required recognition that the film would have a didactic role, Kunert states, “ Ich habe so gearbeitet als würde ich einen ganz normalen Film drehen, aber[…] Ein wichtiger Film für das deutsche Publikum in der Auseinandersetzung mit sich selbst.“ (Kunert, 2010).With these considerations in mind, the anti-fascist genre has produced a body of films which have been described as,” the most artistically interesting films produced in the GDR […] indeed among the best films ever made in Germany.” (Mückenberger, 1999,58).

Origins of anti-fascism

Before the examination of the genre can begin we will turn to the GDR’s understanding of its own anti-fascist national identity since part of DEFA’s role, as an arm of the state, was to reinforce the East Germans’ understanding of their own state.

In 1935 fascism was described as being a logical and the most virulent form of capitalism at the 7th Congress of Comintern. The Germans who returned from Moscow and emerged from hiding or the camps following the defeat of National Socialism were determined that they were going to take control of Germany to ensure that fascism would be defeated and its roots in capitalism be removed. Since they had created a state that was socialist and separate from the former Third Reich; the Soviet Zone of Occupation, SBZ, and the GDR were to be intrinsically anti-fascist “Mit der ständig wiederholten Beteuerung, im Osten Deutschlands[haben] sie der Faschismus für immer beseitigt, weil seine ökonomischen Bedingungen nicht länger fortexistierten, proklamierte die DDR sich selbst als DEN [sic] antifaschistischen Staat auf deutschem Boden[...]“(Kannapin, 2001, 22).The East German leaders claimed that their state had defeated fascism and those GDR citizens that had taken part in the war had recognised their mistakes and redeemed themselves by struggling to build a socialist Germany. In this view anti-fascism was the same as support for the GDR, “Anti-Faschismus war identisch mit Loyalität zum Staat DDR, der sich selbst als anti-faschistischer Staat deklarierte[…]”(Grunenberg, 1993, 9-10) and thus anti-fascism became the “foundational fiction - of the GDR“ ( Gemünden, 2001, 32).

The GDR was, of course, not the only state on German soil following the end of the war. In the view of the GDR’s leadership the West Germans had simply picked up where the Nazi’s had left off. As the 1968 Braunbuch states, “Zugleich mit dem durch Bonner Amnestiegesetze und das sogenannte 131er Gesetz ermöglichten Wiedereinrücken schwerbelasteter Nazi in die Schlüsselstellungen des westdeutschen Staates, seiner Wirtschaft und Justiz verstärkten sich die Angriffe gegen die Nürnberger Prinzipien und das Potsdamer Abkommen, die aggressiven Forderungen nach atomarer Bewaffnung der Bundeswehr, nach Veränderung der europäischen Grenzen und nach Liquidierung der DDR.“ (, Vorwort,). This friend/foe mentality, with West Germany as the foe and the Soviet Union and socialist east as friend is one of the most disturbing elements of the GDR’s anti-fascism.

Anti-Fascist Genre, Purpose and Elements


Following the overview of anti-fascism, we can now turn to a review of the genre’s purpose, elements and style. A clear and concise description of the genre’s purpose was given by the director of the first of the genre’s films, Wolfgang Staudte who declared that he wanted an,” honest confrontation with the military and moral catastrophe that in his view, the Germans had brought on themselves[ ...]” (Barnouw ,2008, 48). His most famous anti-fascist films, Die Mörder sind unter uns, 1946, and Rotation , 1949, both explore guilt for and reasons for National Socialism. Following the exploration a conclusion is that justice must been seen to be done, with the guilty brought to justice, and that only a socialist future will prevent the catastrophes of the past being repeated. This intense exploration of the causes and remedies for National Socialism became a Leitmotiv for the genre, with the GDR’s Culture Ministry stating in 1973, “Die DEFA begann ihren Weg mit Filmen, die es sich zur Aufgabe machten, das Bewusstsein für die eigene Vergangenheit zu wecken. Sie könnte nur bewältigt werden, wenn Klarheit über die Ursachen, Zusammenhänge und Triebkräfte gewonnen wurde, die diese Entwicklung bewirkt hatten” (Barnert,2008,11)

As genre developed we see a Bildungs process take place where the protagonists on the screen learn about their mistakes, recognise them and then are reborn as socialists. The literary movement of the Bildungsroman became the “socialist Entwicklungsroman” (Rider, 1995, 358), while the term refers to the novels of the period it is just as relevant to DEFA’s output.

A further subtext to the genre is the role of grief and the expression of grief for the losses occasioned by war, which had no other outlet. Pinkert suggests that in a nation where it was impossible to take in the enormity of the loss caused by the war, “ the […] antifascist DEFA films produced[…]performative and visual modes that enable new public and private encounters the war through ever-changing processes of melancholic mourning” (Pinkert, 2008, 11). This develops space to mourn where the state has assumed all elements of victimhood to itself and there is no public sphere in which personal loss or victimhood can be expressed.

When the genre developed from its origins in the 1940’s in to the 50’s and 60’s it took on a darker purpose than just discussion the past but with the second wave DEFA of directors who had been educated in the GDR it become partly a way “of the older generation […] legitimising […] political power” (Mückenberger, 1999, 70) and partly a way of commenting on the post-Berlin Wall GDR (Mückenberger, 1999, 71).


As with any genre, this one has a number of elements, of which any film will contain some or all. In this case the elements also give clues as to how the makers want the foundations of their state to be understood.

The first element of the genre is that the action is centred around the National Socialist experience and the fight against fascism. This was a central reality for those that had created the GDR and were in its leading organisations, such as DEFA. Those such as Wolf had this battle at the centre of their youth and the as the core element that had forged their characters. They had kept their souls clean fighting the Nazis in the KPD, fascists in Spain, at home underground, in the Concentration Camps and in exile. This sacrifice was not going to be forgotten. This sacrifice also led to the second element of the anti- fascist film, that of a hierarchy of victims (Kannapin, 2001, 31) with socialist victims at the forefront of victimhood and all other victims, such as the Jews, standing in the shadows or invisible.

The third element is that protagonists are almost exclusively male. Die Mörder sind unter uns, is part melodrama, part expressionist film with the central action taking place around a couple slowly falling in love, however it is the male lead around which the story turns. This continues in to films such as Irgendwo in Berlin , Gerhard Lamprecht, 1946, and Staudte’s Rotation, 1949 . These use the melodramatic situation of a family, however as with Die Mörder the action turns around a leading man.As the genre develops the family is introduced, such as Ehe in Schatten, Kurt Maetzig, 1947 or Die Buntkarierten , Maetzig, 1949 but the key figure remains male in the genre. Women have the role of either helping the male lead to come to terms with his failed past or acting as a siren educating him as to the real state of the world.

The final element of the genre is its division between “good” and “bad” German soldiers. A “bad” German is not one who served in the Wehrmacht that would exclude 95% of the male population, but a character who is serving in the SS, as shown in both the films under discussion, or who had committed a war crime, such as Hauptmann Brückner in Die Mörder. Wolf summed up the genre saying that it was not a case that,” Nachteilen der anderen (die Hitlerdeutschland lebten) sprechen. Ein jeder hatte damals einen, schwere Last zu tragen. Viel wichtiger ist es, wie unter Führung deutscher Antifaschisten, mit selbstopfernder Hilfe unser sowjetischen Freunde das neue, sozialistische Deutschland entstand-und zwar im Kampf um Fühlen und Denken aller Deutschen, die hier lebten.“ (Wolf, 1985, 15).

That is in recognising their mistake and supporting the state the viewer can move forward.

Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt and Ich war neunzehn

Following the examination of the purpose and elements of the genre, the films can be reviewed.

The leading characters are surprisingly similar to each other, both are immature men surrounded by more interesting and colourful characters. Both are searching for an answer and it is in this search that they become two sides of the same anti- fascist coin. Taken together they make up a canon upon which the national identity of the GDR can be built.

Kunert declares that Holt has a journey to make saying, “Entscheidend ist dies Erkenntnis des” Werner Holt” einem falschem Idol [Wolzow] gefolgt zu sein, und der Entschluß gegen diese Tödliche Freundschaft zu agieren. Ein Prozeß des Anderswerdens” (Kunert, 2010). Holt has to reject his best friend, Wolzow, and all that he stands for before he is able to come to terms with his mistake and move forward to a socialist future. Kunert recognises that Wolzow is the more interesting character but insists,“Das dramatürgische Prinzip des Films; Holt denkt über Holt nach[...] läßt ein eventuell entstehendes Ungleichgewicht durchaus zu. Ja, es fordert sogar die genauere Beschreibung des Wolzow. Er ist der Anstifter, der Treiber, dramatürgisch der Interessantere im Vergleich zur Figur Holt“ (Kunert, 2010)This recognition of a mistake made and the learning to think differently sums up the core of the genre for the viewers who served in the Wehrmacht during the war.

Hecker has a different road to travel, however the DEFA authorities recognised that the film was a key part of the genre stating, “Der Film[19] setzt hier auf höherem ideologischen Niveau die Linie der DEFA-Filme von “Die Mörder sind unter uns…” (Zullassungsprotokolle, 139,11). Hecker is already a socialist, so which decision does he have to make? He has to reconcile himself to the new Germany and convince others to recognise their mistake. Hecker is also undergoing a process of “the struggle to find oneself[…]recalls patterns from the grand tradition of the Bildungsroman.” (Silbermann, 1990, 163).Hecker has to find himself and to expose the viewer once more to the horrors of the Nazis.

The two films are made from different points of view, one of a “Landser” the other a Red Army officer but they both make the same judgements about “good” and “bad” Germans. The final scene of Wolf’s film is set in a farm where Hecker and Sasha have set up a post to try and persuade the German troops fleeing west to surrender. Soldiers and officers slowly surrender until a column of SS drive past on the road. The SS open fire on Hecker’s position, killing Sasha. A brutal and pointless fire fight develops as the SS escape. Hecker is joined by “Landser” ,Willi Lomer. Lomer, the German Wehrmacht soldier, and Hecker, the German Red Army soldier, return fire together. Lomer has changed sides and has recognised his mistake. He has been redeemed and Hecker has fulfilled his purpose. The SS are condemned by their actions, as they escape Hecker shouts at them that he will hunt them down where ever they have gone and will make a world where they cannot exist. WIlli Lomer will march off to prison camp and will be released to build a new state. The SS will find safety in the arms of the West, not pay for their crimes, and remain a threat to Germany.


[1] Born Berlin 1943, Educated University of Sussex, established the Film Studies Dept at University of Essex 1985, 1991-2001 the Chair of the Department of Film and Television Studies University of Amsterdam, since 2001 Research Fellow, responsible for Phd Programme.

[2] Editor of New Review of Film and Television Studies and since October 2009 Professor of Medienwissenschaft at die Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen „Konrad Wolf“, Potsdam.

[3] All-Russian State University of Cinematography named after S. A. Gerasimov: ВсероссийскийгосударственныйуниверситеткинематографииимениС.А.Герасимова - VGIK

Excerpt out of 74 pages


GDR’s national Identity in “National Foundation” films: "Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt" and "Ich war neunzehn"
An investigation
University of Reading  (German Studies)
MA (Res)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1733 KB
German Film, DEFA, Joachim Kunert, Konrad Wolf, War Film, German War Film, GDR, DDR, Ostalgie, Kriegsfilm, East German Film, Movies, deutscher Film
Quote paper
Richard McKenzie (Author), 2010, GDR’s national Identity in “National Foundation” films: "Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt" and "Ich war neunzehn", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: GDR’s national Identity in “National Foundation” films: "Die Abenteuer des Werner Holt" and "Ich war neunzehn"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free