Recently I saw the film, The Murderers Are Among Us (1946). I’m told that this is the first film to be made in Germany after World War II. It is an example of what the Germans call trummerfilme (rubble films) – that is, films filled with scenes of the bombed-out ruins in German cities in the post-war period.
The film begins with Suzanne (Hildegard Knef), a concentration camp survivor, returning to Berlin after the war. She goes to reclaim the apartment she had before she was taken away, but she finds it occupied by Dr. Martens (Wilhelm Borchert), a traumatized veteran of the war. At first, Martens haughtily asserts that the apartment is his, but he ends up letting Suzanne move into one of the rooms. The two of them then develop an uneasy domestic relationship: Suzanne cooks and cleans, while Martens hangs out in bars and gets stinking drunk. Since this is a movie, Suzanne falls in love with Martens. The plot thickens when Martens comes into contact with Ferdinand Bruckner (Arno Paulson), who was Martens’s commanding officer during the war. Bruckner had ordered the massacre of a Polish village, as a form of collective punishment. (It is implied that Martens’s own complicity in this atrocity is the reason for his self-destructive behavior.) Martens was under the impression that Bruckner was subsequently killed during the war. He is dismayed to learn that not only is Bruckner still alive, but that he is now a prosperous businessman, who lives in comfort while most of Berlin still lies in ruins. Martens gradually resolves to kill Bruckner.
I’m told that the script originally had Martens kill Bruckner at the end. However, the Soviet occupation authorities demanded that the ending be changed, because they feared it would be seen as a call for vigilantism.
The film has some scenes in it that are clearly meant to be disturbing. In one, Bruckner complacently chews on his lunch while reading a newspaper headline announcing that millions were gassed to death at Auschwitz. In another scene, German officers are shown singing “Silent Night” in front of a crucifix, after they’ve just massacred a Polish village. Also disturbing is the fact that in some scenes Bruckner comes across as likable, even caring. There is a nice visual touch in the scene in which Martens finally confronts Bruckner. We see Martens’s shadow looming over Bruckner, who seems to be shrinking, as the latter screams that he had to do what he did because of “wartime.”
The biggest problem I have with this film is that nothing is said about Suzanne’s experiences in the concentration camps. The film doesn’t even say why she was taken away. Is she Jewish? A Communist? A Social Democrat? A pacifist? A Gypsy? The film doesn’t say.
The film was written and directed by Wolfgang Staudte. This was the first time I had ever heard of Staudte, and I wanted to learn more about him. I found a very short biography of him on English-language Wikipedia, and a longer one on German-language Wikipedia. He made his early films in East Germany. However, in the mid-1950’s, he moved to West Germany. This apparently had something to do with the fact that Bertolt Brecht and Helene Weigel had prevented him from doing a film version of Mother Courage. According to German Wikipedia, his films went out of fashion during the 1960’s, though it doesn’t say why. I would greatly appreciate it if anyone could provide me with any additional information about Staudte.
The Murderers Are Among Us is a powerful and disturbing film, and I highly recommend it.