“Labyrinth of Lies” (“Im Labyrinth des Schweigens”)
In 1958, the Second World War had been over for thirteen years and the Federal Republic of Germany was not only recovering but was booming. It seems that there were no more Nazis and no one had ever heard of the death and concentration camps. However, that all changed when journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) recognized, in the person of a teacher, the former commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), a young prosecutor, decided to investigate this.
Now almost 70 years after the end of war, the poisoning of German society by Nazism remains an understandably troubling subject for Germans to address and acknowledge openly. Director Giulio Ricciarelli’s debut feature “Labyrinth Of Lies” looks at how a society that was supposedly and rightfully ashamed of its horrible transgressions went too far in burying its shame and this allowed the guilty to escape punishment for their crimes.
In the immediate years after the end of the war, the German establishment worked to erase the grim specter of the past that hovered over the country. Very few people (especially the young) were aware of the scope of the Final Solution and the reality of the concentration camps. Radmann learned that an Auschwitz SS guard was working as a schoolteacher and this was forbidden under German law. His immediate superior wants nothing to do with pursuing the man, and when Radmann informs the Ministry of Education of the teacher’s past, they take no action to remove him from his position.
However, Radmann refused to let the Nazi dark past of those who had not been punished to stay secret and with the help and support of the Attorney General of the German Republic, began a search for the both powerful and humble former Nazis who suffered no consequences for their actions. Radmann was dissuaded by many individuals and organizations and these included the U.S. Military.
I understand that the character of Radmann is a fictional composite of three prosecutors who participated in the Auschwitz trials. Prosecutor General Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss) was well aware of the Nazi plague, and he encouraged his young associate to pursue the matter. Working with Gnielka and concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch), Johann is shocked and stunned when he learns the vast dimensions of the Nazis’ machinery of extermination at Auschwitz and that many of those who ran the camp had comfortable careers in public service.
As he went through the chaotic records of 600,000 individuals stored at the U.S. Army Document Center, Radmann discovered that thousands of former Nazis had returned to their pre-war lives with no problems. He was aided by the testimony of Auschwitz survivors, his endearing and principled secretary Schmittchen (Hansi Jochmann), and a fellow prosecutor, who initially ridiculed Johann about the project.
One of the film’s most powerful moments is when Auschwitz survivors entered Radmann’s office, one after the other, to provide testimony. There are no words in the sequence— just a series of headshots of people with resolute, determined expressions and horror stories to recount. Schmittchen cannot contain her grief and shock.
In the beginning, Johann was exclusively focused on capturing Dr. Josef Mengele at the expense of lesser targets. After discovering that his girl friend Marlene’s father was a Nazi, Johann began to wonder about his own now-deceased father whom he had idolized and still idealizes. One of his superiors asked him if it was his goal to show that every young man in Germany was to wonder whether his father was a murderer.
“Labyrinth of Lies” very successfully dramatizes the events leading up to hearings that helped illuminate the truth about the death camps and had a strong impact in particular on a younger generation of Germans.
While the political aspects of the movie work well but unfortunately the more personal stuff doesn’t. The movie would have been so much more effective without it. Fehling does a fine job and he gives a brilliant performance. The rest of the cast is good as well.