This article examines how documentary film in reunified Germany has engaged with the Nazi past of “ordinary Germans” and their descendants. It analyzes films produced since 1990 that portray personal views of the period, including those of World War II veterans, Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge, and the families of Nazi perpetrators. Drawing on theories of shame developed by Emmanuel Lévinas (1935) and Ruth Leys (2007), it demonstrates how these films perform a move away from guilt in the juridical or moral sense and toward shame as an exposure of the psychological and emotional legacy of the times. Due to its techniques of mise-en-scène, which are explored through detailed readings, the medium of documentary film is uniquely able to both create and capture such shameful exposures of private pasts. Shame is thereby predicated on a profound discrepancy between private and public remembrance of the Third Reich, resulting in persistent conflicts of historical identity. That a number of films aim to resolve this discrepancy and thus overcome shame illustrates both the productive potential that shame has for identity construction and the risk of neglecting crucial questions of historical agency.
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Research Article| November 01 2014
Axel Bangert; Shameful Exposures: Ordinary Germans and the Nazi Past in Contemporary German Documentary Film. New German Critique 1 November 2014; 41 (3 (123)): 159–178. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2753636
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