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also known as Harlan im Schatten von Jud Süss

Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Süss2009

  • 4.0
Though almost forgotten today, Veit Harlan was one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious filmmakers. Millions all across occupied Europe saw his films, the most perfidious of which was the treacherous anti-Semitic propaganda film JEW SÜSS, required viewing for all SS members. An unrepentant and blindly obsessive craftsman is as closely associated with the cinema of the Holocaust years as that of Joseph Goebbels’ top director, Leni Riefenstahl. Harlan was also the only artist from the Nazi era to be charged with war crimes. With never-before-seen archival footage, unearthed film excerpts, rare home movies and new interviews, HARLAN: IN THE SHADOW OF JEW SÜSS is indeed a searing portrait of the controversial filmmaker and an eye-opening examination of World War II film history. But it also shows how Veit Harlan’s family (especially the youngest generation) struggles even today with the dark myth of his artistic immorality. It’s the story of a German family from the Third Reich to the present, one that is marked by reckoning, denial and liberation.

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1 member likes this review

The film adds an interesting dimension to the collective guilt Germans apparently continue to feel over the holocaust. Sadly, the 'sins of the father' also continue to haunt the Harlan name. The divisions of family members, German and Jew, serve as metaphors for humankind's soul severed from the body. Therein lies the human tragedy depicted in the film's narrative.

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Member Reviews (7)

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top reviewer

The film adds an interesting dimension to the collective guilt Germans apparently continue to feel over the holocaust. Sadly, the 'sins of the father' also continue to haunt the Harlan name. The divisions of family members, German and Jew, serve as metaphors for humankind's soul severed from the body. Therein lies the human tragedy depicted in the film's narrative.

1 member likes this review
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top reviewer

The documentary is centered on interviews with Harlan’s descendants, children and grandchildren as well as some nieces and nephews, unfolding their various reactions to their relationships with Harlan’s Nazi propagandist legacy. It was interesting to discover that Christiane Kubrick, the wife of Stanley Kubrick, was his niece, with the film including several interview clips with her. There are also archival clips of segments of several of his movies which included performances by his actress wife Kristina Soderbaum as well as including a few segments of a TV interview with her in 1973. Overall the film is an interesting insight into the “curse” of such a dubious historical legacy on one’s descendants, some of whom (i. e. his son Thomas) are actively negative and others (i. e. his son Kristian) defending him and almost a Nazi apologist. By the time you get to his granddaughters, the sentiment is more curiosity than any sense of shame or remorse. My only criticism of the film is that it could have included more biographical information on Veit Harlan himself and a greater outline of his cinematic career though the later was covered to some extent.

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"Resistance must be prompt."

----Caspar Harlan----

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top reviewer

A perfect double bill with 1981's "Mephisto"....

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top reviewer

I attended a high school where the most important things we were taught was respect for our "southern heritage" and belief in a version of "Jesus" who would always tell us, in any situation, if we just asked, what He would do, which also told us what we should do to live up to our cultural heritage. I only found out after escaping that not everyone who asked themselves what "Jesus" would do decided after consultation with their own personal savior to cling mightily to their "southern heritage" and refuse to be corrupted or confused by "outside agitators". I have a special sympathy for the children and grandchildren of Veit Harlon because of my own struggle to avoid being defined by the fact that my grandfather's grandfather fought for The Confederacy and my parents were still old-school-southern enough to pull me out of the public schools of Alabama after my 9th grade year, when desegregation came in spite of everything old-school-southerners could do to delay or prevent it. For some of us, the most honest and honorable way to respond to our cultural heritage is with a public and emphatic rejection of the 'values" we refused to learn.

For me, this rejection was hard and sometimes painful; it was a refusal to claim the only set of resources for living that was mine as a birth-right. This rejection has much in common with resigning from a club on some general principle, knowing that this club is also a social network and not knowing exactly how one will get along without it. Also, I can't resign from my southern drawl. Some people will always consider me a southerner, especially people who don't like southerners. But, what I had to deal with pales in comparison to growing up in the shadow of Jew Suss. After all, only about six people are left who remember even the name James Monroe Roberts or which side he fought on. But, one thing I can relate to better than most is dealing with people who start out being friendly and helpful under the assumption that you are your father's son in every sense when, in some ways, you are very different. When people are being accepting and supportive, it is hard to answer with hostility or rejection, to answer "you are one of us" with "no, I am not".

This situation gets even more complicated when your dad is either famous or infamous as the only film-maker talented enough to turn Nazi propaganda into something as popular by the standards of its time and place as the latest Hollywood blockbuster. What does this have to do with the movie I am supposedly reviewing? Everything or nothing depending on whether you buy into my assertion that my cultural background makes it easier for me to understand the situation that Veit Harlan's children were born into and why each had to make peace with aspects of the past, Germany's past and their family's, that most Germans would rather forget. According to Foucault ,"We are all Jews and we are all Germans." This is true in a very literal sense for Jessica Jacoby, Viet Harlan's granddaughter. She could, with equal justice, claim to be descended from either the Jews who died in the holocaust or from the Germans who were responsible for the holocaust. Her paternal grandfather died in the camps, after winning an Iron Cross fighting for Germany in WWI. Her maternal grandfather was, of course, Veit Harlan, who was the only German charged with war crimes after the war based solely on his work as a creative artist.

He was acquitted twice only because enough Germans, including the judge in his second trial, could easily imagine how their own actions during the Nazi era would sound being narrated by a really tough prosecutor. Jessica Jacoby's mother was Veit Harlan's daughter but choose to live her life as Susanne Körber, reclaiming her mother's maiden name. She converted to Judaism after marrying a Jew who lost both parents in the holocaust. Her life ended in suicide in 1989. She died because suicide was the only way out of the impossible double-bind of feeling both Jew and German, both victim of a war crime and guilty of that same war crime. She left her life as both murderer and murder victim, just as she had lived it. We are all Jews and we are all Germans. But, it does not surprise me that one of Veit Harlan's children should experience this conflict more constantly and intensely than anyone could stand. The film is a long and detailed explanation of why this would almost necessarily be the case.

Great talent placed in the service of evil, used cunningly to make everything most vulgar and hateful attractive, is a crime against humanity. In such cases, great talent is not a mitigating factor but the factor that marks those most worthy of contempt. Harlan was as guilty as Goebbels or Hitler. If we do not accept this, we are not taking seriously the capacity of art to either ennoble or degrade, to make the world either more or less of a safe place for decent people to live, by shaping the way audiences feel, by shaping what they will reject or embrace, protest or tolerate.

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top reviewer

Complicity with crimes against humanity, and vicarious or inherited guilt, are eloquently agonized over by the descendants of the accused. A moral parallel is hypothesized at the end: If children of victims have an obligation to pass their stories on so they do not become forgotten, don't children of perpetrators have that obligation, too? The answer is left to us to mull.

A grimly engrossing jaunt down the memory lane most Germans would just as soon forget. Harlan was a brilliant actor/director whose career climaxed in his direction of Jud Suss, perhaps the most blatantly anti - Semitic film ever made. What makes the film special is that Harlan's life is mostly recounted by his children and grandchildren, who either condemn or seek to exonerate him and thereby display the full range of contemporary German responses to the Nazi period itself. A "must" film for those seriously interested in that period or, more generally, in the vagaries of human nature.