By Amit Epstein | 28/10/2010
In 2008 the renowned film German director Michael Verhoeven released his documentary named "Menschliches Versagen" ("Human Failure"), which documented how and how much has practically everyone profited, not only ministries, but common people; (a quote out of the film's synopsis) "The expropriation of assets from German Jews, during the Third Reich, benefited virtually every other German citizen. It was not the Gestapo who invaded Jewish residences in order to confiscate all property, from bank accounts to the last shirt, it was the German Tax officials…A bizarre competition evolved between bureaucrats as to how to organize the robbery of the Jews before they were expelled, or sent to their deaths. Larger assets went to the tax offices, and the smaller assets and goods were sold to friends and neighbors in public auctions of Non-Aryan property. Many of the documents proving this expropriation were lost or destroyed; the ones that remained were hidden away…"
Dr. Michael Verhoeven was born in Berlin in 1938. The main subject of most of his films is the traces of the Holocaust and the third Reich, mainly closing the gap between the public and the private stories. He gained worldwide acclaim with films like "Das schreckliche Mädchen" ("The Nasty Girl" 1990) - which received an Academy Award nomination and a Berlinale Silver Bear - and "Der unbekannte Soldat" ("The unknown soldier" 2006) in which the subtitle to the film, "What Did You Do in the War, Dad?" sets the stage for the film. It documents a public exhibit curated by the Hamburg Institute of Social Research, initiated as a communal respond to private questions raised regarding photos in family albums by some of the younger generations family members. Personal photos by German soldiers taken during the war showed ordinary soldiers of the Wehrmacht executing or abusing civilians, mainly Jews, children and women, and taking pleasure in displays of brutal killings. The film also shows a part of the exhibit that portrays some German officers and soldiers who did not follow orders from above to kill innocent people. The film and the exhibition point out that there isn't a single incident in the German Army court martial records of any German officer or soldier being disciplined for failing to follow orders to kill civilians. A unique aspect of the film is that it also covers the public reactions to the exhibit; Neo-Nazi groups demonstrated and picketed the exhibits. Some former German Army veterans and relatives of veterans were interviewed and either denied the events or spoke against the exhibits. But, many more people lined up by the thousands to view these exhibits in Munich, Berlin, Hamburg and elsewhere.
In his films he portraits a clear link from the most private possessions and memories, to the most prominent public historical moments. I think no one can allow himself to say "I didn't know" after watching those films and realizing the depth and the weight of these events on the most personal level.