Marianne and Juliane / The German Sisters
Baader-Meinhof fictionalized

by Lisa DiCaprio

from Jump Cut, no. 29, February 1984, pp. 56-59
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1984, 2005

On October 18, 1977, three members of the Baader-Meinhof gang, condemned to life imprisonment in the high-security Stamheim prison, were found dead in their cells. Andreas Baader and Jan-Karl Raspe had been shot through the neck; Gudrun Ensslin was discovered hung. Prison officials maintained that the prisoners had committed suicide. Although it went to great lengths to substantiate this claim, the German state could never explain how handguns had found their way into the isolation cells of Baader and Raspe. Many members of the Left, not only in Germany, but in Italy and France as well, challenged that official explanation. Among those who refused to concede to the state version of the deaths was Gudrun Ensslin's sister, Christiane. Christiane's experience forms the subject matter of THE GERMAN SISTERS, and to her von Trotta has dedicated the film.

THE GERMAN SISTERS(1) is the latest in a series of films by actress-turned-director, Margarethe von Trotta, which deal with political themes as they touch on the lives of women. She has said that this film, the German title of which is DIE BLEIERNE ZEIT, or "heavy, leaden years," concerns "the continuing weight of the past on the present." In fact, she depicts two "pasts — one, of Nazi Germany, which has laid a heavy moral burden on von Trotta's own generation; and the other, of the Baader-Meinhof gang itself.

At the height of Baader-Meinhof activity, from about 1969 to 1977, the German state engaged in massive wiretapping, intimidation, and harassment of radicals. Over 300,000 members of the Left were interrogated. Many among those who refused to collaborate were persecuted for activities with which they had profound disagreement. Most of those whose lives were touched by the Baader-Meinhof group were never the same again. One life so influenced was that of Christiane Ensslin. Von Trotta has chosen to dramatize the tremendous strain of this period of state intimidation — and its "continuing weight" today — by examining the lives of the two Ensslin sisters.

THE GERMAN SISTERS roughly covers the period shortly before Ensslin's capture in June of 1972 (after three years of underground life) and her death in Stamheim prison in 1977.(2) Although in many ways the film parallels the real lives of the sisters, von Trotta does not offer a narrative that renders their history exact, but dramatizes the conflict between the two sisters. While the character representing the sister Gudrun Ensslin, played by Barbara Sukowa as “Marianne,” has chosen to become a member of the Baader-Meinhof group, the character based on Christiane Ensslin, played by Jutta Lampe as "Juliane," actively works in the women's movement and writes for a feminist magazine. In the film, the sisters share a common moral outrage at Germany's past and present, but their conception of how to act on this outrage pulls them in opposite directions.

The intense political conflict between Marianne and Juliane provides the vehicle for von Trotta to deal with a multiplicity of themes in her film: Von Trotta's own life and her generation; the two Ensslin sisters' political evolution; the Baader-Meinhof group's history; the conflict between feminists and women who remained within the male-dominated Left; and the Holocaust.

When the state captures and imprisons Gudrun (Marianne), Juliane suddenly must deal with the state's repression of the Baader-Meinhof group while attempting to maintain her feminist perspective. Following Marianne's murder, Juliane becomes obsessed with uncovering the reasons for her sister's death. Her personal and political activities become entirely reordered. All of Juliane's activities become focused on exposing this state political crime.

A “labor of mourning," according to von Trotta, "can be related to a person, but also to a country." Juliane's obsession symbolizes von Trotta's generation's efforts to come to terms with the Holocaust. Von Trotta has said,

"We were quick to push aside guilt and responsibility. The tendency in public life not to admit feelings of guilt at all, or at least to forget them as quickly as possible, still exists."(3)

As recently as 1978, 24% of German respondents to a survey agreed to a statement that "'National Socialism' was a good idea badly carried out."(4) One year after this survey was conducted, the U.S. television series, HOLOCAUST, was broadcast in Germany. According to Variety, more than 15 million West Germans saw HOLOCAUST and responded favorably.(5) Nevertheless, more than 50 years after the fact, the subject of Nazism once again initiated national debate. Prior to the series' showing, several groups of demonstrators protested HOLOCAUST as anti-German. Some stations which showed another related program, THE FINAL SOLUTION, were bombed.

To broadcast HOLOCAUST represented a significant political decision on the part of German media. This television series exposed millions to images and issues from the Nazi period, which mainstream German television and cinema rarely have dealt with. In his article, "German Filmmakers Seldom Focus on the Legacy of Nazism," New York Times critic Tony Pipolo writes:

"For all their seriousness and their willingness to be critical, few German filmmakers working in the commercial mainstream of the industry have openly confronted the most troubling subject of all: the World War II period and its twin evils, Nazism and the Holocaust. There are signs that this is now changing, and that some filmmakers are beginning to approach this difficult historical legacy head on and to make links between the past and the present. But for the most part, these ghosts from the past have been either avoided or indirectly hinted at as the dark specter that haunts the lives of characters and may be at the root of the undefined malaise within contemporary Germany.”(6)

Among those confronting the Holocaust are directors of the New German Cinema, such as von Trotta. In fact, she belongs to the same generation as Gudrun Ensslin, born in 1942 — only two years after Gudrun. Von Trotta, too, experienced the bombing raids of World War II. She, too, deeply experienced the Holocaust's legacy as a child.

Through a series of flashbacks in THE GERMAN SISTERS, von Trotta firmly establishes her character' — the two sisters’ — sense of guilt for the past. She describes how each formed a social consciousness, which serves to bind them together throughout the ordeal of Marianne's imprisonment. The film indicates both sisters were raised in a heavily religious background. In real life, Gudrun and Christiane Ensslin's father served as a pastor of the "German Evangelical Church." This church was formed in 1945, the year of Hitler's defeat. It claimed its origin in the "Confessing Church," formed in opposition to the Hitler Reichskirche — the unification of 29 German Protestant churches. As part of its ritual, it stressed examination of conscience. The Ensslin children were educated to be against rearmament and for reunification, to concern themselves with social problems, especially those of the Third World.

As we see this process of coming to social awareness in the film, Juliane and Marianne's first exposure to the crimes of the Hitler era comes from viewing a newsreel made at the time of the liberation of the concentration camps.(7) They and we see depictions of corpses — thousands being turned over, lifted up, and buried in huge mass graves with bulldozers. Survivors, barely skeletons, stand and lie in their familiar striped camp uniform. The film within a film presents the Nuremburg trials, where everyone claims innocence. As the documentary's narrator states the national problem:

"'I'm not to blame,' says the Kapo. 'I'm not to blame,' says the officer. Then who is to blame?"

From these common roots, however, von Trotta's two sisters evolve in opposite political directions. Why? Von Trotta implies that Juliane's feminism comes as a natural outgrowth of her early rebellion. Flashbacks show us Juliane as the nonconformist. She acts the role of the real rebel, while Marianne stays safely on the sidelines. Called on to recite a poem by Rilke in school, Juliane refuses saying,

"I prefer the 'Ballad of the Jewish Whore.'"

She gets thrown out of class, while Marianne remains and does not protest. Juliane is also always being reprimanded for her choice of clothes, which she wears as an emblem of nonconformity. In contrast, Marianne attempts to mediate family conflicts by playing father's favorite, a tactic Juliane very much resents. Here, the Ensslin father is depicted as a typical German patriarch, symbolizing the traditionally authoritarian character of German society.

THE GERMAN SISTERS, then, does not provide an objective treatment of the two sisters, but very much gives a partisan defense of Juliane. No real reference is made to the process of Gudrun Ensslin's real-life transformation from student antiwar activist into terrorist. We know from the film's flashbacks to childhood that the character Marianne felt compelled to act from a sense of moral urgency. But why did she choose the specific route of joining the Baader-Meinhof group? From a psychological perspective it appears that Marianne is drawn to the rigidity of Baader-Meinhof lifestyle, where critical thinking was often suspended in the name of preserving strict discipline. Thus the film offers a partial, but inadequate, explanation of how some left activists have turned to terrorism. Von Trotta even implies that Marianne's conversion resulted from a relationship with the man for whom she left her husband, rather than as an independent decision.(8)

If von Trotta has very clearly weighted the scales in Juliane's favor, the character Juliane provides a vehicle for von Trotta to express her own search for moral identity. Von Trotta's own priorities are feminist. Yet she realizes the parameters history imposes on one's free will. From the film's beginning, von Trotta establishes the two sisters' interdependency, despite their intense political disagreements. Marianne's life (and then her death) constantly intrudes on her sister's, just as the Holocaust haunts all aspects of German politics today. Juliane attempts to maintain a safe distance between her and Marianne, but she cannot.

In the film's opening sequence, Marianne's husband, Werner, attempts to persuade Juliane to assume responsibility for the son, Felix. (When Ensslin went underground, she left behind her husband, Bernard Vesper, and an 11-month-old son, Felix Robert). Werner, a writer, has been offered a position outside of Germany. Juliane rejects his suggestion, saying that she will not let her own life be ruined while "Marianne is attempting to save humanity." Felix then figures prominently throughout THE GERMAN SISTERS. As a child in need of care, he provides a connection to Marianne that Juliane cannot sever. Felix represents an extension of Marianne, a responsibility that progressively makes its weight felt on Julianne’s life despite her will.

The film's next sequence shows Juliane speaking at a women's demonstration demanding the repeal of Paragraph 218, the German abortion law which has remained virtually intact since Bismarck first unified Prussian Germany. Juliane denounces the hypocrisy of those who oppose abortion. She cites statistics about German women's oppression — 30,000 cases of abortion a year, 20,000 children put up for adoption, 300,000 women forced to live in temporary housing. This scene establishes Juliane's identification with the average German woman, for whom Marianne will only exhibit contempt.

In the first two sequences, then, we gain an appreciation for Juliane as an intelligent, sensitive woman committed to pursuing her career and political work. We sense that Juliane has carefully laid out the course of her life, with almost "German precision," as she meets her personal and political responsibilities with an ordered discipline. Although the feminist issues Juliane raises have revolutionary potential, she always operates within the legal boundaries of capitalism. She faces minimal risks to her personal safety. And her political activity is related to her paid work on a feminist journal.

Juliane's life, however, soon becomes disrupted. Marianne emerges from underground and immediately confronts the legitimacy of Juliane's personal and political priorities. In marked contrast to her sister, Marianne lives an entirely unpredictable day-to-day life. Her whole existence is a secret one, as she must live in fear of arrest, with no dependable source of income or housing.

Marianne first makes her presence felt while Juliane is at a meeting at work. Juliane receives a call and then announces that she must leave, with the abrupt,

"I've been looking for her for two years."

Juliane and Marianne meet secretly in a commentary statuary warehouse, prefiguring Marianne's death. Marianne appears disguised in a wig and wearing stark clothing. Her features are tensely drawn. She waves aside Juliane's concern for her safety.

As they sit down to drink coffee, Marianne confronts her feminist sister with the self-righteous tone that will characterize all her future discussions,

"Are you still working for the magazine? Do you really think it is important, absolutely essential work?"

Nothing that Juliane can do will win Marianne's respect or appreciation. Similarly, when Juliane informs Marianne that Marianne husband has committed suicide, Marianne responds impassively,

"He had a penchant for death — a neurotic intellectual."

Marianne moves on to her practical concerns — asking that Juliane care for the son. Again, Juliane refuses,

"You are always trying to cast me in the role you don't want anymore."

Marianne ends this, her first discussion with Juliane in two years, with the statement,

"Ideas are not acts. Older women cannot wage the class war."

Who is the "older women," since the distinction in age between the two sisters is not that dramatic? Probably Marianne means women tied to job or family responsibilities. Since she narrowly defines "class war" as confined to terrorism, Marianne negates both women's oppression and women's ability to participate in significant political activity.

Unconvinced by Marianne's harsh criticism, Juliane returns to her world of "ideas" and political organizing. We see Juliane assembling an exhibit about Hitler's policies toward women. Hitler said,

"Giving birth ennobles women. It is woman's sacrifice for the survival of the nation."

In Nazi Germany, not having children was considered subversive. Juliane's work gets interrupted as Marianne is arrested.

Despite their intense conflicts, Juliane immediately drives out to the prison to visit Marianne. Juliane must submit to the humiliation of stripping, and then she is made to wait in an empty visiting room. While waiting, she flashes back to their childhood. Scenes of the two girls’ competing against each other in a running match are superimposed on the brick prison structure. Their competition has continued through adulthood, alternating with their deep sense of mutual dependence. Juliane is awakened by the matron with the words, "Your sister won't see you." The matron gives no reason. Deeply hurt, Juliane is consoled by her boyfriend who suggests as an explanation,

"That lifestyle (of the Baader-Meinhof group) makes people numb."

He suggests that she write a letter asking how to help.

Finally, the two sisters do meet in prison. While psychiatrists look on and take detailed notes, the two characters shout at each other. Juliane screams,

"Your bombs ruined it all, all of our work."

To Marianne, of course, Juliane's "work" is worthless — perhaps even evidence of selling out to the system.

An earlier scene had dramatized Marianne's contempt for ordinary people's lives and daily routine. At 3:00 a.m., Marianne and her male comrades burst into Juliane's apartment. Marianne makes herself at home. She insists that she have coffee over Juliane's objection that the grinder will wake up the entire building. The two sisters do not converse. Finally, as she is leaving, Marianne runs up to Juliane's room and begins systematically to go through Juliane's clothes, rejecting each piece of clothing, and throwing it on the floor with undisguised contempt — “There is nothing here I can use.”

Juliane experiences this as a double affront. Not only has Marianne invaded her privacy, assuming that what belongs to her sister must also rightfully be hers. But in expressing distaste for the clothes Juliane needs for work, Marianne once again condemns Juliane's life-choice of political activity. Later, when in prison, Marianne explains her actions, "We gave you your last chance to join us," Juliane responds,

"If I had done that, if I had joined you, I couldn't be here today to help you."

Marianne's prison demands are many, and we see Juliane preparing several packages. Juliane's boyfriend reprimands,

"You are wrecking your life for her."

Juliane answers,

"I will never agree that nothing can be done."

Juliane's ability to act, however, often gets restricted by Marianne's own purism. At one point, in the prison, the two sisters quickly exchange sweaters. Inside Marianne's sweater, Juliane finds the note:

"Get your liberal friends to do something."

Juliane is persuaded by her own magazine staff to write an article on her sister. Then Marianne attacks the article with a vengeance, screaming, "Are you writing for the Springer press now? (Axel Springer maintains a virtual monopoly on the Berlin press and is notorious for his yellow journalism.)(9) Again, Juliane attempts to help her sister, but faces rejection.

Despite our alienation from Marianne's self-centered rigidity, we share Juliane's horror at the German state's increasing brutality. We begin to see, in very vivid terms, the process of Marianne's destruction. Ironically, she becomes more human for us as she begins to lose her self-confidence. At the hands of her jailers, Marianne must suddenly confront reality; as a result, she becomes less the stereotype of a political robot. In one particularly memorable scene, which begins with two sisters' usual outbursts of political disagreement, Juliane asks,

"If you consider yourself an elite, why are you asking for ordinary treatment?"

Marianne is on the 25th day of a hunger strike to protest treatment of the Baader-Meinhof group members in prison. One member, Holger Meins, would die on November 9, 1974. Marianne has already lost 10 pounds. Juliane asks, "Why are you destroying yourself?" Marianne shouts back with eyes flaring,

“Do you know what they are doing to us? I am in a cell by myself. They keep the lights on all day and night so I can't sleep. I pound on the cells next to me. There is no one there. The cells are empty. There is no one to talk to. I listen to my breath entering my mouth and leaving through my nostrils. They want to kill us."

Later, we see Juliane attempting to simulate force-feeding through a tube so she can experience for herself the treatment Marianne is undergoing at the hands of the prison "doctors."

During what is to be their last visit, a new sense of understanding emerges between the two sisters. In the dehumanizing conditions of prison, Marianne's features become transformed; they seem softer and more relaxed. Now Juliane and Marianne must speak via microphones through glass. They can no longer touch each other. Juliane says,

"I dreamed that I set you free."

As the visiting time draws to an end, Marianne's face begins to fade away as she asks with urgency when Juliane will return. Marianne is visibly disturbed to hear that Juliane will not be back for two or three weeks. With some reluctance and at her boyfriend's suggestion, Juliane has decided to take a vacation and plans to return in time for the trial.

Outside of Germany, Juliane cannot relax but is constantly thinking of Marianne. We see Juliane and her boyfriend in Sicily looking down into the rim of Mount Etna, an active volcano that symbolically represents their situation. The "explosion" occurs while the couple is in a restaurant and Juliane's boyfriend sees Marianne's face for a brief moment on the television screen. Neither can understand nor speak Italian to know what has taken place. Juliane rushes to a telephone, calls home. She learns that Marianne has been found hanged in her cell.

Next, the film flashes to the prison where Marianne's body has been laid out. Her sister, mother and father are present. We see the body from a distance as if it had been properly embalmed with all traces of the death Marianne encountered erased. Slowly, the camera accompanies Juliane to confront the corpse's distorted face, Marianne's eyes wide open, as at the moment of death. In the final invasion of her privacy, the final humiliation and vengeance by prison officials, the German state has its last word in laying out Marianne's body to "rest" in the most grotesque form, denying the sanctity of human life.

(This scene reflects the difficulty the Ensslin family had in real life finding a cemetery willing to bury the dead members of the Baader-Meinhof group. That real-life burial was shown with actual footage in the film GERMANY IN AUTUMN. Many Leftists attended the ceremony with red scarves concealing the lower part of their face so as not to be identified by the German police. Later, visitors to the graves of the Baader-Meinhof members were required to produce identification cards.)

Confronted with Marianne's unexpected death, Juliane begins to prepare a case to prove that the hanging was not suicide, as claimed by prison officials, but murder. This preparation will take many years. (In real life, Christiane Ensslin did carry out such an exhaustive study which will soon be published in German.) Juliane studies medical reports, simulates the hanging, and enlists the help of a lawyer. She becomes obsessed with the case. At one point, her boyfriend shouts at her,

“Nobody will believe you. We have a lifetime ahead of us. A lifetime with a corpse between us. You're destroying yourself and you want me to watch. You are ruining ten years of our lives.”

Juliane's boyfriend's words seem to represent a realistic position in terms of the issue of exposing Marianne's murder. In many ways, Juliane's relationship with her boyfriend is presented as a positive one, in which each lover respects the other's career and shares in household tasks. However, he mainly fears jeopardizing the security of their shared existence for a political cause. He initially feels sympathetic towards what Juliane is attempting to accomplish, but he rapidly replaces that with resentment towards Marianne.

Viewed within the framework of von Trotta's overall theme of moral responsibility, this young man's "realism" has a negative connotation. He is a "good" person who commits no evil acts. But his resignation in the face of adversity is a form of complicity with evil. It was, for example, on the suggestion of her boyfriend that she re-direct her energies in a "positive" direction, that Juliane left Germany on a vacation, thus being absent at the very time of Marianne's murder. His pessimistic statement, "Nobody will believe you," can also be seen as meaning "Nobody can grasp the Holocaust."

Hitler, after all, did depend on the very monstrosity of his crimes for protection. One can easily grasp a regime's selectively executing its political opponents. But the wholesale extermination of millions based on arbitrary considerations of ethnic background and sexual preference — this almost surpasses human imagination. Several decades later, in 1977, the average German would have difficulty believing the assertion of the German Left that prison officials would murder members of the Baader-Meinhof gang (shortly before they were to go to trial) and then make their deaths appear to be the result of suicide. In terms of the scale of human life involved, of course, we can make no comparison between the Holocaust and the murder of Baader-Meinhof members. But von Trotta demonstrates for us that the issues involved in both historical instances are the same.

Her boyfriend's challenge to Juliane, "Do you really think you can accomplish anything?" thus stands for the fundamental question, "Could fascism's rule of terror have been successfully resisted?" No definitive answer to this question can be given. We know that Hitler's most active opponents were rounded up in the first hours of the Third Reich. Yet the complacency of millions of "good" Germans was essential for the Nazis to successfully carry out their aims. Juliane's boyfriend may offer an accurate appraisal of the task Juliane has set for herself. But it is with Juliane's determined effort that von Trotta would have us identify. In subtle ways, von Trotta poses the question,

"If no effective opposition is organized against this crime (the murder of Baader-Meinhof members), who will be the state's next victims?"

As THE GERMAN SISTERS approaches its conclusion, we see how Juliane has become as relentless searching for the truth as Marianne had become in her commitment to the Baader-Meinhof group. Yet, when Juliane calls the press, she is informed,

"Nobody cares anymore. Your sister, the movement — that was the 70s. Now people are interested in the energy crisis, the Third World."

When Juliane pleads, "But my sister was trying to draw attention to the Third World," the editor responds,

"You know the rules of journalism. If it is not current, it is useless — it can only be used in book form as an historical subject."

In the final sequence, we see Juliane with Marianne's son, Felix. Earlier we had seen Juliane and a woman doctor visiting Felix in the hospital, where he was covered with bandages from burns, unable to move or speak. While he was in a cave where he often played, someone threw in gasoline and lit it. Felix was set on fire because his mother threw bombs. After this incident, which occurred to Gudrun Ensslin's son in real life, Juliane must finally assume responsibility for Felix's care. Traumatized by his near death, Felix exhibits tremendous anger at both Juliane and his mother. He expresses outrage at Marianne by ripping up a poster of her, shredding it into small pieces and throwing it out with satisfaction. Juliane watches with understanding, knowing the source of the anger. She responds quietly, without reproach but with firmness,

"Your mother was a fine person. Someday I will explain it all to you."

With the same determination that informed his mother whom he now hates, Felix commands, "Begin now" This shout ("Fang an") not only means: Preserve Marianne's memory. But on deeper reflection, it can be interpreted as a general moral command: “Tell my generation everything" Thus, the child's command is the basic imperative of von Trotta's own work.

Finally THE GERMAN SISTERS poses these two questions: How are we to view the political legacy of the Baader-Meinhof group? And what is the responsibility of the German Left to the Baader-Meinhof group?

For the first question, von Trotta passes an obviously negative judgment on the political value of Baader-Meinhof activities. The Baader-Meinhof group, which arose in 1970, was Germany's first urban guerrilla group. It represented a desperate response to the lethargy of the German proletariat, presumably bought off with an abundance of consumer goods.(10) All that the terrorists have accomplished is to perhaps relieve their guilt for living in an imperialist nation.

Thus, when Marianne is displayed in her coffin, there is a marked contrast between her contorted physical image and the soaring, religious organ music in the background. Marianne, in death, is finally at rest in her soul and spirit. She, and the film, have renounced the "new Germany" which attempts to forget its menacing past through the pursuit of materialistic aims. As Gunter Grass, who knew the real Gudrun Ensslin in Berlin, said,

"She was idealistic, with an inborn loathing of any compromise. She had a yearning for the Absolute, the perfect solution."

While we are left with a very definite impression of Marianne's character as a terrorist, THE GERMAN SISTERS leaves open to interpretation how to view Juliane. Von Trotta contrasts Felix's decisive demand for truth with the negative results obtained by Juliane when she finally presents proof of Marianne's murder to the press. In the end, the film does not show whether or not Juliane will pursue her investigation and continue her attempt to get her findings published. She has committed herself to a task which may be futile. Juliane has destroyed her 10-year relationship with a sensitive man, and we may presume that she has lost her job at the magazine. In exchange for giving up her personal happiness and abandoning her feminist work, Juliane seemingly has run up against a dead end. How are we to judge her? Von Trotta herself spoke about such issues earlier, in 1980, and her words delineate the political boundaries of her concerns:

“Hope arises from the realization that you have to find the way back to yourself. This is less of a rallying call than a pessimistic statement. Personally I see very few chances of exploding the power complex established by the alliance between economics and science; and above all, I see no movement on the present political horizon capable of achieving this. I believe we still have a very naive approach to this terrifying power complex. Naturally I fight against it despite my skepticism; for it is certain that those who do not offer resistance are already defeated. To propose new ideas is the duty of art. Just the same I doubt whether it is possible to put these utopian ideas into effect. But because I am alive, I fight.”

THE GERMAN SISTERS thus expresses the strengths and weaknesses that also characterize the works of von Trotta's two well-known contemporaries in the New German Cinema: her ex-husband Völker Schlondorf and the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The films of all three directors are unsurpassed for their incisive critique of the moral corruption of German society and for relating the past to the present. However, the collective weakness of these directors lies in their deep cynicism about the potential for any significant social change. THE GERMAN SISTERS has a strong emotional impact on the viewer, and it challenges us, but it does not point to any political direction by which we can collectively meet this challenge.


1. THE GERMAN SISTERS was the original title of the film when it premiered in Chicago during the November 1982 International Film Festival. The film was released commercially in New York as MARIANNE AND JULIANE. Its German title was DIE BLEIERNE ZEIT.

2. A German audience would know much about the Baader-Meinhof group. For U.S. viewers, information needs to be supplied for a full appreciation of THE GERMAN SISTERS. Gudrun Ensslin was involved for some years as a student activist at the University of Tübingen and the Berlin Free University. In 1967, Gudrun rejected open political work and began to engage in terrorist activities. In October 1968, Ensslin and three other Baader-Meinhof members were found guilty of bombing and setting fire to a department store and sentenced to three years imprisonment. In June 1969, they gained release from jail, pending an appeal to be heard in November 1969. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal. Ensslin and two members went underground. After a brief stay outside Germany, Ensslin returned to Berlin in early 1970. She was rearrested on June 7, 1972. Ensslin was tried at Stamheim for murder, bank robberies, forming criminal association, etc., and sentenced to life imprisonment.

3. Tony Pipolo, "German Filmmakers Seldom Focus on the Legacy of Nazism," Sunday New York Times.

4. This survey is analyzed in an article, "The Imperfectly Mastered Past: Anti-Semitism in West Germany since the Holocaust" by Frederick Weil, New German Critique (Spring/Summer 1980).

5. According to Weil, the impact of the TV series HOLOCAUST as far as altering existing public opinion in Germany seems varied, depending on the specific question posed to those surveyed. For example, in polls conducted shortly before the showing of the U.S. program in Germany, 16% of those surveyed thought that all adult Germans in the Third Reich were guilty to some degree. After the series, this figure rose only 6 percentage points to 22%. Similarly, prior to HOLOCAUST, 45% of those interviewed believed that Germany had a moral obligation to make reparations to Holocaust victims. After the series, an additional 10% held this opinion. According to Weil (who was in Germany at the time HOLOCAUST was broadcast), the only issue on which HOLOCAUST had any discernible political effect was about the war crimes statute of limitations. After HOLOCAUST, those who favored enforcing such a statute diminished from 62% to 50%. Weil writes,

"Since the Parliament voted several months later to lift the statute of limitations and permit war criminals to continue to be brought to trial, the film's effect on this issue may have been very great indeed, even if it only encouraged an already existing public opinion."

Such a positive finding, however, must be placed in the overall context of German public opinion on the Nazi period. Analyzing HOLOCAUST within a historical framework, Weil concludes,

"A quarter or a third of the population still refuses to find the historical Nazi regime all bad, although there is a long term trend towards rejection."

6. Pipolo, op. cit.

7. According to the information presented in Pipolo's article, it is unlikely that the Ensslin sisters would have actually seen such newsreels. Only in 1962 did the Ministers of Education formulate standards for teaching the history of the Third Reich, thereby allowing for such subjects as the Nazis' goals, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust to be introduced into the German school curriculum.

8. In reality, Ensslin brought her lover, Andreas Baader, into organized political activity. The turning point in Gudrun's decision to reject mass political organizing appears to have been the killing of a young student protester, Benno Ohnesorg, at a protest against the Shah of Iran's visit to Berlin in 1967. The demonstrators lined up in front of the German Opera House. Police began to disperse them using water cannons. A group was trapped in a courtyard. A policeman shot Ohnesorg in the back of the head, claiming self-defense, although Ohnesorg was actually running away in the opposite direction. Gunter Grass called the killing, "the first political murder in the Federal Republic." On June 8, 8,000 turned out to hear the funeral orations.

At an SOS meeting during this period, Gudrun seemed at the point of hysteria. She shouted that "the fascist state" is out to "kill us all" and argued that "violence must be met with violence." She emphasized,

"It is the Auschwitz generation. You can't argue with them."

The policeman responsible for Ohnesorg's murder was charged merely with "careless manslaughter" and found not guilty — a scenario of police brutality which finds similar expression in the United States.

9. In an earlier film, THE LOST HONOR OF KATHARINA BLUM, von Trotta deals with the destructive effects of the sensationalist Springer press. The film is based on the novel (with the same title) by Heinrich Böll. Böll himself was held up to ridicule by the Springer press for denouncing the "trial by press" of Baader-Meinhof member Ulrike Meinhof. In his novel, B1l creates the fictional Katharina Blum. She becomes involved with a man who, unknown to her, is a political fugitive from the law. Blum refuses to cooperate with the police, steadily maintaining that she knows nothing concerning the fugitive. She is taken to task by the Springer press, which pursues her case with such a vengeance that first her reputation and then her life are entirely ruined.

10. The bombing and arson charges for which Gudrun first served time in 1968 show the extent to which she had become almost pathologically alienated from the German people. The Frankfurt department store bombing in which Gudrun participated was inspired by an earlier department store burning at A l'Innovation store in Brussels. At least 300 people perished in this fire which the terrorists immediately declared a success because it "brought Vietnam home to Brussels" and showed ordinary complacent consumers what it was like to be bombed in Vietnam.

A leaflet circulated May 24 at the Berlin Free University where Gudrun attended classes had the caption, "When Will the Berlin Stores Burn?" It ended with the exhortation, "Burn, warehouse, burn." Gudrun and other took up the call. In court, she claimed responsibility for herself and Andreas Baader explaining,

"We did it out of protest against the indifference towards the war in Vietnam."

Acknowledgment: I wish to give special thanks to Ramona Curry, program director of the Goethe Institute in Chicago, without whose valuable assistance and expertise this review could not have been written.