Red Army Reactions: A Spate of Recent Films Suggest That the Scars of Germany's History Show Little Sign of Healing

Article excerpt

While Hollywood brings the story of the plot to kill Hitler to a wider world, German cinema continues to examine the nation's troubled past with the recent release of two controversial movies. Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex tells the story of the Red Army Faction, the terrorist gang born of the 1968 student revolt, while Anonyma: Eine Frau in Berlin confronts the issue of mass rape, committed by another Red Army after the fall of Berlin in 1945.

Hitler's Children by Jillian Becker, published in 1977, was one of the first books to tackle the subject of West German terrorism, its very. title evoking the idea that the leftwing Baader-Meinhof group, or Red Army Faction (RAF), was a product of a past its members were so brutally keen to be rid of.

Uli Edel's recent film Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex, produced and written by Bernd Eichinger (who also made the striking account of the final days in Hitler's bunker, Downfall), offers surprisingly few explanations for the violence of the RAF other than that they sought to oppose West Germany's march towards a new kind of authoritarianism following the shooting of a demonstrator by police in 1967, and the attempted assassination of student leader Rudi Dutschke by a right-wing worker in 1969.

Although some student agitators, including Dutschke, refused this violent path, the journalist Ulrike Meinhof embraced terror in 1970 after aiding Andreas Baader's escape from prison where he was serving time for the firebombing of two Frankfurt department stores.

What followed were years of bombings and shootings with little discernible political aim, resulting in 34 dead and many others seriously wounded. Among the victims were banker Jurgen Ponto, federal state prosecutor Siegfried Buback, and the head of the employers' federal organisation and former mid-ranking SS officer Hanns-Martin Schleyer, as well as several policemen, bystanders and the terrorists themselves.

Though what was left of the group declared the end of their 'armed struggle' against the German state and US imperialism in 1993, the RAF has only recently become the subject of a number of studies, memoirs, interpretations and political statements. And for the first time the relatives of prominent victims have told their story, of loss and tried to counter the wave of media interest in the perpetrators, by questioning the German state's pardoning of long-term terrorist prisoners.

Eichinger's film has drawn many complaints for its Hollywood-style shootings and car chases, and the lack of context concerning the state's reactions. …