DEFA Film Library
at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Cinema of East Germany
Shadows and Sojourners:
Images of Jews and Antifascism in East German Film
1961, East Germany
(DEFA), b/w, 99 min. Feature
Set during the Weimar Republic, Professor Mamlock is the story of a prominent Jewish professor of surgery whose belief in reason and humanity makes him blind to the increasing threat of anti-Semitism. Based on the 1933 play by renowned social critic Friedrich Wolf, which was censored by the Nazis, the film was directed by the son of the playwright.
Professor Hans Mamlock is the distinguished chief of surgery in a university hospital. The year is 1933, and although the Professor is Jewish, he remains unconcerned with politics and the growing Nazi threat. Mamlock identifies strongly as a German, and he believes his culture to be simply incapable of the common barbarism associated with the Nazi party. Accordingly, he shows little understanding for people with strong or unpopular political views, such as Walter, a patient, and Rolf, his own son. Indeed, when Rolf joins the communists in resisting the Nazis, Mamlock throws him out of his house. As the persecution of Jews intensifies during the 1930s, Mamlock's own daughter is targeted for anti-Semitic attacks at her school. Professor Mamlock, however, refuses to believe her, and at work he disregards the anti-Semitism of his colleague, Dr. Hellpach. By 1938, however, anti-Jewish racial laws demand Mamlock’s removal from office. He is physically marched from the hospital by Nazi guards, leaving him shocked to realize that his German citizenship has been revoked. Professor Mamlock’s devastation drives him to desperate measures.
Professor Mamlock was originally written as a play in 1933 by the Director’s father, Friedrich Wolf. At that time, the Nazi party was fully positioned to assume control of Germany, and many – Wolf included – were disturbed by the political chaos of the day. At the time the play was written, few people anticipated the horrors of the coming Third Reich. Friedrich Wolf, the playwright, was himself a renowned and outspoken Jewish physician, and had previously written plays on social topics such as abortion (Dr. Cyankali). He intended Professor Mamlock to serve as a wake-up call to his fellow Germans. Three years later, Wolf’s play, which had already garnered international attention, was produced by Adolf Minkin and Herbert Rappaport as a film in the Soviet Union. Upon reaching the United States, the Soviet version caused considerable controversy. It was banned by authorities in Chicago, Rhode Island, and elsewhere for being anti-German propaganda. In Massachusetts, Professor Mamlock was banned from Sunday screenings for fear that it would incite a riot on the Sabbath. The negative American reaction to the film spoke both to the tacit international acceptance of the Nazi party during the early 1930s and to the story’s almost clairvoyant message.
When asked in an interview why Director Konrad Wolf chose to create a second film version of his father’s play, he responded:
“The concern of the Soviet film was to show the Nazis how they really are, which dangers they mean for the world, what the Nazis will bring you. It wanted to warn the world of Hitler. It, therefore, placed the persecution of Jews in the foreground. But it also showed what one must do to resist … Our main objective, however, was not to contemplate the persecution of Jews, but rather the destiny of a liberal, civically advanced intellectual, who is forsaken by his own class. This individual is no longer able to believe in the middle classes, and yet he does not find his way to the working class. His only escape becomes suicide” (Renk 1989, 53).
According to Anthony Coulson, “what stands between [Mamlock] and recognition of the reality of National Socialism is not … vulnerability to economic forces, but Mamlock’s own misplaced sense of invulnerability: his unquestioning confidence in the security of his profession and reputation as a leading surgeon, his trust in the social elite who are his friends, guests, and patients, his belief in the supremacy of reason and science, and, above all, his faith in the universal values of German humanist culture” (Coulson 1999, 167). As in Wolfgang Staudte’s film Rotation, Professor Mamlock also places responsibility for preventing future crimes of Nazism and political apathy on the younger generation. His last words, "There is no greater crime than refusing to fight when the situation demands," only echo that sentiment.
Konrad Wolf’s version of Professor Mamlock premiered in theaters on 11 July 1961 just one month prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall. According to Wolf, German audiences responded favorably to the film, and in particular, to the scenes which portrayed Nazi ideologies as “idiotic” (Renk 1989, 64). In 1961, Professor Mamlock was awarded the gold medal at the Moscow International Film Festival, and the “Silver Lotus Blossom” at the New Delhi International Film Festival.
Friedrich Wolf was a dramatist and activist whose pro-choice drama Cyankali remains a landmark pre-Nazi film on the abortion debate. His son, Konrad Wolf, filmed his father's exile drama Professor Mamlock, while his brother, Markus, became the GDR's head of international espionage. On October 20, 1925 Konrad Wolf was born in Hechingen. His father, Friedrich Wolf, was a prominent doctor as well as a writer, known especially for his antifascist activism. Because of Friedrich Wolf’s political activities, the family went into exile in 1934. In March of that year, they settled in Moscow. Konrad and his brother Markus attended the German Karl-Liebknecht-School in Moscow. In 1936 the Wolf family became citizens of the Soviet Union.
In December of 1942, at 17 years of age, Konrad voluntarily enlisted in the Red Army. In January he was sent to the front, where he served primarily as an interpreter. He took part in the liberation of Warsaw in 1945 and was later awarded the Red Star for his military service. After the war, Wolf worked for the Berliner Zeitung as a reporter for local news and also became co-founder of DEFA. In 1954 Wolf began his career as a director with DEFA. Over the course of this career, he directed numerous films and became internationally renowned for his work, especially for his antifascist films.
Wolf took over the position of President of the Academy of Arts in 1965, a post that he held for 17 years. He died on March 7, 1982 before completing his final film Busch singt. He received numerous awards for his filmmaking, such as the Karlovy Vary Grand Prize for Lissy in 1957, the Special Prize of the Jury at Cannes 1959 for Sterne, and the Prize for the Arts of the Society for German-Soviet Friendship for Sonnensucher and Ich war neunzehn in 1975.
Einmal ist keinmal (Once is Never, 1954/55), Genesung (Recovery, 1956), Lissy (Lissy, 1957), Sonnensucher (Sunseekers, 1958), Sterne (Stars, 1959), Professor Mamlock (Professor Mamlock, 1961), Der geteilte Himmel (Divided Heaven, 1963/64), Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince, 1966), Ich war neunzehn (I Was Nineteen, 1968), Goya (Goya, 1971), Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz (The Naked Man in the Stadium, 1974), Mama, ich lebe (Mama, I’m Alive, 1977), Solo Sunny (Solo Sunny, 1980), Busch singt (Busch Sings, 1982).
Byg, Barton. “Konrad Wolf: From Anti-Fascism to Gegenwartsfilm.” Studies in GDR Culture and Society, 5: Selected Papers from the Tenth New Hampshire Symposium on the German Democratic Republic. Ed. Margy Gerber. (1985): 115-124.
Coulson, Anthony S. “Paths of Discovery: The Films of Konrad Wolf.” DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992. Eds. Seán Allan and John Sandford. New York: Berghahn, 1999. 164-182.
Fox, Thomas C. Stated Memory: East Germany and the Holocaust. Rochester [NY]: Camden House, 1999. 100-101.
Heinze, Dieter and Ludwig Hoffmann, eds. Konrad Wolf im Dialog: Künste und Politik. Berlin: Dietz, 1985.
Knietzsch, Horst. “Die Tragödie des bürgerlichen Intellektuellen: Professor Mamlock, ein DEFA-Film nach Friedrich Wolfs Bühnenstück.” Neues Deutschland 18 May 1961.
Renk, Aune, ed. Konrad Wolf. Direkt in Kopf und Herz. Aufzeichnungen, Reden, Interviews. Berlin: Henschel, 1989. 64-66.
Silberman, Marc. “Remembering History: The Filmmaker Konrad Wolf.” New German Critique 49 (Winter 1990): 163-191.
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