Shadows and Sojourners:
Images of Jews and Antifascism in East German Film
Touring Film Series
1959, East Germany (DEFA) and
Bulgarian Co-Production, b/w, 92 min. Feature
Dir.: Konrad Wolf
Dramaturge: Willi Brückner
Editing: Christa Wernicke
Jürgen Frohriep (Walter), Sascha Kruscharska (Ruth),
Stefan Pejtschew, Erik S. Klein (Kurt), Ivan Kondow (Ruth's father), Stiljan Kunew
(the camp doctor).
16mm, English subtitles
- renting information
by director Konrad Wolf as a Romeo and Juliet story for the modern age, Stars
questions human conscience and personal responsibility in a love story between a
German corporal and a Greek Jewish teacher.
About the Director
Wolf's Major Films
Set in a small
Bulgarian village in 1943, Walter, an artist before becoming a corporal, and his
friend and superior officer, Kurt (Erik S. Klein of the Berliner Ensemble), live
an almost idyllic life far away from the war—until a train pulls in and a transit
camp is set up for a group of Greek Jews, who will be transported to Auschwitz in
the German corporal to assist a woman in danger of dying in childbirth. At first
Walter refuses, but then changes his mind and sends a doctor into the camp. During
a series of nightly meetings they fall in love when, moved by Ruth’s dignity and
unrelenting hope, Walter questions his complacency. He contacts Bulgarian partisans
in search of help for Ruth’s escape, but he is too late. His plan is thwarted by
his friend and superior office, Kurt. Walter is helpless as he watches the departing
train—Ruth and her imprisoned companions are taken to their certain death in Auschwitz.
The experience changes him, however, and he gets involved with the Bulgarian resistance.
alludes to both the star of David used to mark a people’s fate, and the stars of
the night sky as symbols of hope. This, and especially the portrayal of Bulgarian
collaboration with a soldier in Hitler’s army, touched cultural and political taboos
established by Marxist-Leninist conventions. Attaining the conventional was not
in the minds of the international team of filmmakers who set out to make this antifascist
While on vacation
in Bulgaria in 1956, Konrad Wolf’s dramaturge, Willi Brückner, met with Bulgarian
filmmakers, who expressed their desire to work together with filmmakers at DEFA.
By the end of the year, Angel Wagenstein, a Bulgarian Jew (who later adapted Feuchtwanger’s
Goya to the screen), sent his screenplay to Potsdam. Wolf was eager to work
with him and other friends he made while at the film academy in Moscow, particularly
on a film of this theme. Wolf also welcomed the collaboration of Spanish artist
José Sanchez, whose detailed storyboard provided the foundation for every shot in
effort is ever-present in Stars: the Sephardic Jews spoke Ladino, the Bulgarians
Bulgarian and the Germans German; the German corporal spoke broken Bulgarian to
the local partisans. The well-known Yiddish song S’brent (Es brennt)
by Mordechai Gebirtig is featured in the title sequence. This film established Konrad
Wolf’s international repute.
Vital to understanding
both the film’s narrative and its production history is the fact that the Bulgarians
demanded their Parliament and King defy the German order to deport the Bulgarian
Jews, thereby saving nearly 50,000 people, despite the German occupation.
distribution history is a testament to Cold War politics. The first DEFA/Bulgarian
co-production, it received prizes in Edinburgh and Vienna, and won the Special Jury
Prize at the 1959 Cannes film festival but had to be billed as Bulgarian because
of the Hallstein Doctrine—a measure used by Bonn to deny the status of the GDR as
an independent state by simply not recognizing its existence. Yet Stars’
critical acclaim interested West Germans in showing the film in their cinemas, but
demanded the final scenes indicating the German corporal’s future involvement in
the communist resistance be removed. The copy we offer here is in its uncut, originally
In a survey conducted
by Deutsche Kinemathek of Berlin, film critics, historians, and filmmakers listed
Stars as among the 100 most important German movies in history.
About the Director
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.
Wolf's Major Films
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).
Gordon, Eric. “Old
Stars Still Shine.”
Jewish Currents Feb. 1995.
“Mit Authentizität.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15 July
Mollenschott, Ellen. “Sterne / Der erste deutsch-bulgarische
29 Mar. 1959: 6.
13 May 1959, vol. 10.
Beyond Hitler’s Grasp. The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews. Avon, MA: Adams
Media Corp., 1998.
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
Ed. Margy Gerber. (1985): 115-124.
“Paths of Discovery: the Films of Konrad Wolf.” DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992.
Eds. Seán Allan and John Sandford. New York and London: Berghahn, 1999. 164-182.
Fox, Thomas C.
“Berlin, Moscow, and the Imagined Jerusalem: The Holocaust in East German Literature
and Film.” Stated Memory:
and the Holocaust.
Rochester [NY]: Camden
House, 1999. 97-144, [Sterne, 113-116].
and Anatoli Karawaschkin.
“Von Sternen, die im Schmutz
Berlin: Henschel, 1974. 171-76.
“On the Disappearance of the Dead Among the Living – The Holocaust and the Confusion
of Identities in the Films of Konrad Wolf.” New German Critique 60 (Fall
Schwalbe, Konrad. “Sterne
(1959). Um den Anspruch auf Leben, Liebe, über Vaterlandsverräter, Kameradenmörder.”
Konrad Wolf. Neue Sichten auf seine Filme. Beiträge zur Film- und Fernsehwissenschaft
39.31 (1990): 65-71.
History: The Filmmaker Konrad Wolf.”
New German Critique
49 (Winter 1990): 163-191.
“Sterne: meine erste Koproduktion.
Interview für Iskusstwo kino,
Direkt in Kopf und Herz. Aufzeichnungen, Reden, Interviews.
Ed. Anne Renk. Berlin: Henschel, 1989.
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