Shadows and Sojourners: Images of Jews and Antifascism in East German
Touring Film Series
unter Wölfen (Naked Among Wolves)
Germany (DEFA), b/w, 124 min. Feature
Director: Frank Beyer
Script: Bruno Apitz, Frank Beyer, Willi Schafer
Camera: Günter Marczinkowksy
Editing: Hildegard Conrad
Music: Joachim Werzlau
Gerry Wolff (Bochow), Erwin Geschonneck (Krämer),
Herbert Köfer (SS-Officer), Armin
Mueller-Stahl (Höfel), Krzysztyn Wójcik (Kopinski), Hans-Hartmut Krüger (Riomand),
Albert Zahn (Runki), Jan Prohahn (Kodiczek), Bruno Apitz (Old Man), Jürgen
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prior to the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp,
is the true story of the male prisoners who risked their lives to hide a small
Jewish boy from their Nazi captors. Based on Bruno Apitz’s famous
autobiographical novella (1958), this movie became a DEFA film of international
About the Director
Beyer's Major Films
Polish prisoner from Auschwitz, arrives at the Buchenwald concentration camp
carrying a suitcase. Inside the suitcase is a small Jewish boy he has kept from
harm. Once at Buchenwald, prisoners working in the property storage room
discover the child. Although the sight of the innocent child moves many, his
presence in the camp endangers the work of the camp’s communist underground, who
have organized a resistance group. With a heavy heart, some men decide to
arrange for the child and Jankowski to be transported to another death camp. As
liberation of the camp approaches, the prisoners must come together to keep the
young boy safe from their Nazi captors.
is based on a true story memorialized in a widely-translated autobiographical
novel by Bruno Apitz (1958). The book proved a bestseller in the German
Democratic Republic, a fact that surprised government officials who insisted
that East Germany had already confronted the Nazi past and had since moved
beyond it (Wischnewski 1995, 174). The book’s success was a “seismographic
record for the inner consciousness of many people in [the GDR]” (Wischnewski
1995, 175) and it won Apitz the National Prize of the GDR in October 1958.
the success of the novel and a subsequent television production, DEFA bought the
rights to Naked Among Wolves and quickly enlisted Wolfgang Langhoff,
director of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, to bring the story to the silver
screen. Langhoff himself had been imprisoned by the Nazis and had published an
account of his ordeal, entitled Die Moorsoldaten (Soldiers of the Moor,
1935). Yet Langhoff’s schedule proved too busy to accommodate the production,
and Frank Beyer was assigned in his place (Beyer, 2001: 108). Frank Beyer, the
film’s director, initially resisted the offer to undertake production of a film
version out of concern that his career had largely focused too often on the
issue of antifascism (see Fünf Patronenhülsen
and Königskinder) (Beyer 2001, 108). Yet in reading Apitz’s book for the
first time, Beyer became fascinated by the story, especially the conflict that
arose among the prisoners between keeping the boy safe and carrying out their
plans to mount an armed resistance against their SS guards. These men were
forced to decide between two probabilities: that the child and his guardian
might not survive the rigors of transport to another camp and subsequent
internment, or that the pair
and their fellow prisoners might be shot by Buchenwald guards before the
American forces liberate the camp. As the movie progresses, the fate of the
child is further bound to the fate of the camp (Beyer 2001, 113).
scholars such as Thomas Fox believe that Naked Among Wolves “provides a
paradigmatic example of anti-Semitism as a peripheral phenomenon, one
subordinate to class struggle” (Fox 1999, 103). He notes that neither Apitz nor
Beyer draw attention to the Jewishness of the characters in question so that
Jewish identity is downplayed to emphasize ideology. In his own defense, Beyer
writes that the “illegal International Camp Committee,” the resistance group
portrayed in the film, was remarkable in the willingness of its members to unite
as one despite varied nationalities and languages (Beyer 2001, 111).
and Beyer cooperated to convince DEFA star Erwin Geschonneck to accept the role
of Krämer. Geschonneck had himself been imprisoned in several concentration
camps: Sachsenhausen, Dachau (where he was a block elder), Neuengamme, and
others. Geschonneck was initially reluctant to accept the role out of respect
for the victims (Wischnewski 1995, 178). Filming began during the cold winter
months of 1959/60 and took place on the grounds of the Buchenwald concentration
camp, nearly fifteen years to the month after its liberation. For the role of
the little boy, Beyer chose four year-old Jürgen Strauch, a neighbor’s child.
Beyer was careful to establish trust with the child, and to make his time on the
set seem like a game. The director used code words upon which little Jürgen
would climb into the suitcase and pretend to sleep (Beyer 2001, 115-117). Beyer
recollects how he filmed the final scene in which the prisoners run free from
“It was a hot
and dusty summer day when we set about filming the scence in Buchenwald’s main
square. We arranged for five hundred extras, and lay a long camera track. I had
given up wondering how I was going to elicit tears from Jürgen. I only arranged
so that the little one would not be around as we prepared the set. We thoroughly
prepped for the scene. Geschonneck, as the badly-injured Krämer, had a small
doll tucked under his arm in Jürgen’s place, as he ran with the other actors
toward the gate. Then we were ready to film. The camera was turned on. The
masses of prisoners ran free. Little Jürgen did not understand what was
happening. He was frightened by the tumult of the screaming men, and he began to
sniffle and cry without hesitation. We had the scene in the can …. I took Jürgen
in my arms and quieted him. He just broke my heart (Beyer 2001, 116-117).”
competed at the 1963 Moscow International Film Festival where it received a
silver medal for Best Direction. During the Moscow film screening at the Kremlin
Palace, two audience members recognized the story as that of Dr. Zacharias
Zweig, a Polish-Jewish attorney now living in Tel Aviv, who survived Buchenwald
with his son. Newspaper reporters from Berlin followed the lead and “found” the
young boy from Buchenwald, Stefan Jerzy Zweig, by then twenty-three and living
in Lyon as an engineering student. One year following the release of Naked
Among Wolves, Stefan and his “Buchenwald fathers” were reunited for the
first time since liberation. Stefan went on to study cinematography and even
interned with Frank Beyer, the man that brought his story to the big screen.
Today, Stefan Zweig lives as a cameraman in Isreal (Beyer 2001, 118-119).
Beyer also reserved a role for Bruno Apitz in the film version. The author can
be seen looking after the child, dancing with him following liberation, and then
being overcome with joy in the final scenes (Müncheberg 1995, 183). Naked
Among Wolves premiered in April 1963 and was seen by over 800,000
moviegoers, which represented a large turnout for the GDR (Wischnewski 1995,
177). The film was awarded the National Prize of the German Democratic Republic
About the Director
was born in Nobitz, Thuringia in 1932. After completing his Gymnasium
studies in 1950, he became a member of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei
Deutschlands (SED, Socialist Unity Party of Germany). He began studying
directing in 1952 at the famed Prague Film School (FAMU) with Milos Forman and
other budding Czechoslovakian directors. It was during this time that he had the
opportunity to assist important DEFA directors like Hans Müller, Kurt Maetzig
and Kurt Jung-Alsen. After completing Zwei Mütter, his thesis film, Beyer
began directing at the DEFA Studios in 1957.
films dealt mainly with antifascist topics. In 1963 he directed the first DEFA
feature film to portray life in a concentration camp, Nackt unter Wölfen
(Naked among Wolves). Though Beyer was a party member whose
philosophy was primarily in line with that of the SED, his film Spur der
Steine (Trace of Stones, 1966) was banned by GDR state officials for
being “politically inappropriate” and was not shown again until 1989. This was a
tragic blow to Beyer’s career as a filmmaker, and because he would not confess
to having made an “inappropriate” film, he was not welcome to continue making
films for DEFA. He resorted to directing plays in a Dresden theater and to
making television films throughout the early 70s.
His return to
DEFA came in 1974 with Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar), which
was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film at the Academy Awards in 1977.
Geschlossene Gesellschaft, Beyer’s 1978 TV movie, led to another split with
DEFA; as a result, he directed two films in West Germany before returning to
DEFA in 1982. Since DEFA’s dissolve he continues to work primarily on
films for television that take a socially critical stance, such as Ende der
Unschuld and Nikolaikirche. His most recent project is Abgehauen,
a biographical film about the East German actor Manfred Krug. Beyer is known for
directing some of the most powerful and historically significant films at DEFA.
Beyer's Major Films
(Two Mothers, 1957), Eine alte Liebe (An Old Love, 1959), Fünf
(Five Cartridges 1960), Königskinder (And Your Love Too, 1962),
Nackt unter Wölfen (Naked Among Wolves, 1963), Karbid und Sauerampfer
(Carbide and Sorrel, 1963), Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones, 1966),
(The Hiding Place, 1977), Geschlossene Gesellschaft (Closed Society,
Die zweite Haut (The Second Skin, 1981), Der Aufenthalt (The
Turning Point, 1982), Bockshorn (Ram’s Horn, 1983), Der Bruch (The
Break, 1988), Ende der Unschuld (End of Innocence, 1991), Der Verdacht
(The Suspicion, 1991), Nikolaikirche (Nikolai Church, 1995), Abgehauen
Nackt unter Wölfen. Halle [GDR]: Mitteldeutschen Verlag, 1958.
Beyer, Frank. Wenn der
Wind sich dreht.
Verlag, 2001. 108-119.
and the Holocaust.
Rochester [NY]: Camden
House, 1999. 103-104.
Hochschule für Film- und
Fernsehkunst der DDR.
Berlin: Henschel, 1979. 332-334.
Müncheberg, Hans. “Vom Bildschirm ins Kino. Noch einmal zum
Nackt unter Wölfen. 1963.” Regie: Frank Beyer. Ed. Ralf Schenk.
Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 1995. 180-183.
Wischnewski, Klaus. “Die bittere Aktualität. Nackt unter
Regie: Frank Beyer. Ed. Ralf Schenk. Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 1995.
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