Held for Questioning

(Der Aufenthalt)

GDR, 1982, 98 min, color
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)
Production Company


In the fall of 1945, only a few months after WWII, 19-year-old German POW Mark Niebuhr arrives with other prisoners at a train station near Warsaw. When a Polish woman accuses him of being the Nazi officer who killed her daughter, Mark is thrown into a Kafkaesque nightmare of accusations and persecution—first in solitary confinement, then among hostile Polish prisoners, and finally with German Nazis who assume he is a spy planted by the Poles.


Based on Hermann Kant’s autobiographical novel, the film—with top-notch performances—raises existential questions about crime and punishment, as well as obedience and responsibility. The lead is played by a young Sylvester Groth (Inglourious Basterds, The Reader, My Führer). Although the film was to screen at the 1983 Berlin International Film Festival, East German officials withdrew it after the Polish government declared the film would stir up anti-Polish sentiments. Held for Questioning was one of East Germany’s official submissions for the Academy Awards.


Nguyen, Angelika. “Mark Niebuhr und die deutsche Schuld. Bildungsnovelle am Kriegsende 1945 in dem DEFA-Film Der Aufenthalt.” WERKSTATTGESCHICHTE, vol. 68. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2015. 97-109.


2010 Berlin International Film Festival
1984 Official Submission for Best Foreign Film, Academy Awards
1984 San Francisco International Film Festival
1984 Melbourne International Film Festival
1983 Nominated for Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival

Press comments

“A tense prison drama!” —Gene Siskel Film Center


“Stand-out performances!” —Variety


“Beyer constructs a harsh, ambiguous study of changing relationships that places it high in the canon of prison films. The isolation and humiliations of the young soldier owe something to Becker and Bresson (the prison environment is meticulously recreated), but Beyer gradually extends Kohlhaase's script to take in questions of guilt and responsibility that gives it a defiantly contemporary ring and has caused much controversy in Germany and Poland. The bizarre scene of torture by vegetables is a directorial tour de force and symbolizes the taut, disquieting tone of the whole film.” —John Gillett, London Film Festival


“Beyer's film is a study of prison life and of personality.” –Time Out, London


"Seldom has a film presented the post-war questions of guilt in such a nuanced way as through this nightmare experience of a young German prisoner of war, who is falsely identified by a Polish woman as an SS murder and treated as if guilty for eight months while being locked up with concentration camp henchmen, Wehrmacht officers and SS men of all categories. In its best passages, the film achieves the psychological pressure of a Kafka vision. Locked behind bars and delivered up to anonymous persecution and the darkness of fear..." —Abendzeitung


"It is to the credit of Kant, Beyer, and scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase that they have found a perspective on the rehabilitation of the past which is new, sensible and necessary today: a look at the spheres in which guilt and innocence overlap. Only with this perspective will it be possible to overcome long-standing clichés and the neat division into victims and perpetrators." —Hans Günther Pflaum, Süddeutsche Zeitung (1984)


"With this film, [Frank Beyer] presents yet another masterpiece. It captivates through its attention to psychological detail and its nuanced look at the immediate post-war period. It additionally has great optical qualities and demonstrates outstanding acting performances." —Das große Lexikon der DEFA-Spielfilme


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DVD Bonus Features:
  • New digitally restored transfer
  • Subtitles On/Off
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • “When the Wind Turns: Held for Questioning,” by director Frank Beyer
  • Scriptwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase on the Film Production (2001, 9 min., color)

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