This is a straightforward, dead-ahead documentary, a no-frills interview with one camera and one woman, but nonetheless it builds to a poignant, extreme and terminal climax that shoots off the celluloid right into our guts, piercing our sense of history and humanity. And it’s even more than that. Every sentence out of Traudl Junge’s mouth carries a great tragic weight, as well as a light shining onto the painful process of forgiveness, whether of her country or herself.
Blind Spot was directed by André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer, both Austrian like Hitler, but both Jewish and hungry to understand their country’s uncomplimentary position during the Nazi regime. Having kept silent for almost 60 years after having been a witness to Hitler’s final hours, Hitler’s former secretary breaks her silence on film, just before eternal silence engulfs her. (She died of cancer a day after the film’s world premiere at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival.)
Junge embodies the unsuspecting, naive child, the mature, guilt-ridden adult and the critical analyst, constantly looking back upon her own thoughts and actions in a conscious parade of excruciating enlightenment. She speaks from this continually balanced perspective and describes how a young German girl, growing up in a fatherless, apolitical household with a tyrannical grandfather, ended up recording Hitler’s last will and testament just prior to his suicide:
“I’d never been able to follow my own inclinations and I’d never had that feeling of security in a complete family.”
Junge describes how “backing down” and “conforming” were touted as virtues in her upbringing, how the combination of not being able to pay the high school fees to continue her education, chance and foolishness fated her to become one of Hitler’s four personal secretaries from 1942 until his demise.
This film is a priceless opportunity to observe a witness to one of the most atrocious times on earth, to watch her examine herself — her place, her job, her state of mind — psychologically and physically. Heller and Schmiderer film Junge watching herself answer questions on a monitor. She sighs at her answers; she examines and then once again reacts to her previous thoughts and words she had so recently said in response to Heller’s questions. After listening to herself describe Hitler’s immense pride over the obedience of his dog, Blonde, she faults herself, “When I think about it now, and listen to what I’m saying, all of these little stories sound so banal.”
She describes Hitler as a kind, fatherly man with a courteous manner, not frightening like his public persona — what it was like working for him, how she was so close to the cause, yet shielded from “the megalomaniac projects and barbaric measures.”
“It’s like an explosion — there’s one place where calmness reigns.”
That is, until she begins a riveting and detailed remembering of the final days at the bunker. As we watch and listen, it’s a story impossible to ignore once it starts, like a train headed for a schoolyard. We know where it’s going; we know the inevitable mess ahead, but we can’t turn away.
Junge’s words show us how propaganda is like a loaded gun, as good or as misled as the ideology and cause behind the people pointing it.
“Yes. You see, that’s an area where Hitler did a huge amount of harm. He actually tried to manipulate the consciences of the German people. He convinced them they had a task to do — they had to exterminate the Jews, because the Jews caused all our problems.”
In times of trouble, propaganda’s effectiveness magnifies and catches fire. When misused, it manufactures and spreads fear by demonizing something, someplace or, in this case, “a people” in order to control and manipulate its followers. Like Germany, Junge was searching for a direction, for security, for a father figure, for a release from the threat of tyrannical and oppressive circumstances, and she thought she found her respite working for Hitler.
In light of today’s high-contrast political polemics and more than questionable military decisions, this film exemplifies how universal and undying some lessons are. We all have a dark place inside where we don’t want to look, but if we don’t face it, our accusing finger may start to point elsewhere.
Blind Spot demonstrates how miraculous hindsight really is. It shines a bright light into all those shadowy crevices too close-up to view clearly, and it allows the blind to see.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.