Who was Babar's grandfather

Barbara Albert: My SS grandfather wasn't a monster

Director Barbara Albert has made a film about the generation of grandchildren of Nazi criminals - with an autobiographical background.

Sita's grandfather was an SS guard. Her mother had no idea about it, her father never talked about it. So the 25-year-old goes on a search, speaks to old neighbors who must have known her grandfather, and rummages through documents - in order to unearth a piece of family truth. In short, this is the plot of Barbara Albert's new film “The Living”, which premiered at the Spanish Film Festival in San Sebastián at the end of September.

“Not the whole film is autobiographical,” says the director in an interview with the “press”. But she too tried to research her family's past when she learned that her own grandfather was an SS guard. But on the one hand, she has traveled to many more places in her search than Sita. On the other hand, she is a generation older than the protagonist. "But of course Sita is my alter ego."

Albert, who received international praise in 1999 with her debut “Nordrand” and thus also brought Austrian films into the limelight, is now 42. “Böse cells” and “Fallen”, her two follow-up films, received mixed reactions. “The Living”, her first film in a few years, met with little criticism in San Sebastián for the subject. “Isn't it another: 'My grandfather was a Nazi‘ film?” Asked a critic. And why did Austrian films always deal with the Nazi past was another question.

“It's not just a Holocaust dispute, but that of a perpetrator's granddaughter,” says Albert. She knows documentaries and historical films on the subject, but no feature films. Therefore, the idea for a contemporary film about the grandchildren was obvious. In addition, “we are far from being overholocausted,” she says. “When I talk to 20-year-olds about World War II, they think they know everything. But when I ask for details, they have no idea of ​​the difference between the Wehrmacht and the SS. "

Albert himself was able to identify with Anne Frank as a child. “It wasn't until I was 30 years old that I looked at my own family. Unfortunately too late, my grandfather had already died by then and I couldn't ask him any more questions, ”she says. After doing some research, Albert found out that her grandfather was an SS guard: "At first I was shocked and ashamed, although I knew that I was not responsible for my grandfather's actions."

With the work on her film, that feeling changed. Over time, Albert had accepted that this was her origin. "But the film wasn't therapy and it's not a diary." “I want to draw your attention to the fact that grandfathers are dying now. You can't talk much longer about what it was like as a perpetrator. ”Perpetrators would have been silent for decades. But that's a big problem: "We have to preserve their experiences for the descendants and thus show that no one is immune from such acts," she says. "They weren't the monsters, but the system behind them."

Were Sita’s parents similar to Barbara Albert’s parents? “No, of course not,” says Albert. “Basically, my grandfather's SS past was not an issue until I made the film. But when my family saw him, he made a difference. As a result, we have all come a little closer to each other again. "

Many of the perpetrators' grandchildren still felt ashamed and guilty. That is why dealing with the topic is so important: "When victim and perpetrator grandchildren talk to each other, it already has a therapeutic effect," says Albert. It doesn't help anyone to scourge themselves with feelings of guilt for a lifetime. "It's better if we learn something from it so that something like the Second World War doesn't happen again."

To person

Barbara Albert (born 1970) celebrated her first major success as a director and screenwriter with the film "Nordrand" from 1999, which was nominated for the "Golden Lion" at the Venice Film Festival. The Viennese studied theater studies, journalism and German at the University of Vienna, then directing and screenwriting at the Vienna Film Academy. Her new film “The Living” starts on November 23, about a granddaughter's search for her grandfather's Nazi past.

("Die Presse", print edition, November 3rd, 2012)