Applause for Heller’s Film, “Blind Spot,” in Washington

Die Presse (05/20/03)

Mario Scherhaufer

For his speech in Mauthausen, André Heller was criticized at a time when his film on Hitler’s secretary was premiering in Washington, D.C. Peter Moser, Austrian Ambassador to the United States, commented in his introduction to the documentary film in Visions Cinema that Heller “has never accepted authority.” He is seen as a fiery rebel, also against the Establishment, a sensitive anti-war adversary who in the USA is stamped as an “active liberal.”

In the documentary film, Traudl Junge tells of her experience as Hitler’s secretary during the final years of the war. She died one year ago from cancer, only hours after the film, Im toten Winkel (Blind Spot) premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Toward the end of the film Junge describes how Joseph Goebbel’s wife, just before Nazi Germany fell, poisoned her six children with cyanide out of fear of uncertainty rather than flee with the help of a civil servant.

Gabriele Ludwig, a German-speaking American from Maryland drew a parallel of this episode to an analogy describing the present atmosphere in the USA: “The fear people are experiencing here since 9/11 allows the government to do things which were unthinkable two years ago.” Increased patriotism and sensitivity to anti-American criticism coming from Europe have been the results. “Blind Spot” ended in thunderous applause by the public at the end of the film shown in Washington. “It is a simple but very complicated film,” commented Jonathan Drimmer from the U.S. Ministry of Justice, alluding to the technical complexity as well as the contents. Drimmer wished not to comment on Heller’s speech in Mauthausen.

The speech on May 11, 2003, given on the occasion of the memorial celebration of the freeing of prisoners in the former concentration camp of Mauthausen, was disapproved of by the U.S. Embassy in Vienna. Heller had criticized Chancellor Schüssel and the Bush Administration’s policy in Iraq, which “displays right before our eyes how excess is the measurement of all things and the moral most in effect is the double standard.” The U.S. government took this statement to be, itself, in excess. The American Embassy in Vienna responded some days later to Heller’s speech, characterizing it as an “injury to fine taste” and given “at the wrong time and the wrong place.”