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Between the lines: Konrad Wolf's Mama, ich lebe and the dilemmas of betrayal

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The article offers a close reading of Konrad Wolf's anti-fascist Second World War film Mama, ich lebe (DEFA, 1977). Mama, ich lebe, like all East German films about the Nazi past, deals with the re-founding of post-war Germany. Unlike the usual approach which focused on political redemption of the past crimes, Wolf's approach explores rupture and failure of political agency as the pre-condition for a new beginning. The rupture is effected by the defection of four Wehrmacht soldiers who decide to cooperate with the Soviet enemy. Their betrayal of the national collective is ethically motivated and arises from their responsibility for the Soviet 'other'. Its radicalness opens up a moment of utopian freedom and conciliation for the traitors. Yet the back side of betrayal is insecurity and confliction with regard to their role and roots. While the four meet their role as traitors with self-deception about their ambivalent position, they are eventually forced to acknowledge their position as one of self-defeat. Their 'ethical betrayal' (Parikh 2009) does therefore not lead to utopian fulfilment but to the traitors' expiatory sacrifice as the only form of accountability and self-justification. In Wolf's film antifascism as a tale of political redemption is thus revised and becomes a tale of necessary individual atonement.

Keywords: East German cinema; Konrad Wolf; Second World War; antifascism; defection; ethical betrayal

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/seci.9.1.23_1

Affiliations: University of Reading

Publication date: November 21, 2012

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  • Studies in European Cinema provides an outlet for research into any aspect of European cinema and is unique in its interdisciplinary nature, celebrating the rich and diverse cultural heritage across the continent. The journal is distinctive in bringing together a range of European cinemas in one volume and in its positioning of the discussions within a range of contexts - the cultural, historical, textual, and many others.
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