German mill owner spends WWII trying to save his wife, daughter and Czech workers from Nazi terror, but faces his own tragic end in an unexpected way. The film is based on true events surrounding the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia in 1945. A look at a corner of history that is little known in America: the expulsion of millions of ethnic German civilians from parts of Europe after World War II. The film’s opening and closing scenes of Germans in Czechoslovakia being rounded up and loaded onto trains consciously echo the familiar imagery of Jews being sent to Nazi concentration camps.
The devastating fate of three million Germans in Czechoslovakia after World War II is the basis of thix film that attempts an epic sweep and falls somewhat short. Half-century-old nationalist agendas are at work in the World War II-era “Habermann,” veteran Czech helmer Juraj Herz’s adaptation of the Joseph Urban novel about a wealthly
wartime expatriate in a small Czech town.
Herz opens his film with a sequence of wanton cruelty and destruction. An angry mob loots houses while forcing the inhabitants into the streets and towards railroad cars. People are severely beaten and humiliated. One woman’s face is even smashed into the urine-soaked portrait of her country’s leading politician, someone she never voted for and cared for even less.
The year is 1945, the ground she kneels on will be Czechoslovakia once again and she was married to a German. So coming in contact with a smelly Hitler-portrait is the least of her worries. The film then flashes back eight years. The woman’s husband, August Habermann, is a well-liked industrialist of German heritage, born in the Sudetenland, where Germans and Czechs have co-existed in relative peace for hundreds of years. Even when the country is annexed by Nazi Germany via the Munich Pact, he expresses doubt that things are really going to change. Rather he concentrates his work, his Czech wife Jana and their newborn child.
When the Nazis finally arrive in this quaint corner of Europe, some of his Czech workers take up arms and pamphlets. He tries to protect them the best he can, but is unable to stop the extortion, torture and killings perpetrated by the Nazis. Nor can he to imagine that what friends and co-workers have in store for him might be even worse.
Directed by Juraj Herz; written by Wolfgang Limmer, based on the novel “Habermann’s Mill”by Josef Urban; director of photography, Alexander Surkala; edited by Melanie Werwie; music by Elia Cmiral; production design by Petr Fort; costumes by Simona Rybakova; produced by Karel Dirka; released by Corinth Films. In German and Czech, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Mark Waschke (August Habermann), Hannah Herzsprung (Jana Habermann), Karel Roden (Jan Brezina), Ben Becker (Major Koslowski), Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht (Hans Habermann) and Franziska Weisz (Martha Brezina).