Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 816
It is 1933, and fear prevails when a husband and wife discuss the brutal treatment by police of their communist neighbor, whom the couple betrayed for listening to broadcasts from Russia. A storm trooper visits his girlfriend, a maid in the household of an affluent Berlin family. An unemployed worker arrives to repair the radio, and the storm trooper engages him in a discussion to ferret out his true opinion about the Nazi regime. To gain the worker’s confidence, the storm trooper demonstrates how he exposes critics of the Nazis. Pretending to be sympathetic to complaints, the storm trooper surreptitiously marks critics with a chalk cross on their backs so that they can be easily identified and interrogated. After both the worker and the storm trooper leave, the maid expresses her grave concerns to the cook about her boyfriend’s changed behavior; she no longer trusts him.
In a concentration camp, imprisoned Social Democrats and communists still quarrel about who is responsible for the Nazis’ rise to power. However, they, as well as a pastor, show solidarity when faced with the demands of a guard. A radio reporter interviews workers at a factory but rudely interrupts them when they refer to insufficient sanitary facilities. Storm troopers deliver a coffin with the corpse of a worker to his wife with a stern warning not to open the casket to prevent her from seeing his battered body. Scientists are forbidden to have contacts with Jewish colleagues; physicists at the University of Göttingen who have corresponded with the eminent Albert Einstein, a Jewish emigré, are terribly afraid that they may be found out.
It is 1935 in Frankfurt, and a prominent physician is experiencing problems at his clinic because his wife is Jewish; friends and neighbors are shunning the couple. To escape this intolerable situation, the wife has decided to leave for Amsterdam. After calling friends and relatives to ask them to look after things during her absence, she rehearses her speech explaining to her husband why she is leaving. However, when her husband returns, neither he nor she refers to the real reasons for her departure. Rather, they both pretend that she is going on a spring holiday. The fur coat she packs provides an indication of the truth.
A pathetically spineless judge in the city of Augsburg searches for the resolution of a complicated and well-publicized court case that will satisfy all parties involved and will not cost him his job. The interests of the three storm troopers, who had robbed a Jewish jeweler, the well-connected jeweler’s Aryan partner, and the jeweler’s landlord differ considerably and cannot be reconciled. The judge is eager to do whatever is expected of him, but none of his colleagues is able or willing to offer any sound advice, and the judge enters the courtroom with great trepidation.
In 1935 Cologne, a teacher and his wife are terribly afraid that their young son, who has overheard their conversation, will report his father’s critical remarks about the Nazi regime to the leaders of his youth organization. Even though the son claims that he did not betray them, the parents are not sure whether to believe him and remain terror-stricken. Such fearful distrust is also evident when a worker, who has been released from a concentration camp, visits a husband and a wife who had shared his political convictions. Now they are very much in doubt whether they can still rely on him.
Even those who had supported Adolf Hitler before 1933 have become disillusioned. A butcher’s loyalty is tested to the utmost when he is ordered to display cardboard hams, which look real, rather than the real product. As a sign of protest, he hangs himself in his shop window with a poster around his neck proclaiming that he had voted for Hitler.
Two bakers meet in prison. The first one has been sentenced because he had adulterated his bread, the second because he had refused to do so when shortages became more common. A working mother refuses to finance her teenage daughter’s summer labor in the countryside under the auspices of the Hitler Youth. A farmer, despite orders not to feed his pigs because of grain shortages, defies the authorities. Storm troopers bring food and a small amount of money to an old lady as part of the winter aid organization’s efforts to aid the elderly and the poor. When the old lady inadvertently reveals that her daughter, who is visiting her, has criticized the regime, the storm troopers take the daughter away.
It is now 1937, and in the city of Lübeck, a fisherman on his deathbed cannot buy a motor for his boat because motors are essential for the rearmament prior to the impending war. His son, a storm trooper, supports the rearmament and rejects the pastor’s reference to the “Jewish” Sermon on the Mount.