DEFA and the Holocaust, the Antifascist Legacy, and International Acclaim: Jakob der Lügner(Jacob the Liar, Frank Beyer, 1974)

  • Sebastian Heiduschke


As a reaction to the fascism of the Nazi years, East Germany was founded with the premise of being an antifascist German nation. Therefore, antifascist narratives motivated the arts from the beginning and during the entire time of East Germany’s existence. Hence, a large segment of socialist literature and film contained stories of persecution—and also of heroic resistance in the light of death looming for opponents of the Nazi state. Because of the way East Germany’s foundational idea of antifascism interlocked with and had an influence on the arts, it is no wonder that many DEFA films centered on this topic, or at least included references to the nation’s mission of fighting fascism and fascist traces.’ DEFA, however, did not solely produce large quantities of antifascist tales, but they crafted internationally esteemed and highly awarded films such as Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar, Frank Beyer, 1974), a motion picture that won prizes at the prestigious Berlin film festival Berlinale and received a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 1977 Academy Awards.


Happy Ending Academy Award Radio News Ghetto Resident Local Police Station 
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  1. 1.
    For a concise but sometimes too cursory overview of the antifascist DEFA film, see Christiane Mückenberger, “The Antifascist Past in DEFA Films,” in DEFA: East German Cinema 1946–1992, ed. Seán Allan and John Sandford (Oxford: Berghahn, 1999), 58–76.Google Scholar
  2. Another useful treatment is available by Barton Byg, “The Antifascist Tradition and GDR Film,” Proceedings, Purdue University Fifth Annual Conference on Film (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1980), 115–124.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    For a detailed history of the ghetto, see Lucjan Dobroszycki, ed., The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941–1944 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Sabine Hake, “Political Affects: Antifascism and the Second World War in Frank Beyer and Konrad Wolf,” in Screening War: Perspectives on German Suffering, ed. Paul Cooke and Marc Silberman (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2010), 103.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See also Joshua Feinstein, The Triumph of the Ordinary: Depictions of Daily Life in the East German Cinema 1949–1989 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 26.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Russel Lemmons, “‘Great Truths and Minor Truths’: Kurt Maetzig’s Ernst Thälmann Films, the Antifascism Myth, and the Politics of Biography in the German Democratic Republic,” in Take Two: Fifties Cinema in Divided Germany, ed. John E. Davidson and Sabine Hake (New York: Berghahn, 2007), 92.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Klaus Wischnewski, “Über Jakob und andere,” Film und Fernsehen 2 (February 1975): 18–24.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    In his study of Konrad Wolf’s Mama, ich lebe, Larson Powell brought up the use of intermediality, in particular, the interplay of sound and picture, to emphasize flashbacks in DEFA film: “Mama, ich lebe: Konrad Wolf’s Intermedial Parable of Antifascism,” in Contested Legacies: Constructions of Cultural Heritage in the GDR, ed. Matthew Philpotts and Sabine Rolle (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2009), 63–75.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Frank Beyer, Wenn der Wind sich dreht (Munich: Econ, 2001), 189. See also chapter 1 for DEFA’s 1970s competition with cinema imports and television.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    For an interesting article on Rühmann’s role after the war, see “Ballade vom Mitläufer,” SPIEGEL December 1960, 60–61. For more on the actor before, during, and after the war, see Stephen Lowry, “Heinz Rühmann: The Archetypal German,” in The German Cinema Book, ed. Tim Bergfelder, Erica Carter, and Deniz Göktürk (London: British Film Institute, 2002), 81–89.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Ralf Schenk, “Damit Lebe Ich Bis Heute: Ein Gespräch Mit Frank Beyer,” in Regie: Frank Beyer, ed. Ralf Schenk (Berlin: Hentrich, 1995), 72–75.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    See Jennifer Bjornstad, “From East Berlin to Hollywood: Literary Resistance in Jurek Becker’s Jakob der Liigner,” Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 41, no. 1 (2008): 56–66.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Sabine Hake, German National Cinema, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2008), 127–153.Google Scholar

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© Sebastian Heiduschke 2013

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  • Sebastian Heiduschke

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