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Hitler's back - and Germans are being surprisingly supportive

Ranjan Crasta | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:43 IST

Since the end of World War II he's been reviled, caricatured, lampooned and - thanks to the internet - become everything from viral video and meme fodder to the subject of a fascinating theory, Godwin's Law.

Now, he's the subject of a German mockumentary - a la Borat - called He's Back.

The film is based on the 2012 satire novel Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes. In the book Hitler did not die in the war. Instead, he wakes up in a car park in Berlin. The year is 2011 and he has no recollection of the events that took place post-1945. Confused and lost, he tries to navigate his way through a Germany he could never have imagined, one led by a woman.

That in itself was a bold concept, but the book was well-received, selling over a million copies in Germany alone. It's satirical at various levels; the Hitler character is mistaken for a highly-skilled impersonator and becomes a TV celebrity, his lunatic worldview taken as a joke.

Now, the mockumentary based on it is causing controversy in Germany. The film, which released in theatres this week, pushes the envelope further than the book, adding unscripted scenes that haven't gone down well in Germany.

It's these real-life scenes that have generated the controversy.

Lead actor Oliver Masucci is seen sporting military regalia, moustache and all, and interacting with ordinary people. Rather than shunning him the way one would expect in a country still distancing itself from the legacy of Nazism, he is received embarrassingly well. While many people take selfies with Hitler, others confide extremist feelings to him. One citizen even says that labour camps should be brought back. He is cheered by crowds at national monuments and in towns alike.

Masucci, a stage actor, spoke to German daily Bild, saying he had mixed feelings about the experience. He was struck by how easy people found it "to pour their hearts out to a fatherly Hitler who was listening to them. I found it disturbing how quickly I could win people over. I mean, they were talking to Hitler," he said.

The film seems to capture an undercurrent of right-wing extremism that exists just beneath the surface of modern day Germany.

The timing is also pertinent; the film comes at a time when the country is experiencing a record influx of immigrants, something it seems - at least on the surface - to be handling with more grace than most of its European neighbours.

Yet, the interactions in He's Back fly in the face of the image Germany is trying to project.

hitler

In the movie, Hitler even meets leaders of far-right groups and the movie has scenes of anti-Islam rallies. At one point in the movie, the Hitler character disconcertingly observes that "There is a smouldering anger among the people, like in the 1930s."

It isn't just about racism either. Some critics of the film worry about the fact that in the sanitised environs of the film, outside the context of the horrors of the Holocaust, Hitler is painted as likeable. This has rankled many, who say the movie is misleading and obscures historical fact.

Both the book and the film have clearly shown one thing: however far the country may have come, and there's no question it has, the subject of Hitler is one that remains un-settled. And with it, so too do a people that have spent decades looking for distance from their difficult past.

First published: 11 October 2015, 11:55 IST
 
Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari

The Ranjan (Beardus Horribilis) is a largely land-dwelling herbivorous mammal. Originally from a far more tropical habitat, the Ranjan can now be found wandering the streets of Delhi complaining about the weather, looking for watering holes and foraging for affordable snacks. Mostly human, mostly happy and mostly harmless, the Ranjan is prone to mood swings when deprived of his morning coffee. Having recently migrated to the Catch offices, he now inhabits a shadowy corner and spends his time distracting people and producing video content to distract them further.

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