Political Film Society - The Ninth Day


PFS Film Review
The Ninth Day (Der neunte tag)


 

Among the many horrific accounts of the Nazi era, Constantine Costa-Garvas's Amen (2003) raised serious questions about the silence of the Vatican. The Ninth Day (Der neunte tag), directed by Volker Schlöbdorff, provides a partial answer to that silence. When the film begins, Abbé Henri Kremer (played by Ulrich Matthes) is at Dachau in the "priest's block," forced to engage in calisthenics and hard labor without adequate food or water while enduring sadistic treatment for his crime of collaborating with the resistance. On January 15, 1942, Kremer is released and sent back to his hometown, Luxembourg, because the clever Nazi official in charge has a plan. A faithful Catholic, Untersturmführer Gebhardt (played by August Diehl) decided some years earlier that he could make a difference if he joined the Nazi Party rather than becoming a priest, but his continuing Catholicism now places him in danger, as he may be reassigned to be a commandant of a concentration camp if his plan founders. Thus, he tells Kremer that the "discharge" from Dachau is actually a nine-day leave of absence to consider making an important statement; if Kremer will affirm that one can both be a Catholic and a Nazi by agreeing to the Nazi occupation, then dialog will open between Berlin and the Vatican and priests at Dachau will be released. Kremer now has eight days to decide about the Faustian pact. The film then subtitles each day in a macabre countdown. Kremer's first instinct is to contact his superior, the Archbishop Philippe of Luxembourg (played by Hilmar Thate), but the latter feigns illness and will not see him. Kremer's brother Roger (played by Germain Wagner) and friends offer to take him to Switzerland, but he demurs, and his sister Marie (played by Bibiana Beglau) thereby avoids arrest. On the seventh day, the Archbishop finally agrees to see Kremer but offers no advice. Saying that he has not left the cathedral since the Nazis took over, he informs Kremer of the reason for the Vatican's silence: As is well known, many Jews converted to Christianity in Holland. Early in the Nazi occupation of Holland, the converts were ordered deported to concentration camps, whereupon the Bishop of Utrecht objected; in response, not only were Dutch priests deported but some 20,000 Gentile Catholics as well. Meanwhile, Kremer's deadline approaches. If he believes Gebhardt, many may be saved, but Catholicism will be discredited for sure. A lengthy subtitle at the end points out that the deathrate among the many who were in the "priest's block" at Dachau was fifty percent. Although Kremer is a fictional person, Jean Bernard, one of the surviving priests of Dachau, wrote an account of the story that is fictionalized in The Ninth Day. The Political Films Society has nominated The Ninth Day as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2005. MH

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