AWhen Siegfried Lenz submitted his second novel to the publisher at the beginning of the 1950s, his editor Otto Görner decided that the story of the flag refugee Walter Proska would be nothing under this title in the young Federal Republic.
In 1946, Lenz heard that “The Defector” could have appeared. But not in 1952. “Today,” said Görner, who had had a rather dubious career after 1933, including in the SS, “nobody wants it anymore.”
“The defector” disappeared in the drawer. For sixty years. Then Lenz died, and “The Defector” was first believed from the estate, then became a bestseller in 2016.
Which may not be that surprising, because time, this old curve runner, took another turn. The number of those who did not want to be increased rapidly.
Those who refused to take responsibility for everything that was outrageous to Germans immediately before and during the Second World War. Who spoke of “guilt complex”. And from the “fly shit”. And of finally issuing yourself a Persilschein.
The defector Siegfried Lenz’s German lessons (he had fled to Denmark), which were always moral but did not get moral, are strangely topical. And much more people than in the 1950s do not want to put up with this major historical cleanup today.
This time-encapsulated nature of the stories and their unbreakable humanity, which simply cannot be staged away, have done a lot to make Siegfried Lenz the most filmed writer of the immediate post-war period, especially in the past decade.
Florian Gallenberger, together with the screenwriter Bernd Lange, has now turned the “defector” into a two-part for ARD. Any theme evening, any hint of event-TV-like is missing him.
The development novel by Walter Proska, a man in his mid-twenties, a soldier, on leave from home with his sister and brother-in-law on the farm in Pomerania, began in March 1944. The war is lost. Everyone knows that. However, too many continue to participate.
The hiding place for Walter is ready. Nobody would find him. But Walter refuses. He is a soldier. He has a duty. He puts on his boots.
That is the first thing you see. They give hold. He needs it. But he would never admit that. It will take almost three (broadcast) hours until he finds it in himself, the hold. And Walter Proska will be sent through hell and limbo by three German systems.
Walter is a Parsifal in Wehrmacht uniform. A pure goal, simpleton an old Kempe calls him on the way to the front where Walter never arrives. Because partisans derail his train.
He met a Polish woman. Brought into his wagon. Her name is Wanda. She has her brother’s ashes with her. She says. They love each other right away.
Love will remain the utopia in this film. Love plays a completely different role than with Siegfried Lenz, who at some point forgets Wanda on Walter’s trip to the new Germany.
The lie will also remain. And the external determination, the use will remain. Walter is looking for a real life in the wrong of war. Doing things he never wanted to do because he believes he can’t do anything else.
Kill without wanting to kill. Becomes guilty because you have to be guilty in war. Always wants to be on the right side.
But there is no right side in war. There is only survival or non-survival. Wanda tells him that. Women are the wiser creatures.
Even in the war, which, as the opening credits quote Siegfried Lenz, is nothing more than “the cruel and ridiculous adventure that men get involved in when the oat of madness stings them”.
Gallenberger’s film takes you knee deep in this madness. In Polish marshland, in which a band of stray Germans has barricaded themselves around a non-commissioned officer of the mad form of the Conrad colonial agent Kurtz in a bunker called Waldesruh.
A heart of darkness. The landscape, the dead trees, the deceptive morass become a mirror of souls. Walter, the survivor, gets through as he gets through everywhere.
Jannis Niewöhner makes all of this visible on Walter Proska’s face with very few means: being shaken, wanting to be happy, exploding despair.
Walter is one who is driven by fate to learn something. Which he does. In the Red Army, in the early GDR, in the Federal Republic. Everyone everywhere wants to do it better and better. Nowhere does it succeed. Everyone is guilty, so nobody is guilty.
A German lesson. A necessary one. One that follows you for a long time.