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Friday, February 3, 2023

Review of the ZDF film “Honecker and the Pastor” by Jan Josef Liefers


Air dates are set well in advance, so it’s no coincidence that Jan Josef Liefers’ successful directorial effort Honecker and the shepherd comes to television at a time when the paradox of loving the enemy is more offensive and challenging than it has been in a long time. A moment when two sister or sister nations are forced to go to war, and one watches a ruler bomb himself out of the Kremlin sooner or later, anyway from the global political stage.

At this point, go back 32 years to January 1990. The citizens of the GDR have just brought down the wall. The Stasi people become opponents of the regime, and the Honecker couple in power stand in front of the door of a Protestant vicarage. They are hunted, homeless. A vicarage of all things.

With this film, which is largely a camera drama, Jan Josef Liefers dares to approach a part of German history that seemed unbelievable then as it does now. Erich Honecker is ill, the deposed ruler has just had an operation. The couple can no longer return to the forest settlement of Wandlitz, where the GDR leaders lived isolated behind fences. Thus, according to the core of the gospel, the church takes pity on both, in the face of resistance, even from within. The greed for revenge is great, but the former head of the Council of State must be tried, not for a short time, like the Ceauşescu couple in Romania, who had been put against the wall a few weeks earlier.

Margot Honecker had so many soul-broken young men on her conscience

With this perspective and facing the fragments of their dictatorship of the proletariat, Margot and Erich Honecker ended up with the Holmer family in Lobetal, north of Berlin. Holmers is ready to spell the words charity, forgiveness, mercy and love to enemies in their own homes. Confessing Christians had a hard time in the godless state, as did ministers’ children, and Margot Honecker, Minister of Public Education, was almost more hated than her husband. She has in her consciousness countless young people with broken educational paths and damaged souls, traumatized people from the “Jugendwerkhöfe”, re-education centers for the so-called difficult to train. Even Holmer’s eldest children, who are ten, were not allowed to take their A-level exams and were harassed. Now Cornelius, the youngest, has to go shopping for the Honeckers, and Traugott, who is also home, cleans his room for the couple. “You have to be the Traugott,” Margot Honecker asks him demandingly and bitingly. “So I don’t have to do anything anymore,” Traugott replies, as if she has filtered all the confused relief of the months after November 9, 1989 into this one sentence.

ZDF TV movie: Barbara Schnitzler, daughter of GDR actor Inge Keller and TV presenter Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, plays Margot Honecker (on the right, Edgar Selge).

Barbara Schnitzler, daughter of GDR actor Inge Keller and TV presenter Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, plays Margot Honecker (Edgar Selge on the right).

(Photo: Conny Klein/ZDF)

Barbara Schnitzler plays Margot Honecker in such a way that at first you scream: Help! Still alive? Schnitzler’s Margot enters the strange world of believers with an iron self-confidence, but she becomes softer, more inquisitive, more palpable.

And Eric? Edgar Selge does not try to imitate the historical Honecker, the shrill tones of his voice, the stiffness, the stampede. He gives this man, who believes he has always been “well-informed”, a character of his own, quite calm, especially in conversations with the pastor (Hans-Uwe Bauer), who does not stop proselytizing with his guest to ask him remorse or confront him with the truth about this newly vanished state. Where Uwe Holmer speaks of mercy, Honecker means solidarity. Where the pastor speaks of the Stasi victims, Honecker says: “Anyone who had nothing to hide had nothing to fear.”

They talk to each other and yet they get closer. And outside, at the vicarage fence, there are angry people, shouting with torches and wanting to see Honecker hanging or standing against the wall. Inside, in the darkness of the attic room, he says to his wife, “You should shoot me like Ceauşescu. I don’t care. It won’t do you any good.”

When the time comes, people like the Holmers are wished upon those in power in Moscow out of love for their enemies and mercy. There are also them in North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea.

Honecker and the pastor, ZDF, 8:15 p.m. and in the ZDF media library.


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