In the final days of World War II, Brunhilde Pomsel was among the party faithful holed up in the Führerbunker. Even at 103, her age when she was interviewed for the potent documentary “A German Life,” her memories of that subterranean shelter are vivid — the flow of alcohol, the news of Adolf Hitler’s suicide, the flour sacks stitched into a white flag of surrender.
But it’s her recollections of how she came to work for the leaders of the Nazi regime, motivated by career self-interest rather than political convictions, that give the film its chilling resonance.
In what might be considered a companion piece to the 2002 documentary “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary,” Pomsel speaks at length about her prewar experiences and her years as a well-paid, and willfully ignorant, stenographer in Joseph Goebbels’ ministry of propaganda. Her gaze is clear, and the deep creases in her face, captured in striking black-and-white close-ups, are a century-old topography.
The film’s four directors — Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller, Roland Schrotthofer and Florian Weigensamer — are interested not in condemning her, but in illuminating the ways that complacency leads to complicity and the extreme becomes normal. They punctuate the interview with powerful archival footage — newsreels, private recordings, propaganda films — some of it previously unreleased and some of it, from the camps, unbearable.
We all like to imagine ourselves as brave resisters. Pomsel’s unapologetic account of being “one of the cowards” is a haunting, ever-timely reminder of how easy it can be to cash the paycheck and look the other way.
‘A German Life’
In German with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino