YIDFF 2007 Facing the Past—German Documentaries
Winter’s Children
An Interview with Jens Schanze (Director)

My Grandfather Too Was a Person

Q: What made you turn the camera toward your family?

JS: My friend from France asked me, “During those days, why did national socialism spread in Germany and infiltrate the whole country?” At that time I couldn’t answer why all of Germany had been brainwashed by this ideology and got caught in the machine. I wonder why. Those days were the era of my grandparents. When I was wondering about what they thought and what their opinions were I really had no idea. My grandparents passed away without telling us anything. My first motive in making this film was to find an answer to those questions. Furthermore, while looking for answers, I understood that many post-war Germans were traumatized by the past and kept silent. In many German houses knowledge wasn’t properly transmitted from the older generations to the younger ones, or only the distorted versions were transmitted. My mother had turned 70 when she decided to look inside, to look back at the past.

Q: How did your family react? Also, were you afraid to confront your grandfather’s past?

JS: I was expecting my parents and my four sisters to help me with this film but all my sisters were skeptical. They were afraid that my mother wouldn’t be able to stand facing the past and that she would walk out midway through the project. And so was I. However, through the production, I gained the conviction that if I had “proper dialogue” with my family there was nothing to be afraid of. In other words, I was not to blame my mother for her silence until now and not to blame my grandfather. Maybe my grandfather had committed terrible acts. However, I swore not to blame him for his actions.

Q: Did your state of mind change after the filming?

JS: Just like it is shown in the film, the conclusion I came to was that my grandfather was an ordinary person. He too was a person like me. Because of this, if we can love, we can also despise, ridicule, and want to destroy things. And during those days my grandfather unfortunately supported national socialism. I, too, have this dual nature within myself.

(Compiled by Okuyama Kanako)

Interviewers: Okuyama Kanako, Shimizu Kai / Interpreter: Imai Isao / Translator: Maxime Berson
Photography: Suzuki Takashi / Video: Takahashi Manami / 2007-10-05