NAKED AMONG WOLVES
Nackt Unter Wölfen
Director: Frank Beyer
Production Co.: DEFA
Screenplay: Bruno Apitz & Frank Beyer, based on Apitz's novel
Cinematography: Günter Marczinowsky
Editor: Hans Conrad
Sound: Bernd Gerwien
Kramer: Erwin Geschonneck
Bockow: Gerry Wolff
Pippig: Fred Delmare
Hofel: Armin Mueller-Stahl
Janowski: Boleslaw Plotnicki
Kropinski: Krystyn Wojcik
Rose: Peter Sturm
Black & White
German, with English subtitles
As the Americans draw near to the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, the prison resistance group decides to revolt rather than face elimination by the Nazi guards. An unexpected and dangerous problem confronts them when a new prisoner arrives, bringing a small boy hidden in a suitcase... The subject is compelling... The direction is dignified and there is much authentic detail - partly, no doubt, because writer Apitz was himself an inmate.
- Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide
Although there has been an abundance of films from the Eastern European bloc on the subject of concentration camps, there are few to match this East German production for sincerity and production quality. It is a powerful narrative of the last weeks at Buchenwald, before its liberation by the Yanks, and it is a moving experience...
The screenwriter, Bruno Apitz, had the misfortune to have had first-hand experience of Buchenwald, so presumably there is an authentic background. And apart from the fact that the camp guards and the Gestapo are shown as bullies and thugs, there is little of the conventional propaganda tract in the story.
As a novel approach to the plot, the main incident revolves around a young Jewish boy, rescued from the Polish ghetto, who is secreted into the camp by a countryman. The Commandant gets word that the boy is there, and starts a reign of terror, but the camp underground gets to work, moving the child from one hiding place to another, outwitting the guards until the end. By the time the boy is found, it is too late as the noise of American artillery penetrates the camp, and the guards prefer to run for it.
The climactic scenes in which the thousands of inmates realize that they are free at last is magnificently photographed. They are caught running towards the camera lens, gradually filling the screen and showing natural signs of joy and hysteria... As it is always easier to portray heavies on the screen, it is the camp guards and the Gestapo bullies who emerge as clearcut characters, but there is a high all-round standard of acting by a cast unknown in the West.
- Variety, 24/7/64
It has become fairly plain by now that the most keenly felt and naturalistic films about the last war - and about the concentration camps in particular - have emerged from Communist countries, from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, and now East Germany. Whereas British and American film-makers seem to regard the war as something almost in the nature of a sporting challenge, the Iron Curtain countries view it through grey, disillusioned eyes.
Naked Among Wolves is typically bitter in outlook, and the rush to freedom at the end of the day cannot erase the memory of Buchenwald concentration camp has been limned indelibly on the minds and features of its survivors. The film focuses on a curious display of communal bravery during the final days before the Liberation in the bleak spring of 1945. A Polish prisoner, arriving with a transport from Auschwitz, conceals in his suitcase a little child. The camp underground movement bicker among themselves but eventually agree to shield the boy from the S.S., even though it leads to torture and death. Finally, with the Americans only a few miles away, the prisoners rise against their captors and the S.S. flee in confusion...
The script is excellent, rich in visual comments and lines of dialogue that etch in a gallery of character: Kramer, the dour, rock-like leader of the underground movement, reluctant at first to protect the child and then the most faithful in the end; Hofel, reminded of his own young son and so human in his hours of torture; the little Pippig, forever bustling around and silent to the last; and the S.S. men themselves, one seeking to ingratiate himself with the prisoners so as to save his neck at the Liberation, another sly and firm, meeting the underground communist movement on its own terms.
The central thesis of the film is of course made perfectly clear: without the spirit of communism all would be lost in the unceasing war against Fascism. But one accepts the propaganda, just as one accepts the propaganda of Eisentein or Pudovkin, because the material and the director's treatment of it have a weight and significance of their own. And, paradoxically enough, it is the individual contributions of the prisoners rather than their communal effort that remain uppermost in one's memory of this intelligent, bitter film.
- Peter Cowie, Films & Filming, 10/64