section Break or continuity? "Anti-Zionism" and anti-Semitism under socialism and afterwards


  • Wolfgang Luderer
  • DDR
  • 1966
  • 1997

Hungary 1944, a monstrous trade during the final phase of the Shoah: Can the Hungarian Jews be ransomed? SS-Obersturmbannführer Kurt A. Becher and Jewish chief negotiator Rudolf Kastzner negotiate. Kastzner becomes a projection figure for the polemical confrontation of the GDR with "Zionism".

In the wake of his trips to Israel and his failed efforts to obtain co-plaintiff representation in the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, industrious lawyer and publicist Friedrich Karl Kaul offered DEFA a film exposé directly linked to the trial. In Jerusalem, one of many topics discussed was the deportations of Hungarian Jews and the question of whether they could have been saved. In a juxtaposition of meticulousness and manipulative falsification, LEBENDE WARE (Goods, that are alive) details how Eichmann prepares the deportations while Himmler's special representative, SS-Obersturmbannführer Becher, confiscates Hungarian-Jewish property. Among the most sought-after objects is Hungary's largest arms manufacturer, the Manfréd Weiss Steel and Metal Works. The Jewish families in question give Becher 'trusteeship', in return for which they are allowed to leave the country. The Judenrat (council of jews) installed by Eichmann recognises an opportunity in this “purchase of freedom”: Kasztner energetically advocates for such “deals” and takes over the negotiations with the Germans. Becher immediately seizes the opportunity to enrich himself; and yet Kasztner doesn't act selflessly either. The real Becher, who later went on to pursue an unhindered career in business in West Germany, was the perfect villain for an East German feature film. What, however, was the idea behind a production that portrayed Kasztner as a shady collaborator who acted at the expense of the Jewish population? From the perspective of the filmmakers the Zionist Kasztner and his “dealings” with the Nazi Becher anticipated the “Bonn-Tel Aviv axis.” Kasztner, accused in 1955 by an Israeli court of having “sold his soul to Satan,” serves for Kaul as a figure on whom to project a debate about Zionism and Israel.

Text: Lisa Schoß
English: Peter Rickerby

Both screenings will be followed by a talk with Dr. Lisa Schoß, cultural scientist and consultant for the series “ Break or Continuity?”


original title LEBENDE WARE

international title LEBENDE WARE

german title LEBENDE WARE

JFBB section Break or continuity? "Anti-Zionism" and anti-Semitism under socialism and afterwards

  • director Wolfgang Luderer

country/countries DDR

year 1966

duration 1997