An interview with Iva Švarcová

In “Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern” (The inability to mourn), Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich write: “Of course the attempt to distance oneself from painful memories of guilt and shame is a general human need.”

This is one of their fundamental premises on whose basis they examine the function and effects of these defense mechanisms. And that was also our intention in this film. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Him is a purely emotional film, a family drama. It is not a historical film—it is about what happens emotionally in the small world of a family when it attempts to opt out of history. How do the members of the family deal with it—or fail to deal with it—when their own history and the actions of their father, a condemned and executed war criminal, is glossed over or reinterpreted.


Iva Švarcová

To break out of this reflex, to confront himself and his family with these emotional facts, has put a strain on Malte Ludin which is impossible to imagine, because noone has tried to do it on film before.

You are mentioning confrontation. Was that the motivation for this project?


On the contrary. We were not aiming for a break or a tug, a sudden shift. It was important that the whole family agreed to join in the making of the film. Obviously it wasn’t a walk in the park, because it can’t be anything but painful for someone to be forced to confess: I had a father, I loved him, maybe he was good to me; on the other hand, he was a murderer. This film shows us the effort and the courage behind such an admission. I feel that anyone who has a drop of feeling will have at least some respect for the ruthlessness and consistency with which the director also puts himself in the firing line, where there is no longer any safe ground of opinions and statements to walk upon, where one can only reveal one’s own ambivalence.


In his meeting with Tuvia Rübner, a holocaust survivor, Malte Ludin introduces himself and says: I am the son of Hanns Ludin, who was there and there in 1941 and had such and such a function. And then Tuvia Rübner replies: so he was the one who killed my entire family. Obviously it is very hard to deal with a situation like that. But it is important and right that this scene can be observed in the film, uncut, just as it actually happened. I have never seen anything like this in a film: The child of a perpetrator voluntarily and on his own initiative facing up to the child of a victim, and these two men talking. It is a huge emotional achievement for both of them. They could have shot one another.


How did you find the three survivors?

I found Professor Stern and Mrs. Alexandrova in Bratislava. It is not easy to find a victim who is prepared to enter into a discussion with a perpetrator. Malte Ludin found Tuvia Rübner himself. The main task we set ourselves in the choice of protagonists was finding people who are still able to report authentically, instead of those who—because they have told the story so often — have created their own reality, which they put up between their feelings and the things they experienced. A few days ago I was asked why we have Tuvia Rübner read the poem he wrote about his little sister.


A question I simply can’t understand, because — even at age of 75 - he constantly has the image of his little sister in mind. She was too small to go to Palestine with him because it was considered too dangerous, but not too small to be murdered in a gas chamber in Auschwitz. That has followed him all his life.

What considerations went into the setup of pictures for the interviews?

We spent a long time discussing it with the cameraman, Franz Lustig, and then decided to do it the difficult way of filming it all by hand. I find every twitch and every jolt of the camera very important. We couldn’t imagine the sisters wrestling and battling with themselves while we watch in beautifully set up pictures.


The only exception is the interview with Barbel. That was shot completely from the tripod for one simple, pragmatic reason — she didn’t want anyone else in the room but Malte, because she was afraid of losing control of her emotions. So we set up the shot, switched on the camera. Only later did we realize that this static situation matched her very well. She really is very immobile, inside as well as outwardly.

Have you or Malte Ludin had to face the accusation of being unpatriotic, of fouling your own nest?


Such an accusation doesn’t really bear any weight, because it is very obvious that Malte’s efforts are more about trying to create understanding than spreading poison or accusing anyone of anything. His sisters may have been annoyed by his insistence, but Malte is not an enemy to them. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Him is about how his sisters suffer just the same as he does because of what their father did. But they try to find various forms of negation, reinterpretation, concealment so they can live with it. With this film, we decided to observe these processes, withstand them, and reflect upon them. This film has taught me that there is a huge difference between cognitive and emotional knowledge.


You may know something and yet not know it. The film demonstrates that. All the members of the family know everything. They have seen the files, and we ourselves know everything, too; but still, we react in a quite different way. Observing psychological processes or even setting them in motion appears to be a major concern in this project.

The fact is, that in the Ludin family - and it is just an example of many other families - no-one has been honest enough to face the facts of what grandpa or daddy did during the Nazi regime. Which effect does this omission - which did not happen by chance, but was systematic - do to those who live with it? And because our intention turned the spotlight directly on the emotions of the protagonists, we had a psychological counselor with us.


What was his task?

Support and counseling. For instance, during shooting it sometimes all became emotionally too much — because we weren’t just outwardly dealing with a subject; literally everyone — including us, the people working with us, and the protagonists - had to battle with what the film was about. Instinctively, we developed defenses, backed away, or felt fear and aggression. When Barbel said in the film, I’m not the child of a perpetrator, the sound engineer simply wasn’t there, that is, we only had the sound the camera picked up. The most insane things happened. Sometimes, the cameraman Franz Lustig simply couldn’t stand the way Malte kept insisting because he felt himself under interrogation.


It was intensely interesting. And later, in the cutting room, deciding what to leave in and what to take out, we needed supervision as well. Psychological counseling was simply essential for navigation in this crucial test between loyalty to the family and loyalty to the truth.

Why do the sisters fight so hard against calling themselves the children of a perpetrator?

I think the film shows that it is not that simple! Or do you know anyone who would just take that step without thinking? 2 or 3 Things I Know About Him very clearly reveals the central, key role of mothers. What options did Malte’s mother have after 1945 or 1947, after the father had been executed by strangulation? She had two options: to be the widow of either a war criminal or of a hero. And of course, she chose to be the widow of a hero.


And she impressed that belief — that he was a hero — deeply on her children, her daughters especially. In the television interview she gave Christian Geisler in 1978 it becomes clear that she had retained her view up until then. She is not really remembering during that interview, instead she wraps the interviewer up in her upper-class charm. For me personally, that was the shocking and at the same time enlightening thing about the material — that even thirty years later, she cannot show a spark of sympathy or even suggest that perhaps there were things that were not right. No, she remembers that she once thought: “We should have locked up all the Jews because they do us so much damage from abroad,” and that attitude always remained current in her.


Would it have been possible for the sisters to go to Bratislava with you?

Of course we tried to convince them to come with us to Bratislava. We wanted to take a little walk through the district where they grew up, and we wanted to go to the cemetery where the father is buried. But that proved to be absolutely impossible.

At the end of the film, Malte stands alone by the grave. That is sad, but nevertheless, he has been able to take this step, and he has asked his nieces and nephews, and they all had the chance to have their say. There is an amazing dynamic in the family.


Something has been opened up, and the following generations will be able to choose between Barbel’s interpretation and Malte’s interpretation, and that alone makes it all worthwhile. As Astrid, the daughter of Malte’s dead brother says, “I am doing this for my son. I don’t want him to spend his whole life trying to find something out and not know where he’s at, like I did.”

Did you have the feeling that the Ludins are hoping that if this history which happened sixty years ago, a long time ago, should still sound a bit too bad today, we can simply wait another ten years and then the problem hopefully will have solved itself?


It is, of course, a common thing - not just for the Ludin family - to say: Enough already, I don’t want anything more to do with it. That sounds as if one had spent years debating it intensely. But the fact is, those who talk like that are usually the ones who have never faced up to the debate at all. I think the extent of the Hitler disaster is also documented in the fact that sixty years after the end of the war, an exemplary fate like that of Hanns Ludin still plays such an acute and extremely controversial role among his children and their children. In Malte’s family, nothing has been finished with and no-one has forgotten.

Interview by Ralph Eue