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  • Germany in Autumn:The Return of the Human
  • Martin Blumenthal-Barby (bio)

Murder, it is true, is a banal fact: one can kill the Other; the ethical exigency is not an ontological necessity. . . . It also appears in the Scriptures, to which the humanity of man is exposed inasmuch as it is engaged in the world. But to speak, truly, the appearance in being of these "ethical peculiarities"—the humanity of man—is a rupture of being. It is significant, even if being resumes and recovers itself.

—Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity 87

Terrorism in post-war Western Germany culminated in a series of traumatic events during seven weeks in the autumn of 1977. On September 5, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, chairman of the Daimler Benz Company and president of the German Federation of Industry, was kidnapped by members of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in a gun battle on the streets of Cologne.1 His four companions were shot to death. In a videotaped statement, Schleyer was forced by his kidnappers to appeal to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt for his release in exchange for that of eleven imprisoned terrorists. In contrast to a preceding prisoner exchange, the government this time refused to negotiate. On October 13, a Lufthansa plane carrying eighty-six passengers was hijacked in an attempt to force the release of the captured RAF members. After a long ordeal including several stops [End Page 140] around the Mediterranean, the aircraft eventually landed in Mogadishu, Somalia. On October 18, an antiterrorist elite unit was able to liberate all hostages from this hijacking. On the same day, in the maximum-security prison of Stammheim, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe, three members of the RAF, were found dead. The circumstances of these suspected suicides, two of them committed with handguns, were so mysterious that an international commission had to investigate the matter. On October 19, Schleyer's corpse was found in the trunk of an abandoned car on the road to Mulhouse across the French border.

Two Funerals

Germany in Autumn (1977/1978), perhaps the most famous omnibus project of the luminaries of the New German Cinema, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Werner Herzog, Volker Schlöndorff, and Edgar Reitz, among others, was shot in immediate response to the events of what was later called the "German Autumn." It is a film about two funerals: the state funeral of Hanns-Martin Schleyer, murdered by members from the RAF; and the joint funeral of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan Carl Raspe. We will have to explore the film's various membranous spaces by fathoming the recurring movement of crossing over politico-discursive as well as stylistic boundaries. The film commences as a documentary of the funeral of Schleyer, notable for the number of well-known visitors among the congregation. Appearing first is ex-Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger, who had joined the Nazi Party in 1933 and worked in the German foreign ministry's radio propaganda department. Other political and industrial elites of West Germany follow, figures such as Flick, Quandt, Filbinger, and von Brauchitsch who are known to the German audience for having paved or accompanied the Nazis' route to power, and who also gained, rather preposterously, prominence after the war in the context of Western Germany's foundation and economic rise. These very visible continuities in the history of the German elite are figuratively engraved into the face of a particular older gentleman marked by scars ensuing from Mensur fencing, the traditional form of fraternity dueling in which the wounds resulting from a hit were seen a badge of honor. This man tries to avert his gaze from the camera yet remains as much a focal point of the lens as the entire assembly of the former elite gathering in the name of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the background [End Page 141] flags of the oil company "ESSO" flutter—"ESSO"—four letters amid which the "SS" can hardly hide, that "SS" in which Hanns Martin Schleyer held the rank of an officer, an Untersturmführer.

Notable are the many journalists with cameras and microphones. What is documented here for media distribution are condolences as part of...


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