Written by Jack Youngelson
Directed by Liz Garbus
Featuring Julia Ormond as Edith Hahn
Narrated by Susan Sarandon
Released by: A&E Home Video.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: WWII enthusiasts should consider it.
Edith Hahn was a law student in Vienna, active in local politics, and having a passionate love affair. But this life ended when Hitler came to power and he annexed Austria. She was kicked out of school, she and her mother were kicked out of their apartment, and Edith found herself sent to a forced labor farm for over a year. When she returned, her mother was sent to a concentration camp, her boyfriend had abandoned her, and Edith had gotten an order to report to the station herself. Her story could have been one of the millions that were tragically ended in the night and fog of the Holocaust. But it didn’t.
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You learn about World War II in school. You hear about the dates, places, and important people. But you can’t get the true understanding of what this period was like without hearing the stories of the ordinary people. And Edith Hahn is unique since she experienced both sides of Nazi Europe. From seeing the Austrian people suddenly turning on the Jews when the Nuremberg Laws were enacted to having wounded Nazi soldiers asking her out when they thought she was an Aryan in Munich, she is a perfect example of how ridiculous race labeling can be. You also learn how ambiguous your life can be when you need to survive. Edith worked for the Red Cross because they didn’t ask too many questions. But that meant she helped treat Nazi soldiers. Her relationship and eventual marriage to Werner Vetter, the Nazi party member, was both another attempt at safety and a need to relieve her own loneliness. She even had a child with him even though her feelings towards this man were not quite love.
While the documentary itself is filled with the usual archival footage and talking heads, I noticed that there were no “experts”. The people featured were friends and survivors of that time. They speak authentically of their friend Edith and the terrors they experienced. Edith herself, in trying to keep some portion of her own personality, took the risk of writing down her story. These reminiscences are read with quiet dignity by Julia Ormond. This, along with the subdued narration of Susan Sarandon, gives the people who survived the primary voice in this documentary.
Edith shows a great deal of insight of herself and her situation in her writings and now looking back at her absurd but dangerous situation. Edith’s daughter, who is the only Jewish child born by Nazi doctors who celebrated another “child for Hitler”, gives some more insight that Edith, because of her obvious closeness, can’t or won’t. Still, there are several observations she didn’t realize that an outsider could have dealt with. Maria clearly says that her father was anti-Semitic, but Edith is less definite. Neither see how Werner knowing Edith’s secret gave him powerful leverage to keep her as the good little housewife, nor do they see how the loss of that leverage after the war soured their relationship. But these are minor quibbles.
Even without special features on the disc, The Nazi Officer’s Wife is still a fascinating story of survival.