And Along Come Tourists
English Title: And Along Come Tourists
Original Title: Am Ende kommen Touristen
Country of Origin: Germany
Studio: 23/5 Filmproduktion GmbH, Das Kleinfernsehspiel
Director: Robert Thalheim
Cinematographer: Yoliswa Gärtig
Art Director: Christisan Cloos
Editor: Stefan Kobe
Runtime: 85 minutes
Genre: Melodrama, memory, post-war, Holocaust
Language: German, Polish, English
Sven (Fehling), a young German, arrives in the Polish town of Oswiecim to begin civil service at the former concentration camp Auschwitz. As part of his duties he looks after a former inmate, Stanisław Krzemiński (Ronczewski), who is in his eighties and lives close to the camp grounds, repairing exhibition objects for the Auschwitz museum. In spending time with the initially brusque and taciturn Krzemiński, Sven begins to understand that the old man’s work has become his reason for living, and notices a lack of respect and interest for him and his suffering. Sven falls in love with Ania (Wysocka), a young Polish woman who works as a tour guide in Auschwitz. Exploring the countryside around Oswiecim with her, Sven learns how the Auschwitz legacy still affects the lives of the local Polish population. Ania announces that she is leaving for a job in Brussels and ends her relationship with Sven. Meanwhile, his efforts at keeping Krzemiński’s memories alive end in failure. Frustrated, Sven intends to leave but waiting for his train at the local station, he opts to return.
And Along Come Tourists examines the ongoing social and cultural conflicts between Poland and Germany on the grounds of their historical relationship as victim and perpetrator during World War II. The film depicts how the atrocities of the past loom over contemporary Polish-German relations. Thalheim’s first feature film, Netto (2005) focused on the German East-West divide and reunification, and indicated his interest in the ubiquitous presence and impact of history on the lives of ordinary people. Locating this film in Auschwitz, Thalheim approaches the most traumatic event in modern European history in its most symbolic location. Many issues the film addresses are anchored in the relationship between Sven and Stanisław. The young German is seen walking aimlessly around the concentration camp, unsure what to do with his life. Krzemiński, on the other hand, is determined to preserve and communicate history, speaking at commemorative events and mending victims’ suitcases with feverish zeal.
The film posits language as a key for cultural understanding and respect. Krzemiński, his sister Zofia (Kwiatkowska) and Sven’s friend Ania speak fluent German. In Krzemiński’s passion for Franz Schubert’s Liederzyklus (‘Ich hört ein Bächlein rauschen’) one can detect an appreciation of the ‘enemy’s’ language and culture. In contrast, Sven’s deficient command of Polish keeps the town and most of its inhabitants at a distance. But language, as the film suggests, can also be used to avoid actual engagement. The film ironically comments on official discourses of reconciliation and commemoration, which in their meaningless invocation cover up a refusal to face up to the past. A prime example for this strategy is the director of the German company that runs a chemical plant in town. Superficially subscribing to a politically correct discourse of guilt and atonement, during the inauguration of a memorial stone in the grounds of a former forced labour camp she sidelines Krzemiński as his presence shows up her rhetoric as insincere and empty. Thalheim’s film suggests that young Germans have difficulties in understanding history as lived experience. In seminars that accompany visits of youth groups to the concentration camp, students replicate the factory director’s empty phrases. Throughout the film, Krzemiński’s attempts to convey his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner fail to truly affect his listeners.
Exposing the inadequacies of language to articulate the Holocaust as human experience, And Along Come Tourists revisits a long-standing philosophical discourse. A quiet film that does not lecture its audience, its visual journey through idyllic summer landscapes takes on an unsettling note as these landscapes include the remnants of barbed wire and observation towers. Thalheim’s film can be contrasted with other recent film engagements with World War II as predominantly entertainment, both in German cinema and in Hollywood – Downfall (2004), Mein Führer (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Valkyrie (2008) – in that it approaches the presence of the past as a timely and urgent issue.
Author of this review: Claudia Sandberg