Ich klage an / I Accuse (1941)

Director: Wolfgang Liebeneiner
Writer: Eberhard Frowein, Harald Bratt, Hermann Schwenninger

Paul Hartmann: Professor Dr. Thomas Heyt
Heidemarie Hatheyer: Hanna Heyt
Mathias Wieman: Dr. Bernhard Lang
Margarete Haagen: Berta Link
Charlotte Thiele: Dr. Barbara Burckhardt
Christian Kayßler: Landgerichtsdirektor Kriebelmeyer
Harald Paulsen: Eduard Stretter
Albert Florath: Prof. Schlüter
Ilse Fürstenberg: Marie Günther
Karin Evans: Erna Balg
Hans Nielsen: Dr. Höfer
Franz Schafheitlin: Rechtsanwalt Straten
Erich Ponto: Prof. Werther
Otto Graf: Staatsanwalt Engel
Leopold von Ledebur: Landgerichtsrat Knevels
Hansi Arnstaedt: Frau Klapper
Just Scheu: Dr. Scheu
Paul Rehkopf: Gerichtsbeamter

Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s Ich klage an (I Accuse) is a lyrical treatment of a controversial topic-mercy killing-featuring sensitive performances by Paul Hartmann as the physician who administers a fatal overdose to his incurably ill wife; Heidemarie Hatheyer as the wife who begs him to release her from her suffering; and Mathias Wieman as the doctor who refuses her request. Gentle, loving, moving, the picture promotes assisted suicide, a quagmire as conflicted in the twenty-first century as it was in 1941. The genesis of the film came from a recommendation by Professor Karl Brandt, a member of the Führer’s entourage, that a picture be produced to persuade the public to accept the policy of euthanasia. The film’s virtually subliminal message is that the state must assume responsibility for the involuntary liquidation of the mentally handicapped. For decades thereafter, German physicians remembered its impact and the debates it stimulated about the morality of medical killing. Reports made by the Sicherheitsdienst (the SS Security Service or SD) following the picture’s release on 29 August 1941 indicate that the film was favorably received, the majority of Germans, as well as most physicians, accepting its argument. Starting in 1939, patients were registered at Hereditary Health Courts, examined, and then transported to specially selected clinics where their lives were terminated. Does Ich klage an possess demonic qualities? It does not. It is a respectable, artistic triumph that was used to promote a program that went far beyond anything proposed in the picture. Its director later called it “a document of humanity in an inhuman time.”


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