Falk Harnack

Falk Harnack (2 March 1913 – 3 September 1991) was a German director and screenwriter. During Germany's Nazi era, he was also active with the German Resistance and toward the end of World War II, the partisans in Greece. Harnack was from a family of scholars, artists and scientists, several of whom were active in the anti-Nazi Resistance and paid with their lives.

Falk Harnack
Falk Harnack low resolution
Born2 March 1913
Died3 September 1991 (aged 78)
OccupationFilm director
Years active1940–1976

Early years

Falk Erich Walter Harnack was the younger son of painter Clara Harnack, née Reichau, and literary historian Otto Harnack; a nephew of theologian Adolf von Harnack and Erich Harnack, professor of pharmacology and chemistry; the grandson of theologian Theodosius Harnack and the younger brother of jurist and German Resistance fighter Arvid Harnack. He was also a cousin of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Ernst von Harnack, who, like his brother and sister-in-law, Mildred Harnack, also became victims of the Third Reich.[1][note 1] He never got to know his father, who committed suicide in 1914.

Through his older brother, Harnack early learned about humanism, through which he came into contact with people who later became members of the Red Orchestra. These acquaintances made a big impression on him, so that he recoiled from Nazi propaganda. After going to school in Weimar, he continued his education near Jena, where he received his abitur in 1932. In 1933, he began attending university, first in Berlin and after 1934, in Munich,[2] where in May, he took part in disseminating fliers against the National Socialist German Students' League. He received his doctorate with a dissertation on Karl Bleibtreu[3] in 1936 and the following year, began working at the Nationaltheater Weimar and the state theater in Altenburg. He worked there as a director until 1940, when he was drafted into the Wehrmacht.

War years

In 1942, Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell and other members of the Munich Resistance group the White Rose got in touch with Harnack through Lilo Ramdohr, a mutual friend who had gone to school with Harnack. Through him, they hoped to build a relationship with the Berlin Resistance members involved with Harnack's brother, Arvid,[4] Harro Schulze-Boysen, Hans von Dohnanyi and others. Harnack put them in touch with his cousins, Klaus and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. That same year, the Gestapo intercepted communications revealing the existence of the Red Orchestra and leading to numerous arrests. Many of those arrested were later executed, including Harnack's brother on 22 December 1942, and on 16 February 1943 his sister-in-law, Mildred Harnack, an American citizen. During this period, Ramdohr was engaged to Falk Harnack, which Arvid mentioned in his farewell letter to his family, written hours before his execution.[5]

Though Harnack's brother had just been executed, he went to Munich to meet with Sophie and Hans Scholl on 3 February 1943.[4] He and Hans Scholl agreed to meet again on 25 February but Harnack waited in vain; Scholl had already been arrested and executed,[4] along with his sister. Thirteen other members of the White Rose were taken into custody,[4] including Kurt Huber, Willi Graf and Harnack. Of the lot, Harnack was the only one acquitted;[4] the others were found guilty and condemned to death, some executed the same day they were tried at the Volksgerichtshof, the civilian "People's Court". On 19 April 1943, Harnack was acquitted because of a lack of evidence and "unique special circumstances".[6]

In August 1943 he was removed from service to the Wehrmacht and transferred to a penal battalion, the 999th Light Afrika Division[2] and sent to Greece.[4] In December 1943, he was to be arrested and sent to a Nazi concentration camp,[7] but his superior, Lieutenant Gerhard Fauth, tipped him off and helped him escape.[8] He then joined the Greek partisans fighting the Nazis, working with the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) and co-founded the Anti-Fascist Committee for a Free Germany[9] with Gerhard Reinhardt, becoming leader of the organization.

Postwar years

After the war, Harnack returned to his career as a director and dramaturge, first working at the Bavarian state theater in Munich. In 1947, he began working at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. From 1949 to 1952, he was the artistic director at DEFA, where he made the film The Axe of Wandsbek, adapted from a book by Arnold Zweig. According to Zweig's son, the movie is based on a true story and may also relate to the events of Altona Bloody Sunday in Hamburg.[10] The main character carries out a Nazi execution, though he ruins his business, marriage and life over it. Opening to positive reactions from the public, the film met with disapproval from the Socialist Unity Party and its Soviet advisors, who felt the movie's political position was not clear enough. One such adviser said, "[the film had] an undesired and deleterious effect on people in the GDR, as it does not depict hatred of fascism, but rather pity for the murderers.”[10] The government banned the movie within weeks. Poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht remarked after the banning, “It is important to emphasize that there can be no sympathy for a Nazi executioner."[10] After all that Harnack had lost to the Nazis, this dispute hit him hard and in 1952, he left East Germany for West Berlin.[10]

For the first few years, Harnack worked for the film production company CCC Film and, along with Helmut Käutner and Wolfgang Staudte, was one of the most important directors of German postwar films.[11] From the end of the 1950s, however, he worked almost exclusively in television. He also wrote the screenplays for many of his films. From 1962 to 1965, he was the leading director of the newly founded German television station, ZDF. Subsequently, he worked primarily as a free lance. In addition to entertainment, he also made challenging films, which sometimes dealt with Germany's Nazi era and the Resistance, such as his 1955 release The Plot to Assassinate Hitler (Der 20. Juli) about the 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler,[12] which won the 1956 German Film Award in the category "Films Contributing to the Encouragement of Democratic Thought". In 1962, he directed for television, Jeder stirbt für sich allein, an adaptation of Hans Fallada's novel, Every Man Dies Alone,[13] based on the story of Otto and Elise Hampel, a working class couple who became involved in the anti-Nazi Resistance, failed in their efforts and were executed.

Recognition and personal

About Harnack's work, German author Gerhard Schoenberner remarked, “At a time when West German postwar film had sunk to its artistic and political low, his work set new standards for the dictates of commerce and the false glorification of the past that had become fashionable during the Adenauer period as a result of the Cold War.”[10]

Harnack was married to German actress Käthe Braun,[1] who was often in his films. He died on 3 September 1991 after a long illness.

Awards (selected)


Audio plays


  1. ^ Others close to Harnack who were executed by the SS were his cousin Klaus Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, who was Klaus' and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law.


  1. ^ a b Mildred Harnack: Cast of characters Traces.org. Retrieved February 19, 2012
  2. ^ a b Gottfried Hamacher, Andre Lohmar, Herbert Mayer and Günter Wehner, Gegen Hitler: Deutsche in der Resistance, in den Streitkräften der Antihitlerkoalition und der Bewegung "Freies Deutschland" Dietz, Berlin (March 2005), p. 76. ISBN 3-320-02941-X (in German)
  3. ^ Falk Harnack biography Filmreporter.de. Retrieved February 19, 2012 (in German)
  4. ^ a b c d e f »Keine Träne, aufrecht« Die Zeit (November 24, 2009). Retrieved March 2, 2012 (in German)
  5. ^ "Read Arvid Harnack's Farewell Letter To His Family" Channel 3000. Retrieved February 16, 2012
  6. ^ Brief biography of Falk Harnack (click to open) German Resistance Memorial Center. Retrieved February 16, 2012
  7. ^ Heap, Denise. "FALK HARNACK AND THE SS". wrh3. Center for White Rose Studies. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  8. ^ Michael Verhoeven, Mario Krebs, Die weiße Rose Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main (1982), p. 180. Retrieved February 19, 2012 (in German)
  9. ^ Johannes Tuchel (Ed.), Der vergessene Widerstand: Zu Realgeschichte und Wahrnehmung des Kampfes gegen die NS-Diktatur Wallstein Verlag (2005), p. 26. ISBN 3-89244-943-0. Retrieved March 2, 2012 (in German)
  10. ^ a b c d e Das Beil von Wandsbek (The Axe of Wandsbek) DEFA Film Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Retrieved February 19, 2012
  11. ^ Der 20. Juli (1955) Berliner Zeitung (July 16, 1996). Retrieved February 16, 2012
  12. ^ "20. Juli – Fakten statt Fiktion" Film Reporter. Retrieved February 19, 2012 (in German)
  13. ^ "Programm vom Donnerstag, dem 19. Juli 1962" TV Programme. Retrieved March 4, 2012 (in German)
  14. ^ List of German Film Award winners by name Deutsche Filmakademie. Retrieved February 19, 2012 (in German)
Other sources

External links

1991 in Germany

Events in the year 1991 in Germany.

999th Light Afrika Division (Wehrmacht)

The 999th Afrika Brigade was a German Army unit created in October 1942 as a penal military unit. It was later expanded into the 999th Light Afrika Division and began deploying to Tunisia in early 1943. However, this was interrupted by the surrender of Axis forces in that theater. Those elements that made it to Africa before the collapse fought as independent units rather than as a division, and were lost in the general collapse. The remainder were sent to Greece for garrison duties and to conduct security warfare, where a number of those forced into service because of their anti-Nazi activities continued them, such as Falk Harnack, who deserted and formed the Anti-Fascist Committee for a Free Germany with other soldiers. During the only fight many of the political prisoners in the division went over to the US troops or retreated, the US Army taking their positions without any heavy fighting.

Anti-Fascist Committee for a Free Germany

The Anti-Fascist Committee for a Free Germany (German: Antifaschistische Komitee Freies Deutschland, or AKFD) was an organization of former Wehrmacht soldiers modeled after the National Committee for a Free Germany. The Balkans-based organization existed from August to December 1944. Falk Harnack was one of its co-founders.

Axel von Harnack

Friedrich Hermann Julius Axel von Harnack (September 12, 1895 – June 17, 1974) was a German librarian, historian and philologist. He was the cousin of Arvid and Falk Harnack and worked to get Arvid and his wife, Mildred Harnack released from Nazi detention after they were arrested in connection with the Red Orchestra. He was the first in the family to be told of Arvid and Mildred's arrest, which had been kept secret by the Nazis. In 1947, he published a memoir of the trial that convicted Arvid and Mildred Harnack of high treason and sentenced them to death.

CCC Film

CCC Film (German: Central Cinema Compagnie-Film GmbH) is a German film production company founded in 1946 by Artur Brauner. A Polish Jew who survived the Nazi era by fleeing to the Soviet Union, he lost dozens of relatives to the Nazis. His primary interest was making films about the Nazi era, but after his first such film failed at the box office, throwing him into debt, he began producing entertainment films, the commercial success of which then financed his Holocaust-related films, some of which also became successful. In 2009, Brauner donated 21 Holocaust-related films to Yad Vashem.

Ernst Schröder (actor)

Ernst Schröder (27 January 1915 – 26 July 1994) was a popular German theatre, film and TV actor.

Heinz Pehlke

Heinz Pehlke (October 8, 1922 – March 12, 2002) was a freelance German cinematographer in film and television. In 1943, he worked as an assistant on the Nazi propaganda film, Kolberg directed by Veit Harlan and in 1962, on the anti-Nazi television film, Jeder stirbt für sich allein, directed by Falk Harnack.


Irretrievable (German: Unwiederbringlich, 1892, also known as Beyond Recall and No Way Back ) is one of realist Theodor Fontane's mature German novels. As with some other of Fontane's novels (including Effi Briest), its heroine is believed to be based roughly on a real person whose demise Fontane heard about, and it deals delicately with near taboo (at the time of writing) topics including adultery and suicide.

The novel has been translated twice into English. The first by Douglas Parmée in 1963 as Beyond Recall, it was re-published in 2011 by New York Review of Books as Irretrievable. In 2010 a new English translation, No Way Back, was published by Angel Classics (London). There also is a German made-for-TV movie (1968, director Falk Harnack).

As for translating this haunting novel into English, even deciding on a translation for the title presents many choices in English (irrecoverable, unrecoverable, irretrievable, unrepeatable, beyond recall, past retrieval, beyond retrieval and irreparable, just to name a few). The subtle word-plays and linguistic motifs which add to the power of its German text are challenging to render into English.

Jeder stirbt für sich allein (1962 film)

Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Everyone Dies Alone) is a 1962 West German made for television political drama film based on a best-selling novel by Hans Fallada, itself based on the true story of a working class couple, Otto and Elise Hampel, who committed acts of civil disobedience against the government of Nazi Germany and were executed. Directed by former German Resistance member Falk Harnack—whose brother, sister-in-law and cousins were executed during the Nazi regime—it was the first screen adaptation of Fallada's novel.

Käthe Braun

Käthe Braun (11 November 1913 – 9 September 1994) was a German stage and film actress. She was married to director Falk Harnack and acted in several of his films.

Lilo Ramdohr

Lieselotte ″Lilo″ Fürst-Ramdohr (11 October 1913 – 13 May 2013) was a member of the Munich branch of the student resistance group White Rose (Weiße Rose) in Nazi Germany. She was born in Aschersleben.

Night of Decision

Night of Decision (German: Nacht der Entscheidung) is a 1956 West German drama film directed by Falk Harnack and starring Carl Raddatz, Hilde Krahl and Albert Lieven.It was shot in studios in Göttingen and on location in Belgium. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Walter Haag.

Otto Harnack

Rudolf Gottfried Otto Harnack (23 November 1857, in Erlangen – 22 March 1914, near Besigheim) was a German literary historian, best known for his writings on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

He studied history and philology at the universities of Dorpat and Göttingen, receiving his doctorate at the latter institution in 1880. After graduation, he worked as a schoolteacher in Dorpat (from 1882), a school director in Wenden (from 1887), an employee of the Preussische Jahrbücher in Berlin (from 1889) and as a journalist in Rome (from 1891). In 1896 he was named a professor of history and literature at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt, then in 1905 relocated to the Technical College of Stuttgart as a professor of literature and aesthetics. On 22 March 1914 he committed suicide.He was the son of theologian Theodosius Harnack, the brother of theologian Adolf von Harnack, mathematician Carl Gustav Axel Harnack and pharmacologist Erich Harnack. He was the father of screenwriter Falk Harnack and jurist Arvid Harnack.

Restless Night (film)

Restless Night (German: Unruhige Nacht) is a 1958 West German war drama film directed by Falk Harnack and starring Bernhard Wicki, Ulla Jacobsson and Hansjörg Felmy. It is set on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.

The film's sets were designed by the art directors Franz Bi and Bruno Monden. It was partly shot at the Wandsbek Studios in Hamburg.

The Axe of Wandsbek (1951 film)

The Axe of Wandsbek (German: Das Beil von Wandsbek) is a 1951 East German film, directed by Falk Harnack.

The Night of the Storm

The Night of the Storm or Tempestuous Love (German: Wie ein Sturmwind) is a 1957 West German drama film directed by Falk Harnack and starring Lilli Palmer, Ivan Desny and Willy A. Kleinau.It was made at the CCC Studios in Berlin with sets designed by Ernst Schomer and Hans Jürgen Kiebach. Location shooting took place in Munich and Messina in Italy.

The Plot to Assassinate Hitler

The Plot to Assassinate Hitler (German: Der 20. Juli) is a German feature film produced by CCC Film on the failed 20 July 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Falk Harnack directed and co-wrote the 1955 film's script with Günther Weisenborn. Wolfgang Preiss won the German Federal Film Award for his role as the rebel army officer, Claus von Stauffenberg.

The film has a realism that comes close to the style of a documentary. Release of the film amounted to a race competition against G. W. Pabst's film, Es geschah am 20. Juli, (English title, Jackboot Mutiny), released in the same year, dealing with the same subject.

The Story of Anastasia

The Story of Anastasia and in the UK, Is Anna Anderson Anastasia? (German: Anastasia, die letzte Zarentochter), is a German film directed by Falk Harnack. The 1956 film is based on the true story of a woman in Berlin who was pulled from the Landwehr Canal in 1920 and who later claimed to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia. The entire family was executed in the Russian Revolution, but this was not confirmed until their graves were discovered in 1991 and 2007.

The American film Anastasia, directed by Anatole Litvak and featuring Ingrid Bergman appeared the same year.

Theodosius Harnack

Theodosius Andreas Harnack (3 January 1817, Saint Petersburg – 23 September 1889, Tartu) was a Baltic German theologian.

A professor of Divinity, he started his career as a Privatdozent for church history and homiletics at the University of Tartu (Dorpat) (in what is today Estonia) in 1843, he was further appointed university preacher in 1847. Since 1848 he held an ordinary chair (tenure) as professor for practical and systematic theology. Between 1853 and 1866 Harnack was professor at Frederick Alexander University (merged in the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg since 1961) in Erlangen, Bavaria, German Confederation (now Germany).

Harnack was a staunch Lutheran and a prolific writer on theological subjects; his chief field of work was practical theology, and his important book on that subject summing up his long experience and teaching appeared at Erlangen (1877–1878, 2 vols.). The liturgy of the then Lutheran church in Russia has, since 1898, been based on his Liturgische Formulare (1872).

His twin sons were the German theologian Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930) and mathematician Carl Gustav Axel Harnack (1851–1888). His other two sons were also successful scientists, with the pharmacology and physiological chemistry professor Erich Harnack (1853–1914) and the history of literature professor Otto Harnack (1857–1914), father of Arvid Harnack and Falk Harnack.

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