‘Lore’: The Most Unlikely Movie Ever Inspired by the Holocaust

Director Cate Shortland discusses hidden histories, moral bankruptcy and putting a light on murky, difficult truths.

Liesel (Nele Trebs), Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), Jürgen (Mika Seidel), and Günther (André Frid) are the children of Nazis searching for a new path forward in Lore. (Photo: Courtesy of Music Box Films)

Feb 5, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Stephen Saito writes about movies for the L.A. Times, IFC.com and his own site, The Moveable Fest.

Cate Shortland’s film Lore is a counterintuitive pick as Australia’s official selection for this year’s Oscars. The film, an adaptation of British writer Rachel Seiffert’s short story Lore, takes place in Germany during the fall of Hitler and is filmed in the local language. Ultimately, the fact that Shortland was born in New South Wales had something to do with her film’s aptness as Australia’s choice. In telling the story of a group of Nazi survivors that are rarely thought about, the filmmaker saw a way to speak to a legacy that haunts her home country.

“We don’t really address what’s happened to the indigenous people,” Shortland tells TakePart. “We don’t commemorate massacres. Do you commemorate massacres here? Are Native American languages taught in primary schools? Things that could be so simply taught? [The experience of making this film has] really taught me a lot about how we don’t deal with history.”

Shortland’s second film, in contrast, looks unflinchingly into history, asking what happened to the young offspring of Nazi parents, children indoctrinated into an ideology of hate at their most impressionable stages and left adrift when Hitler ultimately failed.

In Lore, a 14-year-old girl (Saskia Rosendahl) and her younger siblings are literally abandoned by their parents, who were both devoted to the Nazi cause and have to answer to the Allies when World War II ends. The children embark upon a 500-mile march across Bavaria to take shelter with their grandmother. Under the constant threat of being picked up by the war’s victors, the children face a greater challenge in the gradual acceptance of a historical narrative that is in stark contrast to the one they’ve been taught in the Third Reich, evidenced by the corpses they see alongside the road and, eventually, a Jewish refugee whom they rely on to survive.

“I was terrified of this story,” says Shortland. “I had to look at what had been made before and wonder why are we making this film. Why is it relevant? The only way I could look at it was to go to the really frightening heart of it and say, ‘What does it mean when you wake up and discover that your father is a mass murderer, and you exist in a society that’s morally bankrupt?’ ”

“You’d sort of wade through conversations where people were skimming around the truth and couldn’t face things.”

Having spent parts of the past decade living in South Africa and Germany, Shortland has grown to appreciate a country that reflects on its past. She hopes more will do the same soul searching. In researching the true-life tale, she found how powerful the past can be in paving the way toward the future.

“You’d sort of wade through conversations where people were skimming around the truth and couldn’t face things,” says Shortland. “But then you’d meet this human being that would stand up and say, ‘I loved Hitler. When he died, it was worse than my parents dying. I was lost for years,’ [and] felt absolute shame and betrayal, but was honest about those emotions. That gave me a lot of power and strength to think no matter how disgusting and murky and difficult this subject matter is, you’ve got to fight for the truth.”

What is some of the “lore” that you received as a child that turned out to be false? Share the truth in COMMENTS.