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Way From Germany, The (1946)

Courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Main image of Way From Germany, The (1946)
DirectorTerry Trench
Production CompanyCrown Film Unit
Commentary byArthur Calder Marshall
MusicElisabeth Lutyens
CommentatorDeryck Guyler
From the Imperial War Museum Loan Collection

The Allies' problem of how to deal with 18 million prisoners of all nations, liberated on the fall of Germany and mostly anxious to return home.

Show full synopsis

The Way from Germany (1946) provides a valuable snapshot of one of the most urgent problems facing any liberating force: what to do with the conquered nation's prisoners of war. The problem was particularly acute in postwar Germany thanks to the sheer number of slave labourers: the figure of eighteen million is repeated three times to emphasise its magnitude.

Although the film is primarily a documentary about how these DPs (displaced persons) were processed in rather more humane camps than the ones they'd previously experienced, it also tries to convey the emotions they must have felt on being suddenly freed. Initially, they vent their anger on the Germans (an early montage shows people being attacked in the street, windows broken, buildings looted and set alight, as well as a powerfully evocative image of a pile of keys), but they end up bonding together in appropriate national groups once they're rounded up and organised, using their various skills in the classroom or on the bandstand.

Although Derek Guyler's commentary is virtually continuous, there's a tactful pause just after he describes how surprisingly fit some of the inmates are. The subsequent montage of emaciated victims of starvation and maltreatment doesn't need words to convey its horrific message about what these people have had to live through, and these images intensify the emotional impact of their eventual return home.

A brief coda hints at the political upheavals occurring outside Germany by explaining that some former prisoners feel unable to return home, and that it's up to the newly-formed United Nations to ensure their safety. It isn't spelled out that many of them are Jewish, although this undoubtedly would have been the case - and two years after the film was made, the UN-backed state of Israel was created.

Michael Brooke

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