Review: Shattering Silence

By Jessica Elgot, November 16, 2009

Dirs. Eric Friedler | Germany | 2007 | 60 mins | German and English, with subtitles

Eric Friedler’s sharp documentary takes a biting look at Germany’s richest family, and asks the question the Quandts hoped they could keep silent forever – where did they get their fortune from?

The family have always claimed their fortune came from their ownership of car giant BMV. But in Shattering Silence Friedler goes back to explore Gunter Quandt’s role in the Third Reich, and his exploitation of thousands of slave labourers in his factories, Jews, resistance fighters and prisoners of war.

The economic plans for the factory made allowances for 80 workers to die from lead poisoning each month. But perhaps even more extraordinary, from a personal angle, is how Quandt’s lust for power became so great, he even married off his ex-wife to Josef Goebbels.

Friedler asks the vital questions in this groundbreaking film on the much under-investigated topic of the corporate involvement in the Holocaust. Why were the Quandts never prosecuted as profiteers from Nazism at Nuremberg? Why did the US and the British cover-up the Quandt’s role in Holocaust? And why, now, do the Quandt’s refuse to acknowledge the source of their wealth?

The film’s strength is shown in the facts that followed its broadcast. Over 1.2 million Germans tuned in to watch the film on German TV. Members of the board on the Quant Media Prize, one of Germany’s most prestigious prizes for journalism, resigned after the film was broadcast. And the Quandt family, who are now fronted by the formidable Johanna Quandt, have hired a historian to finally take a look at their past.

But the film’s weaknesses are apparent too. Little visual footage remains of the factories, and almost none is available of the secretive Quandts. A few brief shots exist of the family together in the present day, replayed continuously throughout the film. The visual material available simply doesn’t do justice to the investigation. Much of the film is simply film of library shelves as the researchers search for answers about the Quants.

Friedler’s film is rightly championed as a worthy and important film, but the title is in some way misleading. Despite all that he reveals, there is one silence he cannot shatter, that of the living Quandts themselves. They, for now, are still staying tightlipped.

Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011