Edgar Hilsenrath – The stranger’s face has my features


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He became a bestselling author abroad, and in his home country, Germany, he’s finally being recognized and honoured at last. Edgar Hilsenrath’s story (born in Leipzig, 1926) is the modern odyssey of a German-Jewish author. He’s an outsider, who was constantly defining and defending his identity and homeland, writing in the language of his enemies.


SFB, BR, 1995
Length: 60 minutes
Written and directed by: Ginka Tscholakowa
Camera: Hans Hattop
Editor: Wolf Vogel, Karin Geiss
An Atlantis-Film Production

In 1938, he fled to Romania to escape the Nazis. Then, in 1941, he was deported to the Romanian occupied part of the Ukraine, Transnistria, known as the Death Zone of the Bukowinian Jews. In the ghetto of the ruined city, he survived the free-for-all battle for one’s daily bread. After liberation, he fled via Bucharest to Israel, and finally immigrated via Lyon to New York. There, he wrote his first two German novels, “Die Nacht” (“The Night”) and “Der Nazi und der Frisör” (“The Nazi and the Barber”), which were first published in English in 1971. They made him world famous. He finally moved back to Berlin in 1975, so that he could live in the language, in which he wrote his novels. Television recordings at that time show the silent, disapproving and even aggressive attitude in Germany towards his works.

The film accompanies Edgar Hilsenrath on a journey through different epochs of his personal history. We travel from his school, in Halle at the Saale, where he first personally experienced discrimination, to Sereth in Romania, his grandparent’s hometown, where he had spent his happiest times. He meets three survivors in Sereth, which in those days was inhabited by German speaking Jews. Hilsenrath visits the Yiddish poet Josef Burg in Czernowic. We follow him on his way via New York to his hometown neighbourhood, in Berlin.

Meetings with people, discussions with Hilsenrath, old photos and literary texts revive a world, which has disappeared. We become the poet’s accomplices, searching for traces. Through the interview, we participate in Hilsenrath’s inner dialogue, with an invisible partner, about whom, Hilsenrath says, “The stranger’s face has my features. The stranger is present, at all times”.