The Captain (Der Hauptmann) is based on the true story of Willi Herold. Some of the film has been dramatized but it’s so crazy that you honestly can’t believe it really happened.
Willi Herold (Max Hubacher) was a deserter of the German Army with some two weeks left to go during World War 2. It’s only after he comes across a car containing the luggage of a Luftwaffe captain that he decides to impersonate one. If you think this is where it ends, you’re wrong! Herold uses the power of authority in wearing this captain’s uniform to take other soldiers under his command.
It’s only when Herold tells another officer that he has direct orders from Hitler that the Aschendorfermoor prison camp. The fact that nobody decides to get this confirmed is both disturbing and sad. Here is a German deserter pretending to be a German captain taking over a prison camp full of other German deserters. They don’t realize just how bad their life is about to get once the guns start coming for them. How nobody has the nerve to question Herold is simply beyond me. This guy was only 20 years old!
On April 12, 1945, Herold and his men asked the inmates to dig a very deep pit only to end up executing them. By the end of the night, just about 100 Germans were killed. If you know about Herold’s life, you know that the atrocities committed after this night were just as horrific. When all was said and done, the “executioner of Emsland” would kill 170 people.
What The Captain depicts is that people will blindly follow leadership without even as much as a question. I don’t honestly know what to make of a German deserter killing other deserters. While someone would commend a guy like Herold for deserting a German army responsible for so many atrocities, he then goes on to commit even more heinous crimes! I guess it’s a lot better than killing innocent Jews who were forced into both labor and death camps.
While we can try to examine Herold’s worldview through a 2018 lens, the fact is that we have to look at his life through the lens of the era in which he lived. You have to because a 2018 lens is not the same as a 1945 lens. To put it simply, if you didn’t live up to the standards of the Aryan race in Hitler’s eye, you were as good as dead. This doesn’t make his actions leading up to desertion any less wrong.
It’s almost as if writer-director Robert Schwentke’s script for The Captain (Der Hauptmann) wants to make a joke out of fascism. At the same time, one can’t help but laugh or cry at the lack of anyone’s ability to question leadership. Was this what went at the time?
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Robert Schwentke
CAST: Max Hubacher, Milian Peschel, Frederick Lau, Bernd Hölscher, Waldemar Kobus, and Alexander Fehling