Director: Veit Harlan.
Starring: Heinrich George (Bürgermeister Joachim Nettelbeck), Kristina Söderbaum (Maria Werner), Horst Caspar (Gen. Gneisenau), Gustav Diessl (Lt. Schill), Paul Wegener (Stadtkommandant Loucadou), Otto Wernicke (Bauer Werner), Charles Schauten (Napoleon), Claus Clausen (Frédéric-Guillaume III), Irene von Meyendorff (Königin), Heinz Lausch (Friedrich Werner), Kurt Meisel (Claus Werner), Paul Bildt (Rektor), Jakob Tiedtke (Reeder), Hans Hermann (Zaufke), Franz Schafheitlin (Fanselow).
defense of the besieged fortress town of Kolberg against French troops (April-July 1807); Nazi film
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Breslau. 1813. Gen. Gneisenau comes into the palace saying the he wants to be announced to the King. The King hears this and he prepares to listen to what the General might say. He says: "On behalf of the generals, I urge Your Majesty to issue a proclamation. . . . A call to war." The King asks: "Why? . . . It's a matter for the army, Gneisenau." The General acknowledges this is true, but in this case "the people will be the army". He urges the King to look out the window at all of the townspeople marching in the streets or standing on the streets cheering the men and women onward. The King looks but tells the General: "My ancestor Frederick the Great did not have a band of citizens behind him, only soldiers. Citizens only suffer in war." The General urges the King to work with the people: offer them faith, justice, strength and victory. He says that if the people had had their way when Napoleon fled through Germany they would have nabbed the man. But Metternich duped the diplomats and the soldiers.
The King says that Gneisenau is an "impractical German dreamer". Gneisenau replies he faced reality at Kolberg when Napoleon drove their armies through Germany and the fortresses fell, it was the citizens themselves that saved Prussia. He says Gneisenau is the victor at Kolberg. No, says the General, it was the citizens who were the victors because it was they who refused to surrender to the French. It was the victory of Nettelbeck's armed citizens. And it was in Kolberg that Gneisenau came up with the idea of a citizens' army. He goes on to say Scharnhorst implemented the idea. "In Kolberg, I experienced the birth of German freedom when princes and kings had deserted their people." He goes on to say that it's the duty of the King that he must lead his people. "If he can't lead, he must abdicate. Like the German emperor in Vienna who deserted his empire in the hour of need."
Flashback. [Francis II (1768 1835) was the last Holy Roman Emperor (1792 to 1806) when he dissolved the Empire after the disastrous defeat of the Third Coalition by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. Austerlitz took place about 10 km (6.2 mi) south-east of Brno in Moravia, at that time in the Austrian Empire (present day Czech Republic).]
Vienna. 1806. Francis II says he was elected to to be the German Emperor and is the hereditary Emperor of Austria, but with the formation of the Rhine Confederation, the secession of Saxony and the Prussian king's indecision, he considers himself free of any obligations to the German Empire. He now renounces the Imperial Crown.
Kolberg. There is a big celebration in Kolberg. But several fellows tell Herr Nettelbeck that the future looks black. There is a proclamation to the Rhine Confederation (Strasbourg, Mainz and all the German cities) from Napoleon stating that he wishes "to secure Europe's happiness and prosperity". Nettelbeck says that's so much nonsense because one fights cannons with cannons and not sentimentality. His nephew Klaus says it's the sentimentality in patriotism that keeps people fighting wars. An older man asks Nettelbeck if he really thinks that little Prussia can stop Napoleon? The man urges a peaceful solution that will leave Prussia with its current prosperity. Nettelbeck asks: "Become vassals when we can be lords? Servants in our own house."
Nettelbeck tells his nephew Klaus that he is headed for their farm called Bullenwinkel to see his father. Klaus is not interested in going with his uncle.
The Mayor is now with his brother. Maria, who is dancing for the public, sees him and yells Uncle Nettelbeck to him. They go inside the house and the young Maria comes in to hug and kiss her uncle. Nettelbeck says he has some bad new. The Prussian Army was defeated. And Prince Louis Ferdinand fell dead at Saalfeld.
Potsdam. Napoleon visits the burial place of Frederick the Great. He wonders aloud would he be here in Prussia if the great man was still alive?
Brother Friedrich comes home for the battles. With him is Lt. Schill who has been wounded. Friedrich asks if it's okay to let the Lieutenant and 10 other soldiers stay with them overnight? Yes. Schill says he was wounded at Auerstedt. (The twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt were fought on October 14, 1806 on the plateau west of the river Saale in today's Germany, that led to a victory for Napoleon I and a loss for Frederick William III of Prussia. The decisive defeat subjugated the Kingdom of Prussia to the French Empire until the Sixth Coalition was formed in 1812.)
Nettelbeck speaks with the top military authority in Kolberg, Commander Loucadou. He tells the fellow that the harvest is already in, but it must be rationed out. Also the potatoes need to be harvested. The military man wants to know why is Nettlbeck so concerned about the harvest? Nettelbeck answers: "If we wait until the enemy comes it will be too late." He says he went to every house, barn and storeroom and took notes of what was there. Nettelbeck also tells the officer that his supply depots are much too close together. He says one bomb would destroy all the depots. The officer gets mad and tells the Mayor not to give him any advice on military matters.
Lt. Schill looks around at the fortifications. He is shocked to hear from a soldier that he has been at the fort for six years as an artilleryman, but has never fired the cannons. Schill says the cannot won't even fire now because they are so rusted. He tells niece Maria that they are sure making things easy for Napoleon. Maria says that's what her Uncle Nettelbeck always says. He says the town has no chance under the leadership of Commander Loucadou.
The mayor's brother says things must really be rough because their Gen. Blucher and his 6,000 men got starved out and Blucher let himself be captured. Lt. Schill stands up but almost falls down. He says he is both wounded and sick. He asks who is playing the violin upstairs? Klaus. Maria rushes upstairs and asks her brother to stop playing his violin. Brother says that sister is sweet on the Lieutenant.
The Lieutenant goes down to the shore and walks along the beach. Maria follows him. She puts his arm back in its sling. They sit down and Maria says that she is scared of war coming to Kolberg. They talk a bit more and she kisses the Lieutenant.
Nettelbeck tells Loucadou that Lt. Schill and the ten men came from Auerstedt and Schill wants to break through to Blucher. The Commander asks where is Schill? He is down in the market square. The Commander looks out the balcony window. Lt. Schill asks permission from the Mayor to speak to the citizen soldiers. Permission granted. Schill tells the citizens that they are not soldiers yet. He is going to give them some advice stemming from his own recent experience at the Battle of Auerstedt. The Prussians stood there looked very gallant and brave. But the French just shot them down. So now he advises the men to drop to the ground and fire back at the enemy from a prone position.
The Commander talks with Schill following the training of the citizen soldiers. He doesn't think much of the capabilities of these citizen soldiers. He adds that the trade of a soldier has to be learned. Schill thinks the citizens are a great source of support for the army. He says: "It's a matter of spirit, and Kolberg people have spirit." They will defend the town better than fortress commanders. Magdeburg had 20,000 soldiers and surrendered to 500 French without firing a shot. The commander asks Schill: "On whose behalf are you acting?" Schill replies: "By order of His Majesty, the king." He has already enlisted 450 men in Kolberg because the war is coming to Kolberg soon.
The Commander says that the war is not going to come to Kolberg, because Kolberg is a pretty worthless target. Speaking of Napoleon, the Commander says: "Not one man, not one gun will he sacrifice for Kolberg."
Winter comes to Kolberg. The French write a letter to the authorities in Kolberg saying that the commanders of the Pomeranian fortresses are to give them up. And the mayors in Pomerania are to go to Stettin (the capital of Pomerania) to pledge allegiance to Napoleon. A lot of the town big shots do not want to see Kolberg get bombarded by the French artillery. But most of them won't say they want to surrender. The French Commissioner comes in and wants an answer to the letters from the French. Nettelbeck says: "Tell the governor of the French Emperor that the German kings, electors and princes did not honor their oath to the German Emperor. And the emperor did not honor his oath to the empire in the time of need. But the free citizens of Kolberg would rather be buried under the rubble of their walls than break their oath to the King of Prussia."
Napoleon is furious with Kolberg and Graudenz. "We could squash those anthills with our boots." He goes on to say: "Kolberg. What is Kolberg? . . . A simple cavalry squadron will teach them reason." Napoleon informs one of his generals that he is to attack Kolberg and level the place. Another general says that the army is no problem for them but this brewer named Joachim Nettelbeck has organized many of the citizens of Kolberg to resist an attack.
Nettelbeck and his family and some friends celebrate the New Year of 1807. One of the military officers says that the Kolberg citizens acted the way they wanted to to act. The Mayor, however, says: "But the French did not handle it right." Another problem is that they need to replace Loucadou with a new commander.
Friedrich comes over to Schill to ask if he is really in love with his sister? Schill says he loves her, but he doubts that he will ever marry. Friedrich seems satisfied with this answer, but Schill's desire not ever to marry should give rise to caution.
People are cheering for the Mayor and Loucadou wants to know what's going on? From the barge, the Mayor yells that they are hauling cannons. Loucadou wants to know by whose authority does the Mayor bring these cannons in? Lt. Schill's authority. Loucadou says Schill is now Captain Schill. The cannon came from a Swedish ship. The Commander gets in a long lasting dispute and it looks like the Mayor is not going to follow the orders of the Commander. The Commander talks about the possibility of surrender, which makes the Mayor so angry that he pulls out his sword and tries to get at the Commander. The Mayor is restrained from doing this.
The French are setting up their camps and cannons. Captain Schill shouts: "Ride at them from all sides. Precisely and all together." He gives the necessary orders for the attack. Maria comes in to tell Schill that the French have taken over her family's farm Bullenwinkel. Her father and Klaus are still at home. Schill has 16 left in his last group of soldiers and he decides to attack Bullenwinkel with them.
In the farm house the French are having a feast at the expense of Maria's father.
Loucadou declares martial law in Kolberg. He also gives the order to execute the Mayor by firing squad.
Schill is now in the Bullenwinkel farm house telling the father to not be so depressed, because they chased the French off his property. Father seems to feel that the house is now tainted and it really isn't his house any more. He is also disgusted at his son Klaus for drinking a toast to Napoleon. He adds: "This house died when they stole my son." Schill tells father that this house had to go anyway, because it would provide the French with ideal cover for the fight ahead. Father goes outside to think about losing his farm.
The people of Kolberg fill the main square in town and shout in unison: "Loucadou! Free the Mayor!" Citizens conferring with the Commander urge him to release the Mayor or there will be serious consequences from the general public. Loucadous rails at the people saying that this is open rebellion.
Father sets the hay on fire. Schill speaks with the Commander telling him to let the Mayor go because: "We need him." The Commander will not yield. He starts signing the order for the Mayor's execution. Schill shouts: "French scouts are 8 miles from Kolberg." The citizens in the room start to get really scared.
At Bullenwinkel farm all the farm buildings are now on fire.
Maria goes to see her uncle in jail. Her father died grieving over the loss of his farm. Uncle expresses his condolences to Maria. He then gives her a letter he wrote to the King. Uncle wants her to take the letter to Konigsberg. She herself must place the letter in the hands of the King. In the letter he is asking for a new commander for Kolberg.
Maria tells Schill about the letter. He doesn't want her to go for fear of what might happen to her. She says that her uncle told her that the Commander will surrender the city to the French. Schill starts realizing she must take the letter to the King.
The Commander finally tears up the order of execution and declares that the Mayor is free. Schill shouts out the news to the public on the square, who are delighted.
Maria has a hard time convincing the Major that she must give the letter herself to the King. He finally relents and lets Maria go talk to the Queen. The Queen's aide thinks the letter sounds important and she tells Maria that she will try to get the Queen to see her. Maria gets to see the Queen. At first, Maria just keeps staring at the Queen and saying nothing. Maria is totally dumfounded. The Queen asks her twice what does she want to say without effect. So the Queen tells Maria to come over to her. [The scene takes on a somewhat religious tone here with the Queen appearing like the Virgin Mary.] Maria finally pulls the letter out and gives it to the Queen. The Queen reads it and says she will see to it that the King sees the letter. The Queen hugs and kisses Maria on the forehead. She leaves.
The fighting now rages on in Kolberg. The Mayor goes to see the Commander. He is stopped by a ditch being dug width-wise across the street. The Mayor orders the men to fill that ditch in regardless of the fact that the Commander ordered it dug. Now the Mayor goes in to see the Commander. With the Commander is Gen. Gneisenau. The General tells the Mayor that he is acting in open rebellion during this period of martial law. The Mayor asks the General who is he? He says he is the new commander that Nettelberg asked for in his letter to the King. Now Nettelberg softens his tune. The General tells him to carry out his orders as regards the street ditch and then come back and see him. Nettelberg leaves.
The Mayor tells the street crew to dig the ditch again. He then goes to the General and says this is not a good decision because if a fire starts they will not be able to get their fire pump to the scene of the fire because of the ditches. The General agrees. He then changes his tone, saying he needs Nettelbeck. They have to work together to defeat the enemy. The Mayor starts calming down and will work with the General.
Gen. Gneisenau speaks to both soldiers and citizens in the square. And here comes the Nazi angle to the film. "No love is more sacred than love for one's country. . . . Regardless of the sacrifice each individual must make what matters is the sacred trust for which we will fight and win, unless we wish to cease being Prussians and Germans." He then launches an attack on the French after saying the best defense is a good offense.
The Prussian soldiers overrun an enemy artillery position and turn the cannon around to be fired at the French.
From a boat Maria sees smoke coming from Kolberg and sighs: "Poor Kolberg!" The captain is afraid to get too close to Kolberg. But Maria says they are going closer or she will swim to the land. They give Maria a rowboat and she rows to shore. She starts running for shelter. Artillery shells are pouring in and she stops and kneels down in a doorwell to make herself a smaller target. He also uses the position to say a prayer to God about saving her Schill.
The French Command yells at his staff to send the order to attack the Kolberg fortress. The French launch their mighty army at Schill and his men, who are spread across the beach. Schill gives the order to fire the cannon. That stops the French temporarily and puts a scare in them.
An aide comes to Schill that the road to Wollin is swarming with French cavalry, soldiers and cannon. He tells the aide to go back and have his soldiers fight until they have no bullets left. Meanwhile, he will take a boat ride up to Wollin, and if that is swarming with French too, he will head on to Stralsund, Sweden.
Gneisenau tells his staff that they will move the fighting outside the Kolberg walls. He shows them on a map where the different troops are located. Schill is protecting the harbor in the north at Maikuhle. Wolfsberg is in the east and that will be the base for the Prussian defense. They have no protection to the south, so he asks the Mayor to get the villagers to open the sluices to flood the fields.
The citizens start digging ditches for the water flow. The flood gates are now opened. The citizens cheer as the water flows southeast onto the fields.
Maria sees her brother Klaus walking through the water. She shouts to him to come out of the rising waters. He says he has to retrieve his violin. Sister says it's not worth it. Klaus gets his violin and starts over to Maria. An artillery round goes off and Klaus is killed by the shrapnel. Maria cries. Then she goes to tell Friedrich of the loss of Klaus. Friedrich says first dad and now Klaus. He says he is glad that mother did not have to witness this. Friedrich now tells Maria that Schill is leaving at 4 o'clock to go to the Swedes in Stralsund. Maria bemoans this, but her brother tells her that Schill has to go. Their supply line has been cut and everything will start running out. Maria says she feels Schill doesn't love her like he did before. Her brother tells her that she will always have him.
Maria goes to see Schill before he leaves. He thanks Maria for her love and they kiss. The boat filled with soldiers is pushed into the sea. Maria tells her brother that Stralsund will be Schill's grave.
A French negotiator comes to Kolberg. The town leaders come to hear what the negotiators have decided. Gneisenau says that the French negotiator believes that only Gneisenau himself stands in the way of the people surrendering. The General with the French negotiator look out an open window. Gneisenau tells the Kolberg residents that he told the Frenchman that they would rather die than surrender the town to the enemy. If anyone disagrees with that, they should say so now. No one disagrees. If you agree not to surrender, then go about your work. The people start filing out of the square.
The French now start the bombardment of the town itself. Many houses are damaged. The mayor's house is hit and burns. Friedrich has died in battle. Uncle and Maria look at the dead body. The Mayor says: "Somehow we will manage."
Maria watches the children of a woman who wants to go look for her husband in the streets. Later she helps the fire fighters.
Thousands of French soldiers march toward Kolberg. The estimate of the amount is 20,000 soldiers. And they have at least 200 cannons. His aide tells Gneisenau that all the guns from Danzig are in Kolberg. The General calculates that the total figure is 30-35,000 soldiers and 500 cannons. He contrasts those figures with the 2,000 men and 5,000 citizens that Kolberg has. He says the number of cannons they have is negligible compared to what the French have. He says: "It's a wonder we're still alive. In this hopeless time of universal darkness over Germany, one star still shines. Kolberg."
The French commander is mad that the Prussians still won't give up. His aide De Vitry tells him: "Negotiations started yesterday in Tilsit. He was ordered to cease fire. We are now disobeying the emperor's orders."
Gneisenau says to the Mayor: "It's all over, Nettelbeck. It's pointless." Nettelbeck tells him: "We won't give up." The Mayor then gets on his knees and begs Gneisenau not to surrender the town to the French. The General says that's what he wanted to hear from Nettelbeck. Now they both will die together.
The French commander now sends the army through the flooded fields to get Kolberg. The soldiers start wading through the waters. The Prussians hit them with cannons and bullets and the soldiers turn back.
A very angry officer,. De Vitry, tells the Commander that the French have taken more casualties than there are citizens in the whole of Kolberg. The Commander responds by saying the Emperor promised him the title of Duke of Kolberg if Kolberg fell to his army. The angry officer replies: "Your title is costing the Emperor an army. Cease firing." De Vitry, as general of artillery, says he will order a cease fire if the General refuses to issue one.
The cease fire is called. The cannons stop firing. The soldiers remain quiet. The citizens of Kolberg run onto the town streets. Song breaks out on the streets. Maria goes down to the beach to await her man Schill. She is comforted by her uncle who tells her: "You offered everything you had. But it was not in vain. Death is overcome by victory. That's the way it is. It is the greatest thing of all. We are reborn in pain."
Back to the present. Six years later. Gen. Gneisenau says to the King: "The people are filled with a mysterious strength and the example Kolberg's citizens once gave them. They want to follow it and finally shake off their chains. The people are rising for the coming battle."
People continue marching in the streets.
The King says that Gen. Gneisenau is right. He writes and signs the proclamation for a call to war.
According to Wikipedia, Kohlberg or Kołobrzeg(in Polish) is located in Middle Pomerania, known as Kohlberg, aka Kolberg until the end of World War II. Kolberg was once in Prussia.
The film is good. It was mostly historical in nature except when pep talks were given to the citizens of Kolberg. So it's not that bad watching the film. But it is clear why the Nazis chose this as their last film. Germany was being surround by the Allied and Soviet Union forces. If the German people could act like the people of Kolberg did in the times of the Napoleonic Wars, then Germany might be able to save Nazism/fascism. If the present Germans could just be like Mayor Nettelbeck and the citizens of Kolberg, a miracle could be pulled off. You can see the element of fascism in the talks to the people. They make the nation out to be something that should be worshipped as people worship God and Jesus. Somehow the nation is an entity in and of itself and it deserves devotion, adoration, sacrifice, loyalty, etc. Yes, many people were killed in the defense of Kolberg, but the sacrifices were worth it because the saving of lives and the saving of the physical city.
Heinrich George was very good as Bürgermeister Joachim Nettelbeck. Kristina Söderbaum was also good as the faithful Maria Werner.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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