Ernst Thälmann: Leader of the Working Class

(Ernst Thälmann – Führer seiner Klasse)

GDR, 1955, 139 min, color
In German; no subtitles
Set Design
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Music (Score)
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Ernst Thälmann was the leader of the German Communist Party during the Weimar Republic, communist martyr during the Third Reich, and role model for “the first advanced socialist society on German soil.” The second part of the Ernst Thaelmann films encompasses the time period between 1930 and Thaelmann's murder in 1944.


As Thälmann (Günther Simon) fights for a united German workers’ front against the National Socialists, the film documents his arrest following Hitler’s rise to power and his eleven years of incarceration. Thälmann remains steadfast in his political beliefs and loyalty to the cause. His struggle is not his own, however, as his comrades and friends also sacrifice much. Änne is imprisoned in a cell adjacent to Thälmann and Fiete becomes commander of the Thälmann Batallion, fighting first in Spain and then in the Red Army against fascism in Germany. 


This two-part biopic was one of the most expensive, heavily promoted DEFA films made during the freezes and thaws of the Cold War. The Ernst Thälmann films rely heavily on an older iconography of political leadership, beginning with the approach to mise-en-scène, heroic narratives, notions of masculinity, and cult of honor, duty, and sacrifice.



Best Actor (Günther Simon), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

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