Last June, I linked an article by Mario Vargas Llosa about dictatorship and what it does to the human spirit. In the current National Review (4/7), Jay Nordlinger has an article which touches on the same theme.
Nordlinger’s piece is about Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, maker of the film The Lives of Others. (If you haven’t yet seen it, you should.) Florian himself spent his early childhood in the U.S., with his family returning to Germany (West Berlin) when he was eight. His personal knowledge of Communism was based on family visits to East Germany and to his two-year visit to Russia in the early 1990s.
The leading actor in the film, on the other hand, had a very personal knowledge of Communist totalitarianism. Ulrich Muehe was an East German, and, while still in high school, he had already been identified as a promising actor.
From the NR article:
Muehe had the fate of being an East German, and the Stasi had its eye on him from the moment he left high school: They knew he would be a big star. During his military service (obligatory), they made him serve as a sniper at the Berlin Wall. He was under orders to shoot whoever tried to cross from east to west. If he failed, he would never be allowed to work as an actor. He would have to be a manual laborer to the end of his days.
So there was Muehe, 18 years old, sitting in the towers, with this incredible burden on his shoulders. The only thing worse than not being an actor would be shooting someone. Muehe developed stomach ulcers, and one day he collapsed on duty, bleeding from the mouth. Doctors had to take out three-quarters of his stomach. But, fortunately, no one tried to cross. Still, the Stasi never stopped warning him to toe the political line, through all the years of his acting. He kept his counsel–until just before the Wall came down, when he gave a big, pro-freedom speech in East Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.
(cross-posted at Photon Courier)