What is the cost of learning the truth? And who is responsible for telling that costly truth?
A prosecutor’s exhortation to learn “every conceivable” Polish word for “how to kill a person” is an early signal to a naïve German interpreter, called in 1963 to translate at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, that she will soon confront truths about the past never before revealed. Eva Bruhns, a young woman still living with her parents—the proprietors of the eponymous German House restaurant—looks forward to a betrothal to Jürgen Schoormann, her reserved boyfriend, and routinely works as a Polish-language interpreter in mundane contract matters and business disputes. Her sister, Annegret, works as a pediatric nurse while younger brother Stefan dotes on the family’s black dachshund. The Bruhns are a thoroughly average family. Eva’s growing awareness of the atrocities perpetrated by the Auschwitz defendants, coupled with a vague sense of déjà vu, jolts her out of complacency and ignorance about the role the average German citizen played during the war. Eva’s increasing passion to secure justice for the victims of Auschwitz, whose stories she absorbs daily, contrasts vividly with the attitudes and actions of her neighbors (and family members), whose desire to leave the past behind is clear. Hess, a popular television screenwriter in Germany, delivers scenes and dialogue in a linear sequence, and it is easy to envision almost any of the scenes (courtroom or dining room) on screen via the straightforward translation by Lauffer. Less linear are the continuing deceptions Eva confronts on an average day, in an average life, in an average city.
Questions of complicity and culpability are resolved by prosecutors and daughters alike in Hess’ slow reveal of large truths which are obscured by larger lies.