Hagen Fleischer is a German professor of modern Greek history, specialized in the horrendous period of WWII. A long-term Greek citizen, on the eve of his retirement from the University of Athens, decided to take 18 of his students on a field trip to three concentration camps in Germany.
Hagen Fleischer started visiting Greece in the mid 70s and since the early 80s he has been living in Greece and holds Greek citizenship.
An acclaimed historian, whose expertise spans the period between Metaxas and the Junta.
Being (half) German, he is very sensitive about the period of German occupation in Greece and about the crimes his German countrymen committed against his Greek countrymen, as he puts it.
In the early 2010, Hagen Fleischer was in his final year teaching History at the University of Athens, before retirement. He decided to organize a study trip for 15 of his students, as well as for three PhD students; 18 young men and women in total.
I had been trying for a long time to get Fleischer to take part in a documentary for “Paraskinio”, but he had declined in many ways. He wanted it very much, but at the same time he feared it.
Eventually, after the idea for the trip, he proposed that I follow the group with the camera and make the documentary I was looking for, with him as the core subject.
The idea was challenging. A 12-day trip across the eastern part of Germany with three main stops at the Nazi extermination camps, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück (a women’s camp).
The schedule was exhausting. I was working all alone. What’s more, it was the first time I was using my new high definition camera, which made the equipment extra heavy. I had to carry the camera, to be ready to use it at all times, to record sound, and all that with the tripod and all the bags hanging on my shoulder. It was true hell. And I was 42 at the time, not 25 or 30.
In addition, during the first few days, I had the problem that some of the kids were suspicious of a stranger with a camera...
The trip turned out to be a great adventure in every respect. With time, I started to earn the trust of the students, some of whom would carry my tripod once the tour started.
Just before we were going to take the flight back to Greece, a volcano erupted on Iceland and all flights were canceled. I realized that unless we moved quickly we were bound to linger there for days. And so, on initiative I organized the return trip by bus to Ancona, the liner to Patras and finally a bus to Athens.
As far as the end result is concerned, I have mixed feelings. On one hand the picture was successful and had many screenings both on TV and at special events. On the other hand I believe I missed the main point, the target.
It was intended as a film on a trip that would showcase Fleischer’s scientific approach in a manner, in which History would be constantly present, and equally focus on the relations between Greece and Germany, in the early stages of the financial crisis. And of course, it was intended as a portrait of Fleischer himself.
All these were accomplished, but at the same time I admit that being the narrator, who chronicled the trip, I got carried away by the dreary concentration camps, and that resulted in an unreasonably emotional tone, which although not overly excessive, annoys me every time I see the picture.
Besides, the Holocaust, as horrific as it is, has been a well-known affair for decades. I didn’t reinvent the wheel. The goal would be a reflection on atrocity rather than an emotional response to it.