Marriage in the Shadows

Ehe im Schatten (Marriage in the Shadows) is an East German film melodrama. Directed by Kurt Maetzig, it was released in 1947 by DEFA. The film was described as an "attempt to confront the German people about the morals of the past", being the first film to confront the people about the persecution of the Jews and the atrocities conducted during World War II.[1][2]

Ehe im Schatten
Directed byKurt Maetzig
Produced byGeorg Kiaup
Written byHans Scweikart
Music byWolfgang Zeller
CinematographyFriedl Behn-Grund, Eugen Klagemann
Edited byAlice Ludwig
Distributed bySovexport-Film
Release date
  • 3 October 1947 (1947-10-03) (Berlin)
Running time
104 minutes
CountrySoviet Occupation Zone


Actor Hans Wieland refuses to divorce his actress wife, Elisabeth, who is Jewish, even as extreme pressure is applied on him by the Nazi authorities. He even takes her to a premiere of one of his films where she is unwittingly introduced to a high Nazi Party official. Upon later discovering that the charming woman at the premiere was in fact Jewish, he orders her arrest. Hans Wieland is given an ultimatum by his former friend Herbert Blohm, now a Nazi official at the Reichskulturministerium (culture ministry), to save himself by divorcing his wife. Knowing that his wife will die in a concentration camp, Hans Wieland returns home and they drink poison in coffee whilst reciting the closing scene of Friedrich Schiller's tragic play Kabale und Liebe together.

The film ends with a dedication to the real-life actor Joachim Gottschalk who committed suicide with his Jewish wife Meta Wolff and their nine-year-old son Michael.



The screenplay was based on the life and suicide of actor Joachim Gottschalk and his family in 1941.[3][4] However, Kurt Maetzig said of the film, "almost everything in the film is based on what I myself, or my family and friends, have experienced."[2] Indeed, the character of Kurt Bernstein, portrayed by Alfred Balthoff, is strongly based on Maetzig.[2] Maetzig's mother had committed suicide to avoid being caught by the Gestapo.[2] It is Kurt Maetzig's first feature film as director.


Ehe im Schatten was the only film to be released simultaneously in all the sectors of occupied Berlin, on 3 October 1947, becoming the most successful film produced in the first post-war years and is widely considered one of the best German films of this period.[5] The picture sold 12,888,153 tickets.[6]

Maetzig and cinematographer Friedl Behn-Grund received the National Prize of East Germany Second Class for their work.[7] The director was also awarded the first ever Bambi Prize, in 1948.[2]


  1. Feinstein, Joshua (2002). The triumph of the ordinary: depictions of daily life in the East German cinema, 1949–1989. UNC Press Books. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-8078-5385-6. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  2. Allan, Seán; Sandford, John (1999). DEFA: East German cinema, 1946–1992. Berghahn Books. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-57181-753-2. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  3. Bock, Hans-Michael; Bergfelder, Tim (30 December 2009). The concise Cinegraph: encyclopaedia of German cinema. Berghahn Books. p. 163. ISBN 978-1-57181-655-9. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  4. Costabile-Heming, Carol Anne (2001). Textual responses to German unification: processing historical and social change in literature and film. Walter de Gruyter. p. 197. ISBN 978-3-11-017022-1. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  5. Liehm, Mira; Liehm, Antonín J. (1980). The most important art: Soviet and Eastern European film after 1945. University of California Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0-520-04128-8. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  6. List of the 50 highest-grossing DEFA films.
  7. Kino- und Fernseh-Almanach. Henschelverlag Kunst und Gesellschaft. 1985. p. 7. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
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