The Red Orchestra

The story of the so-called "Red Orchestra" isn't just the story of the largest anti-Nazi resistance movement in Berlin. It's the story of heroes who were not only cheated by Cold War paranoia of the recognition they deserved but demonized as traitors and Soviet spies. And it's also the story of how British and American intelligence agencies courted former...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The story of the so-called "Red Orchestra" isn't just the story of the largest anti-Nazi resistance movement in Berlin. It's the story of heroes who were not only cheated by Cold War paranoia of the recognition they deserved but demonized as traitors and Soviet spies. And it's also the story of how British and American intelligence agencies courted former high-ranking Nazis for their own information needs. Unfortunately, this earnest but short-sighted documentary by New York-based painter-turned-filmmaker Stefan Roloff — whose father, Helmut Roloff, was one of the few surviving members of the Red Orchestra before his death in 2001 — touches only the tip of a very large iceberg. Unlike other resistance movements, the Red Orchestra was a non-hierarchical network that began to form in the late '30s along social lines, and grew to include a wide variety of people dedicated to ridding Germany of fascism. If there were central leaders, they were Harro Schulze-Boysen, a distinguished air-force officer, and Arvid Harnack, who worked in the Ministry of Economics. Red Orchestra members distributed fliers, helped persecuted people escape and — after receiving Morse code transmitters from the Soviets, their only viable allies — began exchanging information with Moscow. It was after the interception of one of these transmissions that the Gestapo began its purge and eventually arrested over 100 men and women. About half were sent to concentration camps; the others were condemned by Nazi courts and executed in Berlin's Plotzensee Prison. The discrediting of these heroes, however, didn't end with the Third Reich. It continued full force into the postwar years, because while they fought against Hitler, to do so they allied themselves with the wrong side. Old Gestapo agents and Nazi officials hoping to convince the Soviet-phobic Allies that their lives were worth saving played up the ongoing threat posed by the Red Orchestra, and handed over their files. (They were often rewarded with new identities.) Making matters worse, East Germany hailed the Red Orchestra as heroic precursors to the dreaded Stasi. Roloff offers extensive interviews with his father and those few who survived, along with friends and family of those who didn't. His heartfelt tribute also serves as a reminder that Germany wasn't a politically homogenous society that blindly embraced the Nazis, but Roloff's close proximity to the subject might explain his film's lack of historical perspective. Many basic questions — such has how the Red Orchestra got its name — go unanswered, and his decision to offer animated historical recreations by altering obviously contemporary footage is jarringly anachronistic.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The story of the so-called "Red Orchestra" isn't just the story of the largest anti-Nazi resistance movement in Berlin. It's the story of heroes who were not only cheated by Cold War paranoia of the recognition they deserved but demonized as traitors and S… (more)

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