Most people believe that German cinema during the 50's refused to tackle World War II and instead produced glossy historical romances ('Sissi', 'Ludwig II'), mindless Heimatfilme (the highly enjoyable 'Schwarzwaldmaede...展开l' or 'Der Foerster vom Silbersee') or shrill, often exploitative melodramas (best of the crop: 'Nachtschwester Ingeborg' with Maria Schell's much more talented sister in the lead).
But just watch 'Nacht fiel ueber Gotenhafen' and you understand why. Almost unbearable harrowing at times the film depicts the first month of 1945 when the Russian Red Army broke into the eastern part of Germany and forced millions of civilians to flee in the coldest of winter. While the Russians invaded Ostpreussen hundred of thousands of civilians were evacuated by ships. Gotenhafen was the last open port and ships left the town almost by the minute, overloaded by refugees.
One of the last ships to leave Gotenhafen was the 'Wilhelm Gustloff', a former 'Kraft durch Freude' pleasure cruiser designed for 1000 passengers. Until today it is unknown how many people were on board but it is said to be around 10.000. The ship sunk without a trace and only a handful of people survived this hellish nightmare.
Germany's postwar society found it almost impossible to talk about all the suffering of the people (air raids destroyed each and every town and killed over 600.000 inhabitants, over 2.000.000 died during the last month of the war while fleeing from the Russians and countless were deported to Russia).
'Nacht fiel ueber Gotenhafen' is a very brave film, tactful and true to the facts. Sonja Ziemann is very good but the highest of praise must be given to Brigitte Horney.