Murderers Are Among Us, The (1946)

Murderers Are Among Us, The (1946)

“I know there is no longer any point in healing mankind.”

A German concentration camp survivor (Hildegard Knef) arriving back at her ruined apartment encounters a traumatized military surgeon (Ernst Wilhelm Borchert) who has been living there, and the two decide to share the space. Meanwhile, Borchert is unsure how to act when he encounters his former captain (Arno Paulsen): will he seek vengeance, or move forward into a career of healing and hope?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Doctors and Nurses
  • German Films
  • Survival

This German film is notable for being the first in a genre known as Trümmerfilm (or “rubble films) — that is, movies set within the detritus of bombed out cities after the end of World War II, and focusing on survivors’ experiences. Aesthetically speaking, such films are inherently dramatic:

… and this one is made even more so through the use of highly atmospheric cinematography:

While some have criticized the appearance of healthy-looking Knef as a supposed concentration camp survivor:

… it’s easy enough to forgive this given the unrelenting bleakness she’s surrounded by, and the fact that her character is meant to symbolize hope.

Indeed, the entire film should be viewed less as a realistic tale, and more as a meditation on the various coping mechanisms of German survivors. As the film opens, we see an elderly optometrist (Robert Forsch) in Knef’s apartment building assisting a young woman whose glasses need soldering:

When Knef comments to him, “You are still working here as if nothing had happened!” he shares with her his “good fortune” in being a hoarder:

“This is all I was able to rescue out of the rubble down in the cellar. People always used to laugh. I hoarded things for ages. Now all this old junk I kept over the years is my start to a new life.”

For Forsch, maintaining a daily work schedule is what keeps him sane and hopeful:

“I have a lot of work to do…. If [my son] is still alive, he will return home one day. The house will be ready and waiting for him. His father will await him.”

Next we see Knef interacting with drunken Borchert; sensing his pain, she convinces him it’s fine to share the space for awhile:

She focuses on busily cleaning her apartment and getting back to her art:

… while Borchert escapes once again into drink and women:

Although his skills as a doctor are vitally needed, Borchert is too traumatized to pick his career back up (“I can no longer bear to hear the moans of people in torment.”) Soon Borchert runs into his former captain (Paulsen), who is living a happy, stable family life, seemingly not at all concerned about the deaths he was responsible for just before the end of the war:

Borchert feels differently about this than Paulsen — but when he has a random encounter with a very sick young girl while out walking amongst the rubble, his perspective changes once again:

Yes, it’s all melodramatic — but the heightened narrative makes sense within the context of the surreal post-conflict landscape these individuals are inhabiting; and the final showdown offers some sense of the future “truth and reconciliation” that would necessarily begin to occur in Germany.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance, and as a fine little film. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Murderers Are Among Us, The (1946)

  1. First viewing (recently). A once-must.

    For some reason, when I watched this I didn’t take notes of any kind. However, my thoughts on it more or less fall in line with those brought out in the well-observed assessment given here.

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