Schtonk (1991): German Satire of Hitler Hoax and Scandal, Foreign Language Oscar Nominee (Politics, Hitler)

This German slapstick satire of contemporary German society, directed by Helmut Dietl, is titled Schtonk, which is the word that Charlie Chaplin used when he pretended to speak German in The Great Dictator, his controversial satire of Hitler and Nazi Germany.
chtonk! Schtonk dvd cover.jpg
Chaplin’s Tomainian dictator Adenoid Hynkel repeatedly uses “Schtonk!” as expression of disgust–the word has no meaning in German.

The story of the hoax is subtitled Der Film zum Buch vom Führer, “The film accompanying the Führer’s book.”

Co-writer and director Helmut Dietl researched the scandal for years. They reportedly have left out real events out because they were too outrageous.


The film is loosely based on the Hitler Diaries Scandal of the 1970s. Fritz Knobel (Uwe Ochesenknecht), a life-long forger of Nazi memorabilia, got his start as boy selling clothes that he claims Hitler wore.  His current scam is to sell “original” portraits by Hitler of his mistress Eva Braun to connoisseurs of Nazi art.

In the process, he runs into Hermann Willie (Gots George), the ambitious journalist who works for a tabloid magazine, HH Press. modeled on Der Stern.
In 1983, the German magazine Stern published the purported Hitler diaries with great fanfare. However, they were proven to be fake.

The two men concoct scam that will garner fame for the journalist and cash for the forger.

Detailed Plot:

Fritz Knobel (the film’s alter-ego of real-life forger Konrad Kujau) supports himself by faking and selling Nazi memorabilia.

He sells a portrait of Eva Braun and one volume of Hitler’s alleged diaries to factory owner Karl Lenz, presenting this to his guests during a “birthday party for the Führer,” among whom is sleazy journalist Hermann Willié. Willié works for the magazine “HH press”, which links to Hamburg (as a licence plate abbreviation), where the Stern magazine is located and also to the common abbreviation for “Heil Hitler” among neo-Nazis. Knobel writes the subsequent diaries based on what happens around him; after he meets Martha and she becomes his lover beside his wife Biggi, she also becomes his inspiration for Eva Braun in the diaries. The rumors about his work cause a major Nazi craze among the high society, allowing former Nazi officials to use openly their Nazi ranks (e.g. Obergruppenführer). Willié becomes even more obsessed buying the old yacht Carin II of Hermann Göring and starting an affair with his (fictional) grandniece Freya von Hepp, based on Hermann Göring’s daughter Edda Göring.

There’s increasing pressure on Knobel to deliver the remaining volumes, all the while fearing the uncovering of the forgery. The volumes are convincing enough to fool the enthusiastic journalists, who are willing to overlook oddities like a false monogram “FH” instead of “AH” on one of the volumes.

They even invent alternative facts for their explanation (the term “Führerhauptquartier” instead of “Adolf Hitler”).

Knobel manipulates a forensic graphoanalysis to his advance but it is only a matter of time until the truth is discovered.

The constant fear and the struggle with close identification with the person he is writing about make Knobel collapse.

His two spouses take over the initiative forcing him to pull himself out of the forgery business, while the others fall, similar to the end of World War II.

The humor may be too broad, but the laughs are riotous and they keep coming steadily.

Critical Status:

Schtonk! won awards at the German Film Awards for “Outstanding Feature Film,” “Individual Achievement: Actor” (Götz George) and “Individual Achievement: Direction” (Helmut Dietl), as well as the Best Screenplay Award at the Tokyo Film Fest (Helmut Dietl, Ulrich Limmer).

In 1993, Harald Juhnke won the Ernst Lubitsch Award for his role as Pit Kummer.

Oscar Context

Schtonk! was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in the category of “Best Foreign Language Film” in 1993, losing to the French film Indochine in both cases.

Götz George – Hermann Willié (journalist, fictional equivalent of Gerd Heidemann)
Uwe Ochsenknecht – Fritz Knobel (forger Konrad Kujau)
Christiane Hörbiger – Freya von Hepp (Hermann Göring’s grandniece, Willié’s/Heidemann’s noble girl friend)
Dagmar Manzel – Biggi
Veronica Ferres – Martha
Ulrich Mühe – Dr. Wieland
Harald Juhnke – Pit Kummer
Hermann Lause – Kurt Glück
Martin Benrath – Uwe Esser
Rosemarie Fendel – Mrs. Lentz

Directed by Helmut Dietl
Screenplay: Dietl and Ulrich Limmer
Running time: 115 Minutes
I saw the film, which broke box-office records in Germany, at the 1992 Toronto Film Fest.