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Synopsis of All Our Children
So begins a day in the life of Dr. Victor Franz, pediatrician, founder and head of a pediatric institute in Winkelheim, Germany. At the beginning, we see an ailing Dr. Franz, through the eyes of his maid, Martha. He has been drinking and sleeping in his office, wearied physically and emotionally. Martha notes that Dr. Franz does not look well. The oppressive influence of the Nazi Party and the war is felt immediately. Talk revolves around food rationing, husbands and sons off for infantry training, the patriotic duty to have children. Martha and Victor pine for the ‘old days’ when the hospital cared for ‘ordinary children.’
Eric, the SS officer assigned as the administrator of the hospital enters. He and the doctor continue the “important work” of the clinic by selecting the group of “patients” to be included in the month’s “transport.” There will be 34 patients “evacuated,” up from 24 the previous month. Dr. Franz protests the number and the patients selected by Eric. They finally settle on 29 patients to be guardedly transported away in buses with blackened windows.
Eric tells Dr. Franz he will be visited in the evening by Bishop von Galen, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Münster, who has protested their work in the newspapers, as well as from the pulpit. As the senior pediatrician, Dr. Franz is to defend the Nazi party line and argue in favor of the clinic’s “program.” Dr. Franz again pines for those days when medicine was ‘for the good of all.’
Enter Elizabetta Pabst, a World War I widow and the mother of one of the “patients,” who has brought her son, Stefan, his favorite biscuits and a Christmas stolen for the doctor. Although she appreciates the hospital for “taking care” of Stefan, diagnosed as “an idiot” with epilepsy, she is lonely and yearns to hug him once again. The doctor refuses her visitation rights as being against regulations.
Dr. Franz tells Eric about his visit from Elizabetta and concludes with ‘I hate this job… why the hell are we doing it?’ Eric counsels him that their work is important for the good of the new country; the disabled are necessary collateral of no value. He states, ‘It’s as simple as that. ‘Lives unworthy of Life’.’
Dr. Franz confronts Eric again, as he prepares for his visit from Bishop von Galen. Their argument devolves to a single point: you either support National Socialism or you don’t. Eric suggests the doctor focus his argument for their work on the cost required to support the life of a disabled child; Dr. Franz wants to stress their work as an act of “mercy,” a kindness, saying, ‘who’d want one of these as a child’.
After Eric leaves, Elizabetta Pabst bursts into the office. She has a letter dated three days earlier from the clinic, signed by Dr. Franz, saying her son died of natural causes. She confronts the doctor with her suspicion that her son’s epilepsy did not kill him and gets Dr. Franz to acknowledge that he was sent away. When she asks why, Dr. Franz says, ‘Because there’s no need for such people in the Third Reich.’
Bishop von Galen arrives. As Dr. Franz tries to make his economic case, the bishop asks if the money saved will be used to help the poor? Like many Germans, the Bishop opposed the Nazis from the outset,, having quickly seen through their neo-pagan lies of building a “better” Germany. Accusing the Nazis of having no respect for traditional values, he confronts the doctor with rumors of starvation, inhumane conditions and even death coming from the “hospital.” Dr. Franz acknowledges that there are monthly transports, but he has not actually witnessed any deaths; he can only speak to what they do at his clinic.
Dr. Franz tries to justify his position, arguing against moral absolutes and emphasizing the fact that doctors always need to make tough choices between life and death. The doctor further contends, in his case, those decisions are made with Germany’s best interest in mind; that his patriotic intentions are to shape “a new Germany, a Germany that’s strong and healthy and happy.” The bishop stays the course, countering that those who are strong and “have the power… have a responsibility to those who don’t.”
Eric returns as the bishop readies to depart. Martha, waiting to escort the bishop out, overhears the bishop accuse the doctor and Eric of state-sponsored murder. Dr. Franz tells Eric he will postpone the next transport to think things through. Eric tells him it will make no difference. However, Eric realizes the doctor is lost to the Nazi cause. Pushing past Martha, Eric storms out. Martha begs the doctor to tell her what has been happening at the clinic. He responds, ‘It is ‘complicated.” What will he do?