Sounds from the FogKlaus Stanjek

Run Time:
94 minutes
German, English, Czech with English subtitles


“A profound story of a decades-long concealment, which spawned distrust and suspicion….The documentary is not about a healing forgetfulness, but rather an intricate and very German form of repression. The film tells the story of a hidden life, and does it quite calmly, yet with excitement, in the manner of a detective film with clues.”
—Anke Westphal, Berliner Zeitung

“The film tells how gay musician Willi Heckmann survived the concentration camps. The title in German seems like a paradox: “Sounds of Silence.” Can silence have sound at all; is it not just dumb? However, in post-war Germany, which Klaus Stanjek shows in this moving documentary, the silence must have been deafening….A film in the form of a detective story.”
—Christian Schröder, Tagesspiegel

“The Jerusalem Cinematheque’s 15th Jewish Film Festival was honored to screen Sounds From the Fog. The context of Klaus Stanjek’s film sheds light on a compelling unknown personal account in WWII history and enriched our festival repertoire in terms of substance, cinematography, and creative narration. As a Jewish Film Festival that defines itself first and foremost through artistic excellence and pluralism, we are constantly seeking out films that offer new meanings to the Jewish experience and WWII cinema. Within this context, Sounds From the Fog was a perfect match for our program. Through this excellent film, our viewers were exposed to the effects of the Holocaust on non-Jews as well as Jews during WWII. This, together with the film’s outstanding archival research and photographic animation, contributed to two evenings appreciated by our audience and festival staff alike.”
—Daniella Tourgeman, Program Director, Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival

“An incredibly moving documentary because Klaus Stanjek is not only the observant documentarian, but his personal touch and vibration are palpable. Equipped with numerous family photos and his own very positive memories of his uncle, Stanjek began his meticulous search for clues that led him to the Mauthausen concentration camp.”
—Astrid Priebs-Tröger, Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichtens-Tröger


“Active forgetting” is a common process of coping with history in Germany. In a radical personal approach, Klaus Stanjek’s film follows the complex turns and feelings of his family when they confront the threatening knowledge of Uncle Willi’s secret. Klaus Stanjek narrates, “My cheerful uncle lived with my family unless he was touring as an entertainment musician across Germany. Only when he turned 90 did I detect what my whole family had hidden: that he had spent eight years in Nazi camps and that he was gay. As I researched his life, I found out that my hometown, which presented itself as a liberal town, had been a major stronghold of the early Nazi-Party. And that my mother enjoyed her career in the Hitler-Youth, despite knowing about her brothers captivity.” Sounds from the Fog (or Sounds of Silence) is a compelling account of the director’s own family history and the phenomenon of German repression of WWII memories. Stanjek delves into the personal and political life of his beloved uncle, a talented singer and accordion player, in a chronicle that is one part historical inquiry and one part fascinating detective story.

Extended Synopsis

Extended synopsis by Klaus Stanjek

“Active forgetting” is a common process of coping with history in Germany. In a radical personal approach, the film follows the complex turns and twists of my family’s feelings, when they try to deal with troublesome, contradicting and threatening knowledge.

My cheerful uncle used to live with my family unless he was touring as an entertainment musician across Germany. Only at his age of 90 (when I was 40) did I detected what he and my whole family had hidden all his life: that he had spent eight years in Nazi concentration camps (Dachau + Mauthausen) and that he was gay.

During the following research I found out that my hometown Wuppertal, which presented itself as a liberal town of social consciousness, had been a major stronghold of the early Nazi-Party in the twenties.  I found out that even in brutal concentration camps like Mauthausen, turbulent festivities took place where my uncle played music; that my mother enjoyed her career in the “Bund Deutscher Mädel” (the Hitler-Youth), despite knowing about her brother’s imprisonment; and I realised that my hometown tended to cover its history with a kind of amnesia, ignorance and even transfiguration.

My research around our family taboos was hindered at several levels: by restrictions of the German judiciary, by the reluctance of some family members to talk about these things, and also by my own inclination to avoid painful questions relating to possible guilt.

Because of the heavily charged taboo, the story of my beloved uncle was hardly accessible. Therefore the film is based on sources like my own memories, reports and imaginations of my relatives, on detected documents and on plenty of photos.

By means of animated sequences and image compositing (made in collaboration with Sonja Rohleder), we revitalized the photos, by stressing their subjectivity and imaginary content. My exploration, my surprising encounters in several countries, my evaluation of findings and my descriptions lead the audience through the burdened and antagonistic social history of Germany.

My hope is that the dynamics of repression and denial might become emotionally accessible, while music offers its potential for imaginary relief.




William Dieterle Film Prize of the city of Ludwigshafen, 2013

Bürgerpreis (Civic Award), Nonfiktionale Bad Aibling Film Festival, Bavaria April 2014

Select Screenings

Kommunales Kino, Freiburg

Cinematheque, Leipzig

Cinema Bolzano, Internatational Competition

DokFest Munich

Oberaudorf MusikfilmFestival

Münster Queer Film Festival

Bozener Filmtage

Thalia (Potsdam)

Filmmuseum München

Kino Maxim München

Alte Feuerwache Wuppertal-Elberfeld

Oli Lichtspiele Magdeburg

Zachäus-Kirche Berlin

Hackesche Höfe Kinos Berlin

Eva Lichtspiele Berlin

Moviemento Berlin

Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival

Ernst-Bloch-Zentrum Ludwigshafen


Director’s Statement

Klaus Stanjek’s Director’s Statement

The disquieting synchronicity of bliss and horror, darkness and luster, liberty and cataclysm is poignantly reflected in the life of my musical uncle:

Homosexuality during the martial empire, the blossoming of the arts in devastated and demoralized post-World War I Germany, the Nazi crushing of Weimar Era liberalization, popular music in concentration camps, decades of secrecy and indifference during the age of economic miracles in post-World War II West Germany….

Like my uncle, my parents and relatives kept mum about the decisive conflicts, presumably to safeguard my peace of mind and their own. Apparently we are emotionally incapable of integrating the stark contradictions between glory and abyss without subjecting ourselves to intolerable pain. Instead, we distort, forget and suppress everything around us until the intellectual result appears to be emotionally tolerable.

Willi learned early on to keep certain truths to himself and to bear the unbearable. His life drastically reflects the all-encompassing repression of homosexuality over generations. Willi sought his own path to emotional well-being by retreating into an inner world of freedom—music. His music lent him wings. It was the shelter that gave him a purpose in life, which gained him friends and admirers, money and self-respect.

The film’s perspective remains personal and subjective, even when reflecting the emotional landscape of a nation grappling with the rise and fall of several different forms of government, changing values and ideals, and the suffering these inflicted at home and abroad. But the nation was not really coming to terms with its haunted past. Instead, it was erecting walls of silence, creating memory lapses, and suppressing entire historical episodes.

Willi Heckmann’s life and the views of his relatives are exemplary of such processes. His popular music encapsulates the tremendous emotional strain of coping with the fractures and calamities of the 20th century.

—Klaus Stanjek

Director’s Bio

Klaus Stanjek’s Biography

Klaus Stanjek was born in Wuppertal in 1948. He studied psychology and biology with a focus on anthropology, followed by cross-cultural research at the Max Planck Institute. After receiving his PhD on the cultural history of property, Stanjek studied documentary film at the Munich Film School. He has also worked as a packer, truck driver, waiter, sorter and fitter, and traveled through Europe, Africa, Asia , North and South America. He was active in the Munich Film Club “Cinepol.”

From 1979-82, he worked at the HFF Munich Film School Documentary Department, where he was employed as an assistant and lecturer until 1989. Stanjek has worked as a Lecturer for documentary, aesthetics and film practice in Munich, Bolzano, Colombo, Addis Ababa, Beijing and Leipzig. Since 1977 he has made numerous documentaries on social, ecological, ethnographic and socio-political themes for TV and the cinema, mostly with his own production company Cinetarium Babelsberg, which he founded in 1983.  His work has been awarded Best Documentary at Cinema Bolzano, and has screened at numerous festivals in many countries as well as on TV and in the cinema.

In 1993 he was invited to teach at the Babelsberg Film School HFF  Konrad Wolf as a professor of documentary directing. In addition to teaching at the Babelsberg Film School, he organized international workshops on documentary like the “Visions Project” and cooperated with the Iranian Film School Soureh University in Tehran. Stanjek has been a member of various juries and selection committees and has published articles on documentary cinema. Stanjek lives in Babelsberg near Berlin.

Klaus Stanjek’s Selected Filmography:

A musical detective story

2004        COMMUNE OF BLISS
A close look at the inner dynamics of a Hutterite commune

A fisherman’s family and its 350- year old farm

A Hutterite commune seen through the eyes of their children

1990         TWILIGHT
The ecology of artificial light

1985        WATERLORDS
Increasing dangers to drinking water

1981        MENDZANG BETI
Musical traditions of the Beti / Cameroon

1977        CHRISTIANIA    Commune in barracks
Observations in Danmarks slum stormer movement



English title:  SOUNDS FROM THE FOG


Country of production:  Germany

Year of production:  2013

Duration:  94 minutes (24 fps); 90 minutes (25 fps)

Format:  DCP (16:9 anamorph)

Original language:  German, English and Czech with English subtitles

Color:  Color + Black/White

Director:  Klaus Stanjek

Author:   Klaus Stanjek

Camera:  Niels Bolbrinker, Volker Gerling, Klaus Lautenbacher, Axel Schneppat

Sound Recording + Mix:  Raimund von Scheibner

Animation:  Sonja Rohleder

Editing:  Barbara Toennieshen, Dirk Schreier

Music Composers:  Eike Hosenfeld & Moritz Denis

Production company:  CINETARIUM Babelsberg

Producer:  Klaus Stanjek

TV-partner:  WDR Cologne

Supported by: Cultural Council City of Munich, City of Potsdam

Cast Bios


Protagonists and interviewees in the order of their appearance in the movie.

Dr. Uwe Eckardt

Historian / director of

town archive Wuppertal (until 2009)


Willi Heckmann

Main character / musician /

born 1897, died 1995 in Wuppertal, Germany

more details here:


Ruth Bluhme

Née Heckmann /

niece of Willi Heckmann /

died in 2004 in Lüdenscheid, Germany


Inge Baumeister

Née Stanjek / aunt of the author /

born 1923 in Upper Silesia


Kläre Stanjek

Née Heckmann / mother of the director and sister of

Willi Heckmann/born 1920 in Wuppertal, Germany

Died 2005 in Wuppertal



llse Schmidt

Née Heckmann / niece of

Willi Heckmann / journalist /

Died in 2013 in Bochum /Germany

Mrs. Würschmidt

Owner of Hotel Würschmidt / Altena /

died in 2006 in Altena, Germany

Walter Bärenfänger                                                                      

Born in 1920 in Altena

neighbour of family Heckmann

Detlev Seeger

Innkeeper of “Café zur Burg” /

Altena, Germany


Käthe Busch

Former Innkeeper of “Café zur Burg” /

Altena, Germany.


Rajmund Pajer

Born 1930 in Italy, political prisoner in

concentration camp Mauthausen

1944 – 1945, lives in Canada.


Johann Freudenthaler

Born 1934 in Mauthausen,

neighbour to the camp,

lives in Mauthausen, Austria


Josef Klat

Born 1922 in Vienna, political prisoner

in camp Mauthausen 1942 -45, died in

Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic in 2013.


Walter Beck

Born 1921 in Czechoslovakia,

political prisoner in camp Mauthausen

1941-45, died in Prague,

Czech Republic in 2013

Hans Maršálek

Born 1914 in Vienna, political prisoner

in camp Mauthausen, director of the

Mauthausen Memorial up to 1976,

died in Vienna in 2011.

Richard Schaffner

Archivist, director of the

town archive of Passau /


Dr. Jens Dobler

Historian, manager of the archive

and library of “Schwules Museum*”


Crew Bios

Animator Sonja Rohleder

The animation sequences developed by artist Sonja Rohleder fulfill a crucial role within the storyline of SOUNDS FROM THE FOG. They help to deepen the emotional layers of the interrelations of the characters, and help to imagine past situations that persisted only in the author’s memory. The art of Sonja Rohleder’s Cut-Out-Animation is determined by its outstanding sensitivity and its respect for the originality of the primary photographic images.

Where original footage is missing I am able to revitalize images and emotions by animation,” explains Sonja Rohleder about her approach.“At the same time the new creation reveals a representation of an imagined reality – nothing factual – but rather a `maybe like this’ reality.”

The animator used collages digitally combining original photos and archival footage as well as frame-by-frame-painting for some backgrounds and characters. Moving some of the static elements in relation to each other creates the illusion of moving characters and objects.

For more info about Sonja Rohleder:



Berliner Zeitung

Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten



November 17, 2014 London, UK
UK Jewish Film Festival