The Choice of a Single Man
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the National Socialist Party was a complicated one. This is probably why it is so often misrepresented. You can't just say that the Church collaborated with the Nazis. You can't just say that the Nazis were religious [i]or[/i] atheist. Well, obviously, you can--so many people do, after all. However, if you are interested in historical accuracy, you cannot. If you are interested in historical accuracy, you must acknowledge that there are all sorts of issues involved. In fact, I was reading about the interaction between Pope Pius XII and the Nazi government, and it shows that the Church held far less culpability in what happened in the Holocaust than they are painted to have done in popular culture. It is uncertain what the Pope could have done if he'd wanted to, and in fact he did rather more than he is remembered for doing. However, there were also definitely people of faith who believed the Nazi rise was right.
There were, as it happens, priests in Dachau. One of them was Father Jean Bernard, called Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes) in the film. His family is prominent in his home country of Luxembourg, and he personally is friends with the bishop. And so he is granted leave from Dachau--unheard of!--to go back to Luxembourg and convince the bishop (Vladimir Fiser, I think) to declare that the Church in Luxembourg allies itself with Nazi Germany. He is given nine days. He will meet with Untersturmführer Gebhardt (August Diehl) every day and report on his progress. If he runs away, every cleric from Luxembourg in Dachau's "priest block" will be killed. His family will also be put in danger. Perhaps worst of all, Gebhardt is a lapsed seminarian who works at convincing Kremer that betraying his country is the right thing to do--maybe the only thing to do. He preys on Gebhardt's faith, and of course there is the belief that just doing what he asks will keep Kremer from returning to Dachau.
The movie is, however loosely, based on true events. Oh, the Luxembourg Gestapo apparently did not know that Father Bernard was getting released, but for reasons no one knows to this day, he got a brief furlough from Dachau. He got ten days, and then, he went back. This story is putting a reason forward. It's also true that the Nazi Party was in a constant battle to make itself legitimate in the eyes of the faithful. I don't know any details about the Catholic Church in Luxembourg during World War II, but it seems likely to me that Nazis felt getting the Church there on their side would help end the Resistance. I doubt that's true, and indeed, one of the only people on the Wikipedia list of Luxembourgian Roman Catholic priests (at least in English) was executed as a collaborator after the war. The people would have continued to fight despite what the Nazis wanted from them, I suspect, and despite what was being preached from the pulpit.
Of course, the theology may well be the most interesting part. As part of his efforts to wear Kremer down, Untersturmführer Gebhardt reveals the thinking that he has done on Judas. Dogma holds that Judas is in Hell (I disagree with this for complicated reasons), but Gebhardt argues, rather persuasively, that Judas is as important to the faith as Jesus. Without the Crucifixion, there is no faith. This is not terribly unlike my own reasoning for why Judas is not in Hell, though I'm not sure I'd go quite so far. The theology is hard to explain, and the point here is that Luxembourg must fall in order to ensure that the Church will continue afterward. In order to have a Church in the post-war world, the Church must join with the Nazis. Now, I don't know if Gebhardt himself believes this. I'm not sure he believes there ought to be a Church. But it is a persuasive argument for a former seminarian to make to a priest. Given it was what Gebhardt's thesis was supposedly about, I have no doubt that he could have documented everything meticulously, had he felt the need.
Most Holocaust movies are driven by questions about what ordinary people would do in such extraordinary circumstances. We like to think that we would do the right thing, but movies like this suggest that it is possible for everyone to fail. Father Kremer tells in his diary the story of a lapse which might have caused the death of one of the other prisoners. On the other hand, making the decision differently might have caused Kremer's death, and who knows what difference that might have made with how Luxembourg's Catholic Church interacted with the Nazis? Kremer was the right man in the right time for the events posited by filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. As I said, there is no reason to believe this was the case for Father Jean Bernard, especially given that I don't know very much about him. But these movies are most frequently about men who were able to make decisions that not everyone could manage. That's why we make the movies about them in the first place--because they are extraordinary.