Six dramatic weeks in September and October 1977 have become engraved in the collective memory of the German nation as the so-called “German Autumn.” In the course of 45 days, the brutal terror perpetrated by the second generation of the Red Army Faction (RAF) came to a horrifying climax and the young democracy of the German Bundesrepublik was severely tested. The “German Autumn” began on 5 September with the kidnapping of the president of the German employers’ association Hanns-Martin Schleyer by the RAF. Their aim was to secure the release of the first generation of the RAF led by Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin. Instead of complying with their demands, the German government under the leadership of Helmut Schmidt responded with several weeks of delaying tactics and an investigation that was unprecedented in its scope and scale. Despite their efforts, they were unable to discover where Schleyer was being held hostage.
In order to augment the RAF’s demands, a Palestinian terrorist group sympathising with the German radicals hijacked a Lufthansa plane on 13 October with 86 tourists on board. The captain of the plane was shot dead by the hijackers. Although an elite unit of the German police managed to storm the aircraft and liberate all the passengers without any further loss of innocent life, this attack set off a tragic chain reaction, which culminated in the execution of Hanns-Martin Schleyer by his kidnappers and the suicides of the terrorists imprisoned in Stammheim.
Heinrich Breloer’s two-part TV film portrays the events of the “German Autumn” in a precise manner and manages to capture their dramatic tension. Staged reconstructions of what happened are complemented by interviews with people who were involved such as Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, the former head of the Federal Criminal Bureau Horst Herold and Hanns-Martin Schleyer’s widow Waltrude.