If "The Second Track" seems less than a comprehensive look at public complicity with inhumanity in the Reich, it nevertheless makes compelling inroads on a supremely difficult subject in postwar Germany.
All the archetypal characters take their place: The anguished father, who did his terrible duty and has never recovered; the martyred mother, who alone is a clear and completely sympathetic character, paying with her life for her heroic but fatal goodness; the consistently depraved catalyst, whose ideology drags him through a life of unhappy dodging and costs him everything along the way; the young lovers, innocent of the past but doomed by it, too. One might include the viewer of 1962, who perhaps would rather not have known this story but must wrestle with its implications on a very personal level.
The father, by finding, ultimately, the courage to confront his own past, can be forgiven for his grim adherence to duty, and the daughter, it is suggested, comes to blame the times, the Nazi evil, instead of her father's part in her mother's death. Six million Jews are represented by just the one, whose straightforward death from a pistol shot symbolizes almost antiseptically the ghastly truth.
The film has been compared to the work of Hitchcock, and though it is a suspense movie, its moral and political dimensions go quite beyond anything Hitchcock did. It manages to transcend its own context, telling us important things about how parents spin the past to their children. What did your parents, or mine, cover up to protect us children and our concepts of ourselves?
"The Second Track" may seem tame by comparison to "Schinlder's List" and other films, but seat yourself, mentally, in a theater in Berlin in 1962, just 17 years after the liberation of the camps, and you can hardly escape a chill.