10 December 2022

Post-war life is pitted with moral choices in Labyrinth of Peace

Klara (Annina Walt) and Johann (Max Hubacher) celebrate their wedding as post-War life begins

By Wendy Knowlton

29 October 2021

“For Switzerland, the war is just beginning,” states an official in Labyrinth of Peace. After remaining neutral through years of conflict, come 1945 the Swiss face a moral minefield.

Privileged Klara Tobler (Annina Walt) volunteers with the Red Cross and finds herself expected to follow orders when it comes to the treatment of Buchenwald survivors. Her new husband Johann (Max Hubacher) inherits his father-in-law’s failing business, but potential investors may not bear scrutiny. Johann’s brother Egon (Dimitri Stapfer) returns from five years on the border to pursue war criminals who have escaped into Switzerland. He finds not only fugitives but those willing to embrace or betray them for their war-derived wealth.

The three intertwined stories are equally compelling in this handsome six-part series. The question of how neutral those who relied on the war actually are, simmers beneath the surface. The ambiguous nature of peace is immediately apparent when Klara finds herself presiding over a Red Cross “selection” with chilling overtones. 

“Younger than twelve on the right, older than twelve on the left,” the viewer hears.

The Red Cross expected children, but children “were mostly killed in the concentration camp”. So they reluctantly admit the young men who have arrived instead, without papers, without skills and without family in many cases. In an eerie echo of what these men have escaped, their heads are shaved, their freedom is curtailed, and their futures are uncertain. Soon Klara’s own conscience and her interest in one of the boys, motivates her to rebel, despite her mother dismissing their horror stories as “propaganda”. Meanwhile Frau Tobler socialises with a lawyer whom Egon believes to be an escaped Nazi, complicit during the war and now exploiting the peace.

Egon is an idealist, haunted by his time on the border. Often shown in his office with the blinds drawn, he operates in a shadow world of secrets and darkness. On his first day in the Prosecutor’s Office, he is splattered with the blood of a Nazi suicide, and this proves a visual reminder of all he cannot truly wash away. While others seem content to pass names and responsibility on to the Americans, Egon seethes at the lack of available money or manpower to pursue those he suspects. It’s not enough to him that they’ve done “nothing wrong in Switzerland”. Justice requires that he probes further, even when his seemingly sunny brother Johann’s desperate pursuit of funds sets him on a path where “the right people” can make things happen.

Whether a sympathiser, an avenger or a potential collaborator, Klara, Egon, and Johann must negotiate their way through a world that is rife with tension, prejudice, and difficult decisions. Their moral choices will define each of them and their relationships. “You Swiss are no different” says Herschel bitterly. It is up to each protagonist to prove him wrong. 

Labyrinth of Peace is currently available on SBS On Demand.

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