These days, when she strolls the cobbled streets of her native Passau (pop. 50,000), Anna Rosmus suffers no worse than a derisive glance from the people she passes. More likely she elicits a cheerful "guten Tag!" But lingering along the narrow alleyways and steep embankments of this baroque German town on the Danube are echoes: jeering shopkeepers taunting her with cries of "Traitor!" and mothers with children shouting "Shame!" [P] For in Passau, Rosmus, 30, is Das Schreckliche Mädchen—the Nasty Girl—the inspiration for the new German film of that name directed by Michael Verhoeven. A success in Europe, the movie has also struck a chord with American audiences and is nominated for this year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. [P] What did cherubic-looking Anna do to deserve such a title? The Nasty Girl supplies the answers, albeit adding a sharply satirical edge. Her transformation from innocent schoolgirl to local whipping girl began in 1980 when, at 20, she entered a government-sanctioned national high school essay contest on "Life in My Hometown Between 1933 and 1945." Not surprisingly, most older Germans found the subject of their activities during the Third Reich an uncomfortable one, and Anna's probings were met with cloudy memories, portentous silence and slammed doors. More startling to Anna than the few cases of Nazi complicity she first uncovered was a general urge to leave the past undredged. Nevertheless she found people who had boasted of being in the resistance but turned out to have been Nazi collaborators instead. Conversely she showed how a disgraced former Mayor, popularly regarded as the town's only Nazi, had in fact been charitable to Jews (of which Passau had 400 in 1928 and one—in hiding—after 1938). The former Mayor was the town scapegoat. [P] The essay won third prize; Rosmus's investigations won her the undying enmity of the people of the town. The local paper began editorializing against her, calling her "the nest soiler" and subjecting her to a series of persecutions. "For a long while," recalls Rosmus. "I received threatening and obscene phone calls virtually day and night. I was spat upon. Children, but also grown-ups, used to scream, 'Judenhure!' [LB]Jew's whore)." When Rosmus defiantly continued her research and published a book based on her essay, the threats continued into adulthood. "When I gave birth to my daughter Salome [in 1984[RB]," she says, "the location of my hospital room was kept secret because of threats that my baby would be killed." [P] She took little comfort in her husband, Manfred Wenninger, 40, from whom she is now separated and seeking a divorce. He had been her math teacher in high school, and they wed when she was 20, but their romance in the film doesn't match reality. "He was not the person I swooned over," says Rosmus. who claims she was too young when she married him and that he didn't support her work. [P] Her book Resistance and Persecution-The Case of Passau 1933-1939, published in 1983, was awarded the prestigious Scholl Prize (carrying with it a $14,000 cash award), named for brother-and-sister student leaders who were executed for their anti-Nazi agitation in 1943. In 1988 Rosmus published a second book, Exodus, In the Shadow of Mercy, chronicling discrimination against the Jews in Passau from 1900 to the present. Even now, Anna calculates, there are a mere 23 Jews in Passau, none openly Jewish. [P] Unlike the winsome and puckish "nasty girl" of the movie (called Sonja and played by German actress Lena Stolze), the real-life Rosmus is an awkward sort of heroine—dogged and idealistic but also stubborn and combative. "I never regretted, and I never felt sorry," says Anna. "I remained cool. I didn't oblige my attackers by permitting them to see that I was hurt." Verbally lashing back, Rosmus offers a vision of a Teutonic Peyton Place. "The people of Passau consider the kind of aggressions they have vented at me as a very welcome relief from their rather dull. provincial lives," she says. "If it hadn't been me, they would have had to invent someone else in my place." Her public insouciance serves as kindling for her enemies, none of whom will talk about her for the record. "They still look at me a bit like a bull looks at the piece of red cloth," she says. "But I get a certain kick out of it." [P] Throughout her trials, Anna's parents stood behind her, even as they were losing many old friends. "It wasn't always easy," says her mother, also named Anna, 61, who teaches Catholic religion in a public school. "But since her youth, whatever Anna did was honest and sincere." Her father, Georg, 63, now retired, was the highly regarded director of a combined elementary and junior high school. They had not been Nazis; in fact, Anna's mother collected signatures to prevent a Catholic priest from being sent to a concentration camp, and Anna's maternal grandmother, also a teacher, risked at least her job when she kept the Nazis from replacing a crucifix in her school with a picture of Hitler. [P] Rosmus's brother, Wolfgang, 29, a student, and sister, Gisela, 27, who works in a bank, are also supportive—but, says Anna, at a respectful distance: "They sympathize with me, but they feel it is enough for one of us to hold up the flag." [P] Despite the antagonism she has aroused, Rosmus has steadfastly remained in her hometown—in part, she says, because as a single parent she needs her extended family to care for her daughters, Nadine, 9, and Salome, 6, Her parents live across the street from Anna's five-room bungalow in an upper-middle-class development two miles from the center of town. Wenninger, who moved away in 1984, continues to support Anna and the girls (as do her parents) but has little good to say about his soon-to-be ex. "My wife is a mean, selfish person who will do anything to get in the news," he says, adding hyperbolically. "I'm certain she was furious when she didn't get to play the lead in The Nasty Girl." Socially. Rosmus is now seeing a Jewish journalist, Felix Kuballa, 54, whom she met in 1986. [P] As if she needed more time at the barricades, Rosmus lately has taken up the cause of Third World refugees seeking asylum in Germany, as well as that of Passau's gays, a number of whom are her closest friends in town. Her current professional plans are vague, but she hopes one day soon to leave Passau forever—both as a place and as a subject. "I've done my bit there." she says. "They're bound to remember me." [P] Tim Allis, Franz Spelman in Passau [P]
  • Contributors:
  • Franz Spelman.