Synopsis: Gumbel is known today for his contribution to the statistical prediction of extreme events. Forgotten, however, is his fight against the rise of National Socialism. Einstein called him a man of boundless bravery when he began gathering (publishing) evidence of right-wing structures that were destroying the Weimar Republic from within.
That we don’t know about the story of this Jewish scientist who fought against the Nazis is all the more astonishing given that Gumbel was a public figure like no other in his time. His name became a household word, and his person a media event. Yet no one would listen to his warnings, and so his story is an invaluable example for today.
The film about E. J. Gumbel is told through archival material such as Gumbel’s so-called “vanity books,” in which he collected newspaper clippings about himself, biographers who describe a variety of stages in his life, and, above all, “live-action animations” by artist Nuno Viegas that bring Gumbel back to life.
In the face of the extremes of Nazism, we are usually concerned with the perpetrators and the victims, less with the roots of the violence and how it changed society. And we tend to forget the voices of those who tried to prevent the violence.
E. J. Gumbel was one of the best known and most hated enemies of the Nazis in his time. His notoriety was such that his name itself became a dirty word. The Nazis hated Gumbel because he uncompromisingly showed how the first German democracy sacrificed its ideals and the means by which the fascists came to power.
Our present reminds me of this period of German history. Gumbel, too, grew up in a time marked by a sense of security and progress, especially in contrast to all that was to follow – wars, annihilation, loss of freedom, the age of fascism. Gumbel was an optimist and a democrat in the half of the century that went down in history as a downfall of civilization. A pacifist in an era of extreme violence. A Cassandra figure whose grim warnings went unheard. And thus a reminder for each of us to protect our society and its values in the face of the extremes we are dealing with today.
David Ruf is director, producer and co-founder of Rocinante Film GmbH and XR Anywhere. He was born in Augsburg, Germany, and now lives and works in Berlin. After a year of social work in India, Calcutta and traveling, he studied Documentary Directing at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg from 2007 – 2014. From 2019 to 2022, he studied Digital Media Law and Management at the Erich Pommer Fellowship in the MBA program.
His film Children of Light was awarded the ARD Program Award. In 2019, he received the Erich Pommer Fellowship. In 2020, his project Weltwandler App was selected for the VR NOW prototype grant. Since 2014, he has been a shareholder of Rocinante Film GmbH. In 2016 he co-founded Weltwander Theater GbR for socio-cultural projects. In 2021 he founded XR Anyhwere for cross-media formats.