The Story of Hans-Joachim Klein

On December 21, 1975, six terrorists from the Revolutionary Cells, led by Carlos ‘The Jackal’ forced their way into the conference room of the OPEC headquarters in Vienna and took seventy ministers hostage. Three people were killed, Klein was seriously wounded. The terrorists managed to escape to Algiers with a few hostages and the wounded man. There the hostages were released. After Klein’s decision to turn his back on terrorism, he had to hide for both the police and his former allies. It wasn’t until 1998 that he turned himself in. Klein now lives in Normandy and has to deal on a daily bases with the choices he made during his militant years. The documentary reconstructs the life of former terrorist Hans-Joachim Klein and reveals why an individual pursues a path of radicalism and violence.


The Story of Hans-Joachim Klein

On December 21, 1975, six terrorists from the Revolutionary Cells, led by Carlos ‘The Jackal’ forced their way into the conference room of the OPEC headquarters in Vienna and took seventy ministers hostage. A gun battle with the police ensued, and three people were killed. One terrorist was seriously wounded. The terrorists managed to escape to Algiers with a few hostages and the wounded man. There the hostages were released. The wounded terrorist was Hans-Joachim Klein.

At the moment that Klein arrived in Algiers, he decided to quit terrorism. The only question was how. Quitting would be seen as treason, and Carlos was known for his relentless position about this. Klein escaped with the help of an old comrade from the student movement. This comrade was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and he would continue to help him in subsequent years, until Klein’s arrest in 1998. When Klein broke away from terrorism, he took refuge in the countryside of Normandy and continued to hide there for many years. At that time, he posed as a journalist for the German magazine ‘Der Spiegel.’ The villagers in his area knew who Klein really was, but they let his terrorist past rest. He wrote a book in which he broke with his terrorist past.

Klein blamed himself for realizing too late what terrorism was about. He now sees that he was used by Middle East organizations. While Klein thought the OPEC action was in support of the Palestinian cause; in reality it turned out to be a way for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to get a better grip on OPEC. Klein believed in the idealism of terrorism, but there proved to be great political powers at work that had their own agenda.

In 1998, Klein let himself be arrested in Normandy. He was fed up with living underground. For five years, Klein didn’t come out of his cell; he sat in heavily protected prisons in Stuttgart and Frankfurt, where murderers and pedophiles were imprisoned. Klein read the complete Marcel Proust epic, ‘A la recherhe du temps perdu’ (‘Remembrance of Things Past’). At the beginning of this year, he was released, five years after being imprisoned. He returned to the village in Normandy where he had hidden for many years.

The documentary shows how the personal events in the life of an individual can lead to radicalism and terrorism. Director Alexander Oey reconstructs the life of Hans-Joachim Klein and unravels Klein’s earlier choice for terrorism. Then up to the present, up to the moment that the terrorist has returned to village life, Oey films his daily existence in the Normandy countryside while Klein tells his life story. Oey travels back to Germany with him and meets Klein’s old friends such as European parliament member Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Can they remember the moment when a divergence of opinions arose between those who became radical and those who decided to remain on a straight path?

Director: Alexander Oey
Cinematography: Jackó van‘t Hof
Sound: Benny Jansen
Editor: Chris van Oers
Producers: Christian Beetz (DE), Bruno Felix & Femke Wolting (NL)
Commissioning editors: Maarten Schmidt & Thomas Doebele (VPRO), Esther Schapira & Dr. Georg Hafner (HR), Jutta Krug (WDR)