On this day in 1999, the film Aimée & Jaguar was first released in its
home country of Germany. Set during World War II, the movie tells the true and
devastating love story of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, one the wife of a
respected Nazi soldier and the other a Jewish journalist hiding in plain sight at
a Nazi controlled newspaper.
The film begins in Berlin in the 1990s; two old women meet in a nursing
home, and when the narrator sweeps back in time to 1943, you know you are in
for a decades-long story that will stick with you long after the credits roll. The
foundation of Aimée & Jaguar is something we’ve all seen before:
bored housewife is swept off her feet by the charismatic and dangerous queer. However,
what makes Aimee & Jaguar stand out from the crowd of a dozen other lesbian
movies is the lingering knowledge that these were real women who actually lived
and loved in the city that was the heart of the Nazi empire; a gang of lesbian
friends all sitting around a table joking and playing cards, or a Jewish woman
in full suit and top hat waltzing around a ballroom with her lover are the type
of images that I never would have associated with 1940s Berlin before I saw
this movie. They are the type of lived experiences that have been buried under
the mythologizing of WWII-era Europe, and it is through Aimée & Jaguar that
you are able to see that, even though it was stifled under the rise of fascism,
Germany’s thriving gay culture of the 1920s and 1930s was still there, still dancing
and laughing and kissing no matter how many closed doors and curtains it was
forced to hide behind. At the beginning of the movie, I wondered why it wasn’t
titled Lily & Felice or something more obvious, but by the end I had
come to realize just how crucial Lily and Felice’s pet names were to their
relationship, and just how important sublimated identity was during this time
for lgbtq people, for Jewish people, and for any marginalized person living
under Hitler’s rule.
Felice Schragenheim and Lilly Wust as pictured in Erica Fischer’s novel. The text at the bottom reads: (Left) Felice, in a photo taken by Lilly, on the Havel River, August 21, 1944. (Right) Lilly, in a photo taken by Felice, during the summer of 1944 on the balcony of Lilly’s apartment at Friedrichshaller Strasse 23.
Before the film was released, Lilly and
Felice’s story was told in novel form by Erica Fischer in her bestselling book Aimée
& Jaguar: A
Love Story, Berlin 1943, which you can check out here! Or hear the story
told through Lily’s own words in this 2001 interview with The Guardian.
And of course, here’s a link to the full movie on YouTube!