‘Wearing the SS uniform was a huge weight’

Mike Cohen
4 min readMay 1, 2024


Jewish Telegraph, April 2024

SADISTIC: Jonas Nay as Nazi guard Stefan Baretzki and Jonah Hauer-King as Lali

GERMAN actor Jonas Nay didn’t want to show any compassion in his portrayal of Nazi monster Stefan Baretzki.
“What I tried to do was stay true to the voice of Lali Sokolov. He didn’t describe him as one-dimensional, but as both a monster and a human being,” Jonas told me. “A monster doing sadistic, horrible, unimaginably horrific actions to the prisoners and also as a deeply insecure human on the desperate search for anything being left of any human level of the soul, on the desperate search for something like a relationship.
“This is what Lali told Heather Morris so I tried to level up with that. That was the biggest challenge in playing Stefan Baretzki.”
Jonas first came to prominence as Stasi spy Martin Rauch in Deutschland 83, 86 and 89.
The 33-year-old was born in Lübeck in 1990, just days before Germany’s reunification.
He says that when he donned the Nazi uniform for The Tattooist of Auschwitz, he “immediately felt a big weight on my shoulders”.
Many of his scenes were with Jonah Hauer-King playing the young Lali.
“I was going side by side with Jonah to the set. I had already spent a lot of time with him. We agreed on the fact that we were going to carry each other throughout each and every scene and through the whole series,” he said.
“But still, from the very first day, putting on the uniform of an SS officer, going into what was built up as the camp was a feeling of a big weight pulling me down the whole day.”
Was Jonas apprehensive about playing such a monster?
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” he replied. “ I was doing a lot of research on the real Stefan Baretzki. You could listen to him defending himself in the Frankfurt trials in the 1960s, trying to justify the horrible things, the sadistic actions he did day by day, being a guard in Auschwitz.”
Baretzki was sentenced to life imprisonment and eight years at his trial in 1960 for participating in the murder of more than 8,000 people.
He expressed regret for his actions, testified against his former superiors, and committed suicide in prison in 1988.
“I sat down a lot of times with Heather Morris and she told me the words of Lali, everything she knew about Stefan Baretzki from Lali, who had spent so much time side by side being guarded by him as he was a tattooist in Auschwitz,” Jonas continued.
“I tried to get all of the stories, all the parameters of the character and tried to be true to the voice of Lali Sakolov as told by Heather Morris.”
He added: “And everything that I learned from Baretzki is, of course, how sadistic and evil he was and also how volatile he was.
“And one thing I learned through Heather was that he was also a deeply insecure character on the desperate search for anything human left in himself, on the desperate search for something like a relationship to a human being in a completely inhuman surrounding of Auschwitz.
“Our director Tali Shalom-Ezer said she wanted to explore, throughout the series, the dynamic between Baretzki, Lali and Gita — to look behind the uniforms of these characters, to really look at the human beings in this inhuman environment.”
Jonas said he couldn’t have done some of the more brutal scene without the “unbelievable support of my colleagues like Anna and Jonah and also with the unbelieveable embrace of Tali concerning me as Jonas Nay taking on that role.
“The first time we got together, Jonah and Tali embraced me and were like, ‘okay, we’re gonna get through this together and we’re gonna carry each other through this series’.
“And this was the support I needed for these scenes that are just unimaginably brutal.
“Yes, we were acting and on a human level and on a personal level to be as supportive to each other as possible.
“I remember in between the scenes, Jonah and me talking about the music we did, and I talked to Tali about family and her children and all these things that make us human.
“They played a big role between takes and were ubelievably important to get through a six-part series.”
Jonas is also a musician — and this helped him unwind each night after shooting.
“I had an apartment in Bratislava, where we were filming. I had taken all my composing stuff, like a keyboard and a microphone, because I’m working on a score for a Christmas movie at that time.
“So after each day I was doing uplifting Christmas music. That was something that really got me out of it. I called co-composer David Grabowski each evening and we tried to get into a Christmasy vibe.
“I was also jogging along the river in Bratislava, every day. I needed to do some sports, like physically to get out.
“But the role still follows me. After each and every day of the shooting, I couldn’t get all the weight off me and and after the whole shooting, I needed a lot of time to reset.”



Mike Cohen

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email Mcohen@jewishtelegraph.com with your Jewish arts stories