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Upon learning that he will die of cancer in a few months, Gerlach, head of West Germany's greatest industrial combine, summons his younger son, Werner, and Werner's wife, Johanna, an actress, to the family home in Altona. Gerlach wants Werner to assume control of the business, but Werner disapproves of the power his father has amassed by openly supporting any government that would enable him to make money. Although Johanna has been told the elder Gerlach son, Franz, had been killed several years after being cited at the Nuremberg trials for war crimes, she discovers he is actually living in the attic of the house. Walled up in a room without windows and surrounded by relics of the Nazi era, he is totally insane and sees no one except his sister Leni, who brings him food and tells him that Germany is in poverty and ruins. Johanna manages to gain entrance to the room and, after several talks, tells him that Germany is enjoying enormous prosperity. Johanna begins to pity Franz; the embittered and possessive Leni tells the truth about Franz's long career as a soldier who enjoyed torturing and killing his victims. Franz, in desperation, leaves his self-imposed confinement and seeks out his father. The elder Gerlach takes Franz to the shipyards and proudly shows him his empire. As they travel to the observation platform, Franz, in an attempt to erase the guilt of his father and himself, leaps to his death, dragging his father with him.