The Luxembourg priest Henri Kremer (Ulrich Matthes) is imprisoned in the so-called “Priestblock” (Pfarrerblock) in Dachau concentration camp. Things seem to take an unexpected turn when he is surprisingly released. But this supposed freedom is but brief. A mere respite from the camp is being granted to him, during which he must render a service to the Gestapo: if he succeeds to persuade the Luxembourg bishop to cooperate with the Nazis within eight days, then he and his 18 fellow inmates will be freed.
If he fails, he must return to the concentration camp on the ninth day, which would mean certain death for him and his fellow sufferers. Within these eight days he meets daily with the Gestapo officer Gebhardt (August Diehl), also a former candidate for the priesthood, who tries to convince him that this is the right thing to do. An intellectual and spiritual battle of faith, betrayal and morality arises between the catholic priest Kremer and the Nazi careerist, highlighting their opposing sides. However it also brings to light common group between the two: their faith in God.
As soon as he realizes what he has to do, he doesn’t know whether he can cope with that which he knows to be right. That is actually the gripping part: to know what one has to do, without knowing whether one hast the strength to do it. Only the person that does the right thing in the end, is identical with oneself. (Translated from Schlöndorff 2011, p. 453)