|© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
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National Socialism created an elaborate system of propaganda, which made use of the new technologies of the 20th century, including cinema.
The National Socialists courted the masses by the means of slogans that were aimed directly at the instincts and emotions of the people.
It is therefore not surprising that the government of the Third Reich valued film as a propaganda instrument of enormous power.
|Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels
The interest that Adolf Hitler and his Propaganda Minister Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels took in film was not only the result of a personal fascination.
The instrumentalization of film for propaganda had been planned by the National Socialist German Workers Party as early as 1930, (three years before they gained power), when the party first established a film department.
Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, who appointed himself “Patron of the German film”, assumed, accurately, that a national cinema which was entertaining and put the government in a glamorous light would be a more effective propaganda instrument than a national cinema in which the NSDAP and their policy would have been ubiquitous.
The main goal of the National Socialist film policy was to promote a certain form of escapism, which was designed to distract the population and to keep everybody in good spirits; Dr Goebbels indeed blamed defeat in World War I on the failure to sustain the morale of the people – a view which was also held by Adolf Hitler, as he explained in ‘Mein Kampf’.
The open propaganda was reserved for films like ‘Der Sieg des Glaubens’ (Victory of Faith) and ‘Triumph des Willen’s (Triumph of the Will), records of the Nürnberg rallies, and newsreels.
There are some examples of German feature films from the Third Reich that deal with the NSDAP, or with party organizations such as the Sturmabteilung, Hitler Youth or the National Labour Service, one notable example being ‘Hitlerjunge Quex’ – a film) about the Hitler Youth.
Another example is the anti-semitic feature film ‘Jud Süß’ (Jew Suss).
The propaganda films that refer directly to Nazi politics amounted to less than a sixth of the whole national film production, which mainly consisted of light entertainment films, although it is those propaganda films that are much more well known today, such as ‘Triumph des Willens’ .
The authorities and NSDAP departments in charge of film policy were the film department of the Ministry of Propaganda, the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture), the Reichsfilmkammer (Reich Chamber of Film), and the Reichspropagandaleitung (film department of the Party Propaganda Department).
A system of “award” was used to encourage self-censorship; awarded for such things as “kulturellen Wert” (cultural value) or “Wert dem Volk” (value to the people), they remitted part of the heavy taxes on films.
Up to a third of the films in the Third Reich received such awards.
The Reichsfilmkammer (RFK; Film Chamber of the Reich) was a public corporation based in Berlin that regulated the film industry in National Socialist Germany between 1933 and 1945.
Everyone in the German Reich who wanted to work on films in any capacity had to be a member; lack of membership meant in effect a ban on employment.
The predecessor of the Reichsfilmkammer was the Spitzenorganisation der Filmwirtschaft (SPIO) (“Film Industry Summit Organisation”).
The Reichsfilmkammer was established on the basis of the Gesetz über die Errichtung einer vorläufigen Filmkammer (“Law for the Establishment of a Temporary Film Chamber”) of 14 July 1933.
Under the Reichskulturkammergesetz (“Law of the Reich Culture Chamber”) of 22 September 1933 the Film Chamber was integrated as a subdivision of the newly founded Reichskulturkammer RKK (“Culture Chamber of the Reich”).
The establishment of the Reichsfilmkammer was preceded by an ordinance of the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda), which prohibited Jews and foreigners from any participation in the German film industry.
|Dr Paul Joseph Goebbles
To co-ordinate film to the goals of propaganda (Gleichschaltung), the NDAP subordinated the entire film industry and administration under Dr Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda, and gradually nationalized film production and distribution.
Gleichschaltung (“coordination”, “bringing into line”), is a National Socialist term for the process by which the NSDAP successively established a system of overall control and coordination over all aspects of society.
Among the goals of this policy were to bring about adherence to a specific doctrine and way of thinking and to control as many aspects of life as possible.
A state-run professional school for politically reliable film-makers (Deutsche Filmakademie Babelsberg) was founded, and membership of an official professional organization (Reichsfilmkammer) was made mandatory for all actors, film-makers, distributors etc.
The censorship that had already been established during World War I and the Weimar Republic was maintained, with a National Film Dramaturgist (Reichsfilmdramaturg) checking all manuscripts and screenplays at the very first stages of production.
Film criticism was prohibited, and a national film award established.
A film bank (Filmkreditbank GmbH) was established to provide low-interest loans for the production of politically welcome films, and such films also received tax benefits.
In the mid-1930s, the German film industry suffered the most severe crisis it had ever faced.
There were multiple reasons for this crisis.
Firstly, many of the most capable actors and film-makers had left the country after the rise to power of the Nazi government; others had been banned by the new Reichsfilmkammer.
These people left a gap that the film industry.
Secondly, the remaining actors and film-makers seized the opportunity to demand higher salaries, which considerably increased production budgets.
Consequently, it became more and more difficult to recover production costs.
Thirdly, the export of German films dramatically dropped due to international boycotts.
In 1933, exports had covered 44% of film production costs; by 1937, this figure had dropped to a mere 7%.
More and more production companies went bankrupt.
The number of companies dropped from 114 (1933–35) to 79 (1936–38) to 38 (1939–41).
This did not necessarily lead to a decrease in the number of new films, as surviving production companies became more prolific, producing many more films.
|Adolf Hitler and Dr Goebbles visit UFA Studios
The consolidation of the film industry was undoubtedly beneficial for the government of the Tird Reich.
On the one hand, an ailing and unprofitable film industry would not have been of much use for the propaganda requirements.
And on the other hand, a small number of big film production companies were easier to control than a multitude of small ones.
Dr Goebbels went even further and directed a holding company – Cautio Treuhand GmbH – to buy up the stock majorities of the remaining film production companies.
In 1937, the Cautio acquired the largest German production company, Ufa, and in 1942 merged this company with the remaining companies – Terra Film, Tobis, Bavaria Film, Wien-Film and Berlin-Film – into the so-called “Ufi-Group”.
Universum Film AG
|Universum Film AG – Logo
Universum Film AG, better known as UFA or Ufa, was a film company that was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II, and a major force in world cinema from 1917 to 1945.
UFA was created during November 1917 in Berlin as a government-owned producer of World War I propaganda and public service films.
It was created through the consolidation of most of Germany’s commercial film companies, including Nordisk and Decla. Decla’s former owner, Erich Pommer, served as producer for the 1920 film ‘Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’, which was not only the best example of German Expressionism and an enormously influential film, but also a commercial success.
|Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’
‘Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’ is a 1920 German silent horror film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the most influential films of the German Expressionist movement and is often considered to be one of the greatest horror movies of the silent era in film. The film used stylized sets, with abstract, jagged buildings painted on canvas backdrops and flats. To add to this strange style, the actors used an unrealistic technique that exhibited “jerky” and dance-like movements. This movie is cited as having introduced the ‘twist’ ending in cinema.
Pressured by the US film industry, in late 1921 UFA was merged with Decla-Bioscop, “with government, industrial and banking support” and a near-monopoly in an industry that produced around 600 films each year and attracted a million customers every day.
In the silent movie years, when films were easier to adapt for foreign markets, UFA began developing an international reputation and posed serious competition to Hollywood.
During the Weimar years the studio produced and exported an enormous, accomplished, and inventive body of work.
|Der Blaue Engel
Famous directors based at UFA included Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau; under chief producer Erich Pommer the company created landmark films such as ‘Dr. Mabuse’ (1922), ‘Metropolis’ (1927), and Marlene Dietrich’s first talkie, ‘Der Blaue Engel’ (The Blue Angel) (1930).
UFA was also the studio of the ‘Bergfilm’, a uniquely German genre that glorified and romanticized mountain climbing, downhill skiing, and avalanche-dodging.
The ‘Bergfilm’ genre was primarily the creation of director Arnold Fanck, and examples like ‘Der Heilige Berg’ (The Holy Mountain) (1926) and ‘Weiß Ekstase’ (White Ecstasy) (1931) are notable for the appearance of Austrian skiing legend Hannes Schneider and a young Leni Riefenstahl.
The flying ace Ernst Udet also appeared in several of the films.
The studio over-extended itself financially during the late 1920s, partly as a result of the expensive production of ‘Metropolis’, and was taken over by the press baron, former Krupp manager, and DNVP leader Alfred Hugenberg in March 1927.
Once it became clear in the late 1920s that sound film had taken off, UFA rapidly switched its production away from silent film and added soundtracks to films already being made such as Melody of the Heart. In spite of this the first German sound film was produced by its smaller rival Tobis. UFA had previously been able to export its silent films around the world. Because of the new language barrier in the sound age, major films were often made with versions in several languages as happened with the expensive musicals The Three from the Filling Station (1930), Monte Carlo Madnes (1931) and The Congress Dances (1931). UFA particularly targeted the British, French and American markets.
|UFA-Palast am Zoo – Berlin
During the same year, UFA opened the UFA-Palast am Zoo theatre in Berlin.
National conservative Hugenberg in the course of the “Machtergreifung ” on 30 January 1933 became Reich Minister of Economy in Hitler’s cabinet.
He resigned in June, but the company nevertheless became a compliant producer of National Socialist propaganda films, supervised by Hugenberg’s cabinet colleague Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels.
His Ministry essentially controlled the content of UFA films.
With one stroke, the entire German film industry had been practically nationalized, however, German film-making preserved its character as a private industry.
Although Dr Goebbels founded the Filmkreditbank GmbH in order to fund the industry, the funds came from private investors.
Thus, there were no government subsidies to the film industry in the Third Reich.
Because of this, the industry was forced to remain profitable – and to produce films that met the expectations of the audience.
A concentration also took place in the distribution field.
In 1942, the Ufa-owned Deutsche Filmvertriebs GmbH (DFV) took the place of all companies so far remaining.
For the export of films to foreign countries special companies had been established such as the Cinéma Film AG.
Since the days of the Weimar Republic, there had also existed an extensive system of educational film hire services which was extended under the National Socialist administration.
In 1943, there were 37 regional services and 12,042 city services.
In parallel, the Reichspropagandaleitung ran its own network of educational film hire services which included 32 Gaue, 171 district, and 22,357 local services.
All film hire services had extensive film collections as well as rental 16 mm film projectors available that made it possible to show films in any class or lecture room and at any group meeting of the Hitler Youth.
Apart from the Ufa-owned theatre chain, the cinemas were not nationalized.
The majority of the 5,506 theatres that existed in 1939 within the so-called Altreich (the “Old Reich”, i.e., Germany without Austria and the Sudetenland) were small companies run by private owners, however, a large number of rules and regulations issued by the Reichsfilmkammer limited the entrepreneurial freedom of the cinemas considerably.
For instance, it was mandatory to include a documentary and a newsreel in every film programme.
By a law of 1933 (the Gesetz über die Vorführung ausländischer Bildstreifen vom 23. Juni 1933) the government was also entitled to prohibit the presentation of foreign films.
|UFA-Palast am Zoo – Berlin
An import quota for foreign films had been set during the Weimar Republic, and during World War II, the import of films from certain foreign countries was completely prohibited. For example, from 1941 onwards, the presentation of American films became illegal.
In order to boost the propaganda effect, the Nazis supported film shows in large cinemas with large audiences where the feeling of being part of the crowd was so overwhelming for the individual spectator that critical film perception had little chance.
Film shows also took place in military barracks and factories.
The Hitler Youth arranged special film programmes (Jugendfilmstunden) where newsreels and propaganda films were shown. In order to supply even rural and remote areas with film shows, the Party Propaganda Department (Reichspropagandaleitung) operated 300 film trucks and two film trains that carried all the necessary equipment for showing films in, for example, village inns.
The dislike that Goebbels and other film politicians had for individual, more private film viewing was probably one of the reasons why they did not make any effort to develop television – at that time a technique that was ready to be applied – as a new mass media.
Film propaganda had the highest priority in Germany even under the severe conditions of the last years of World War II.
While schools and playhouses stopped working in 1944, cinemas continued to operate until the very end of the war
In Berlin for instance, anti-aircraft units were posted specially to protect the local cinemas in 1944.
There always had been film stars in Germany, but a star system comparable to the star system in Hollywood did not yet exist.
The best-known example is the Swedish actress Zarah Leander who was hired in 1937 by the Ufa and became the most prominent and highest-paid German film star in only a few years.
The publicity campaign for Leander was run by the press office of the Ufa, which concealed her past as a film actress already well known in Sweden and put their money right away on her charisma as a singer with an exceptionally deep voice.
The Ufa press office provided the newspapers with detailed instructions on how the new star would have to be presented, and even the actress herself had to follow detailed instructions whenever she appeared in public.
This kind of star publicity had not existed in Germany before.
High politicians such as Adolf Hitler, Dr Goebbels, and Hermann Göring appeared in public flanked by popular German film actors.
The female stars in particular were supposed to lend some glamour to the male-dominated NSDAP events. Adolf Hitler’s preferred dinner partners were the actresses Olga Tschechowa and Lil Dagover, and from 1935, Hermann Göring was married to the popular actress Emmy Sonnemann.
The relationships of Dr Goebbels to several female film stars are also well known.
Magda Goebbels left a screening of the film ‘Die Reise nach Tilsit’, because it seemed to her too close a telling of her husband’s relationship with Lida Baarova, which had resulted in the actress being sent back to her native Czechoslovakia.
Personal proximity to the political leaders became a determining factor for the career success of film actors An informal system of listings decided how frequently an actor would be cast.
The five categories extended from “to cast at all costs even without a vacancy” (for instance Zarah Leander, Lil Dagover, Heinz Rühmann) to “casting under no circumstances welcome”.
How crucial the film stars were for the image of the National Socialist government is also evident from the tax benefits that Hitler decreed in 1938 for prominent film actors and directors.
From that time on, they could deduct 40% of their income as professional expenses.
In 1944 Dr Joseph Goebbels made a now famous list of “irreplaceable artists” called the ‘Gottbegnadeten list’ with people such as Arno Breker, Richard Strauss and Johannes Heesters.
During World War II German film stars supported the war effort by performing for the troops or by collecting money for the Winterhilfswerk (Winter Relief Organization).
Although most of the male stars were exempted from military service, some – such as the popular Heinz Rühmann – participated in the war as soldiers, often accompanied by newsreel film crews.
The films ‘Hitlerjunge Quex’ and ‘S.A.-Mann Brand’ also glorified those had died in the struggle to seize power; ‘Quex’ was based on a novel that sold over 200,000 copies over two years.
Hitlerjunge Quex is a 1932 German propaganda novel based on the life of Herbert “Quex” Norkus.
The 1933 movie ‘Hitlerjunge Quex: Ein Film vom Opfergeist der deutschen Jugend’ was based on the novel, and was described by Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels as the “first large-scale” transmission of National Socialist ideology using the medium of cinema.
Both the book and the movie, like ‘S.A.-Mann Brand’ and ‘Hans Westmar’ (see above), both released the same year, fictionalized and glorified death in the service of the NSDAP and Hitler.
von Herbert Norkus ‘Grab der
NSDAP Kongress in Nürnberg
The novel Der Hitlerjunge Quex was written by Karl Aloys Schenzinger between May and September 1932.
It was first published in NSDP party newspaper ‘Völkischer Beobachter’, and as a book in December 1932.
Both novel and movie are based on the real story of Herbert Norkus’ life. Norkus, a Hitler Youth member, died from injuries suffered when chased and confronted by Communist youths in the night of 23 / 24 January 1932 in the Beusselkietz neighbourhood of Moabit, Berlin.
While the murder was condemned by the press, the Communists started a counter-propaganda offensive, describing the incident as an accidental result of Communist self-defense during a NSDAP attack.
By January 1934 the film had been viewed by a million people.
|Hans Westmar- ‘Einer von vielen’
‘Hans Westmar. Einer von vielen. Ein deutsches Schicksal aus dem Jahre 1929’ (Hans Westmar. One of many.
A German Fate from the Year 1929) was the last of an unofficial trilogy of films commissioned by the Third Reich shortly after coming to power in January 1933, celebrating the ‘Kampfzeit’ – a ‘mythologised’ history of their period in opposition, struggling to gain power.
The film is a fictionalized life of the famous National Socialist martyr Horst Wessel
|Horst Ludwig Wessel
Horst Ludwig Wessel (October 9, 1907 – February 23, 1930) was a German National Socialist activist and an SA-Sturmführer who was made a posthumous hero of the NSDAP following his violent death in 1930. He was the author of the lyrics to the song “Die Fahne hoch” (“The Flag On High”), usually known as ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’ (“the Horst Wessel Song”), which became the Party anthem and, de facto, Germany’s co-national anthem from 1933 to 1945. His death also resulted in his becoming the “patron” for the Luftwaffe’s 26th Destroyer Wing and the 18th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division during World War II.
The film was based on a novel, personally commissioned by Adolf Hitler from his close friend Hanns Heinz Ewers
It was among the first films to depict dying for Hitler as a glorious death for Germany, resulting in his spirit inspiring his comrades.
His decision to go to the streets is presented as fighting “the real battle.”
Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl (22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director, photographer, actress and dancer widely known for directing the propaganda film ‘Triumph des Willens’.
‘Triumph des Willens’ gave Riefenstahl instant and lasting international fame.
She directed eight films, two of which received significant coverage outside Germany, and many film histories cite the aesthetics as outstanding.
Riefenstahl took dancing lessons and attended dance academies from an early age, and began her career as an interpretive dancer.
After injuring her knee while performing in Prague, she saw a film about mountains ‘Der Berg des Schicksals, (1924) and became fascinated with the possibilities of this sort of film.
She went to the Alps to meet the film’s director, Arnold Fanck, hoping to secure the lead in his next project, but instead, Riefenstahl met Luis Trenker who had starred in Fanck’s films, who wrote to the director about her.
|Der heilige Berg
Riefenstahl went on to star in many of Fanck’s mountain films as an athletic and adventurous young woman.
She became an accomplished mountaineer, and learned film-making techniques.
‘Der heilige Berg’ (The Holy Mountain) is a 1926 German UFA mountain film directed by Arnold Fanck and starring Leni Riefenstahl, Luis Trenker and Frida Richard. It was the future filmmaker Riefenstahl’s first screen appearance as an actress. The film cost 1.5 million reichsmarks to produce, and was released during the 1926 Christmas season.
Riefenstahl went on to have a prolific career as an actress in silent films.
Her last acting role before becoming a director was the 1933 production of the Arnold Fanck-directed, ‘SOS Eisberg’.
One of her fans at this time was Adolf Hitler.
Riefenstahl accompanied Fanck to the 1928 Olympic Games in St. Moritz, where she became interested in athletic photography and filming.
When presented with the opportunity to direct ‘Das Blaue Licht’ (The Blue Light) (1932), she took it. Breaking from Fanck’s style of setting realistic stories in fairytale mountain settings, Riefenstahl filmed ‘Das Blaue Licht’ as a romantic, wholly mystical tale which she thought of as more fitting to the terrain.
|Das blaue Licht
‘Das blaue Licht’ is a black-and-white 1932 film written and directed by Leni Riefenstahl and Béla Balázs, with uncredited scripting by Carl Mayer.
A young woman, Junta (Riefenstahl), lives apart from her village and, for her solitude and strangeness, is considered to be a witch; when she comes to the village for one reason or another, the townsfolk chase her away. They feel that she may in some way be responsible for the deaths of several young men of the village, who have felt compelled, one by one, to climb the local mountain (and fall to their deaths) on nights when the moon is full. Junta lives largely in solitude (except for the company of a young shepherd boy) in the tranquillity of the mountains surrounding the village. She is simple and innocent, but also seems something of a mystic. On full moon nights, a crack in a prominent local mountain admits the moon’s light and illuminates a grotto filled with beautiful crystals. This place of indescribable beauty, glowing with magical blue light, is a sacred space for Junta. The glowing blue light, shining from afar, to the village below, is also what has attracted the village’s young men, none of whom ever reached it before falling off the mountain’s treacherous slope.
|Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl
A man from the city, a painter, travelling through the village, falls in love with Junta. All is pleasant and good and very chaste, until the next full moon night, when the man sees Junta climbing up the mountain. He follows her, actually reaching the beautiful grotto, and finds Junta in a state of ecstasy among the crystals.
Perceiving these thousands of crystals to be a source of immense wealth for Junta and the villagers, the man immediately runs down to inform the townsfolk and tells them of the correct route to reach the grotto. Junta does not realize that he is doing this, until the next day, when she finds some of her crystals on the path to the village, as well as some dropped tools. Rushing up to the grotto, she finds it completely barren of crystals: all have been taken by the greedy villagers. Meanwhile, the villagers and the painter are celebrating. Junta is totally devastated at this violation of the sacred grotto and of her trust in the outsider and falls to her death.
She co-wrote, directed and starred in the film, and produced it under the banner of her own company, Leni Riefenstahl Productions.
‘Das Blaue Licht’ won the Silver Medal at the Venice Biennale and played to full audiences all over Europe.
Der Sieg des Glaubens
|Der Sieg des Glaubens
|Der Sieg des Glaubens
Der Sieg des Glaubens (Victory of Faith) (1933) is the first propaganda film directed by Leni Riefenstahl.
Her film recounts the Fifth Party Rally of the NDAP, which occurred in Nürnberg from 30 August to 3 September 1933.
Its form is very similar to her later and much expanded version of the 1934 rally, known as ‘Triumph des Willens’.
It is a visual record of the rally and not much else, having no analytical content, so cannot claim “documentary” status.
It is pure propaganda for the NSDAP, who funded and promoted the film.
The film celebrates the “victory” of the NSDAP in achieving power with Hitler assuming the role of Chancellor of Germany in February 1933.
Triumph des Willens
|Triumph des Willens
‘Triumph des Willens’ is a 1935 film made by Leni Riefenstahl.
It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters.
The film contains excerpts from speeches given by various Party leaders at the Congress, interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung and Schutzstaffel troops.
Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles.
|Triumph des Willens – Final Scene
The overriding theme of the film is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the leader who will bring glory to the nation.
‘Triumph des Willens’ was released in 1935 and became an example of propaganda in film history.
Riefenstahl’s techniques, such as moving cameras, the use of long focus lenses to create a distorted perspective, aerial photography, and revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography, have earned ‘Triumph des Willens’ recognition as one of the greatest films in history.
Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden, and other countries.
The film was popular in the Third Reich, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day.
‘Olympia’ is a 1938 film by Leni Riefenstahl documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany.
The film was released in two parts: Olympia 1. Teil – Fest der Völker (Festival of Nations) and Olympia 2. Teil – Fest der Schönheit (Festival of Beauty).
It was the first documentary feature film of the Olympic Games ever made.
Many advanced motion picture techniques, which later became industry standards but which were ground-breaking at the time, were employed – including unusual camera angles, smash cuts, extreme close-ups, placing tracking shot rails within the bleachers, and the like.
The techniques employed almost universally admired, and the film appears on many lists of the greatest films of all-time, including Time magazine’s “All-Time 100 Movies.”
Olympia set the precedent for future films documenting and glorifying the Olympic Games, particularly the Summer Games.
The 1936 Summer Olympics torch relay was devised by the German sports official Dr. Carl Diem for these Olympic Games in Berlin.
Riefenstahl later staged the torch relay for this film, as with competitive events of the Games.
‘Jud Süß’ is a German propaganda film produced in 1940 by Terra Filmkunst at the behest of Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels.
The movie was directed by Veit Harlan, who wrote the screenplay with Eberhard Wolfgang Möller and Ludwig Metzger.
The leading roles were played by Ferdinand Marian and Harlan’s wife Kristina Söderbaum; Werner Krauss and Heinrich George played key supporting roles.
Although the film’s budget of 2 million Reichsmarks was considered high for films of that era, the box-office receipts of 6.5 million Reichsmarks made it a financial success.
Heinrich Himmler, Reich Führer SS, urged members of the SS and police to watch the movie.
Although some have dismissed the film as simply propaganda, others have pointed to Harlan’s talent as a director as one of the significant contributing factors to the film’s box-office success.
Together with ‘Die Rothschilds’ and ‘Der ewige Jude’, the film remains one of the most frequently discussed examples of the use of film to further the National Socialist racial philosophy.
The film is based on historical events.
Joseph Süß Oppenheimer was an 18th century Court Jew in the employ of Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg in Stuttgart.
As a financial advisor for Duke Karl Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, he also gained a prominent position as a court Jew and held the reins of the finances in his duchy.
In the process, he made a number of enemies who stated, among other things, that he was involved with local gambling houses.
When Karl Alexander died suddenly, Oppenheimer was arrested and accused of various crimes, including fraud, embezzlement, treason, lecherous relations with the court ladies and accepting bribes.
After a heavily publicized trial he was sentenced to death.
Joseph Süß Oppenheimer was led to the gallows on 4 February 1738.
The film premièred at the Venice Film Festival on 8 September 1940 and received rave reviews, earning the top award.
‘Jud Süß’ was a great box-office success in Germany and abroad.
It ranked sixth out of the thirty most popular German films of the war years.
Within the Third Reich, it was the number one film of the 1939–1940 season, viewed by audiences totalling over twenty million at a time when the population of Germany was some seventy million.
Der ewige Jude
|‘Der ewige Jude’
‘Der ewige Jude’ (1940) is a German propaganda film, presented as a documentary.
The film’s title in German is the German term for the character of the “Wandering Jew” in medieval folklore.
At the insistence of Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, the film was directed by Fritz Hippler.
The screenplay is credited to Eberhard Taubert.
The film consists of feature and documentary footage combined with materials filmed shortly after the German occupation of Poland.
At this time Poland’s Jewish population was about three million, roughly ten percent of the total population.
Actor Harry Giese (1903–1991) narrated.
In 1937, a special wing of the Propaganda Ministry put on an art exhibition in Munich titled ‘Der ewige Jude’.
It followed this up with the publication of a book consisting of 265 photographs, each with a caption describing the degeneracy of the Jewish race.
Adolf Hitler expressed his frustration and anger at the mixed response from the German media and insisted that propaganda should be expressed in such a way that the German people themselves would develop ann aversion with regard to the Jews.
In response to Hitler’s reprimand, Dr Goebbels launched a campaign against the Jews.
He ordered each film studio to make an anti-Jewish film.
In the case of ‘Der ewige Jude’ Dr Goebbels conceived of a film that would communicate to the German people the same message that had been the theme of the 1937 Munich exhibition.
Although Dr Goebbels did not generally take an active role in the production of particular films, he elected to do so in the case of major propaganda films such as ‘Der ewige Jude’.
Throughout the end of 1939 and the beginning of 1940, Dr Goebbels devoted “constant attention” to the production of ‘Der ewige Jude’.
The footage that Hippler shot in the Jewish ghettos of Lodz, Warsaw, Cracow and Lublin in German occupied Poland was the only footage shot specifically for the purpose of the film.
At the beginning of the film, animated text informs the audience that this “documentary footage” shows Jews in their original state “before they put on the mask of civilized Europeans.”
Hippler advertised the film as being a factual documentary consisting of pictures of real Jews with nothing faked or simulated.
Aside from the footage shot in Poland, the rest of the film consisted of stills and archival footage from feature films.
The basic tenet of the film as argued that “the Jew is an oriental barbarian who has insinuated himself cleverly into European society, and now exploits it parasitically.“
This point is emphasized throughout the film, starting from the very opening lines of the film’s commentary:
‘The civilized Jews that we know in Germany give us only an incomplete picture of their racial character.
This film shows genuine shots of the Polish ghettos. It shows the Jews as they really are, before they conceal themselves behind the mask of the civilized European.’
|Der ewige Jude – Rats
Following this commentary, the film provides a succession of scenes in which Jews are portrayed as an uncivilized, parasitic people with low social standing.
The film utilizes a montage that juxtaposes these images of ghetto Jews with images of rats to draw an analogy between the migration of Jews from Eastern Europe with the migration of rats.
For example, one of the shots shows a pack of rats emerging from a sewer, followed by a shot of a crowd of Jews in a bustling street of the Lodz ghetto. Close-ups of those in the crowd reveal sickly, malformed facial features.
The narrator states that, as rats are the vermin of the animal kingdom, Jews are the vermin of the human race and similarly spread disease and corruption.
Unlike rats, however, the narrator continues, Jews have the uncanny ability to change their appearance and blend into their “human hosts.”
A scene depicts four bearded men in traditional religious Jewish clothing, then shows them shaved and in modern business suits, while the narrator explains that only a “trained eye” can distinguish their Jewish features.
“Where rats appear, they bring ruin by destroying mankind’s goods and foodstuffs. In this way, they spread disease, plague, leprosy, typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery, and so on. They are cunning, cowardly and cruel and are found mostly in large packs. Among the animals, they represent the rudiment of an insidious, underground destruction – just like the Jews among human beings. “
|Wunschkonzert – Poster
Wunschkonzert (“Request Concert”) is a 1940 German drama propaganda film by Eduard von Borsody.
After ‘Die grosse Liebe’, it was the most popular film of wartime Germany, reaching the second highest gross.
The popular music show “Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht” (“Request Concert for the Wehrmacht”) was broadcast on the German radio network every Sunday afternoon.
Its popularity was based on the fact that it broadcast music requested by men in the armed forces, thus uniting the armed forces and the homefront in Volksgemeinschaft.
The story takes place during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The young Inge Wagner and Luftwaffe Fliegerleutnant (Flight Lieutenant) Herbert Koch meet, and within a few days fall in love.
They make plans for their joint future, but before they can get married Herbert is seconded to the Condor Legion and ordered to the Spanish Civil War; he is forced to leave immediately without giving Inge any explanation.
The mission is top secret and all contact with home is forbidden, including by letter, and he is unable to contact her with an explanation.
When after several months the operation is over, and Herbert is recovering from a severe injury, he is at last able to write to Inge, but she has moved in the meantime and he is unable to trace her.
Inge meanwhile is unable to forget Herbert and is prepared to wait for him.
Three years go by.
When the war begins with the Invasion of Poland in 1939, the men from Inge’s area all go off to the front, including Inge’s childhood friend, Helmut Winkler, whose proposal of marriage she has turned down, but who continues to hope for her hand.
Helmut is assigned to a Squadron where he is put directly under Herbert, who has meanwhile been promoted to Hauptmann (Group Captain).
The two become friends, not knowing that they both love the same girl.
Since the beginning of the war, a big musical event has taken place in Berlin every week, which is broadcast on the radio as “Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht” and provides a channel for greetings and messages between the front and home.
When Herbert, remembering the beautiful days with Inge, asks for the Olympic fanfares, Inge, who is listening at home like every one else, hears it and is encouraged by this sudden sign out of the blue to discover Herbert’s whereabouts, with renewed hope of seeing him again.
They exchange letters, and arrange to meet in Hamburg.
However, at the last moment before the meeting, Herbert and Helmut are both ordered off on a reconnaissance flight over the Atlantic and are shot down.
A German U-Boat picks them up.
Meanwhile Inge is waiting in vain.
Helmut is taken wounded to the military hospital, where all three meet in his sickroom.
After sorting out the confused situation – Herbert assumes that Inge and Helmut are engaged – the two lovers are reunited.
Starring roles were played by Ilse Werner as Inge Wagner, Carl Raddatz as Herbert Koch and Joachim Brennecke as Helmut Winkler.
Wunschkonzert was officially classified as “Politically valuable“, “Artistically valuable“, “Valuable for the people” and “Valuable for youth“.
By the end of World War II the film had been seen by almost 26 million people and taken 7.6 million Reichsmarks.
The last great film of the Third Reich was ‘Kolberg’.
‘Kolberg’ was a historical feature film made in 1945 German and was directed by Veit Harlan, it was intended as a propaganda piece to shore up the will of the German population to resist the Allies.
The film is based on the autobiography of Joachim Nettelbeck, mayor of Kolberg in western Pomerania.
It tells the story of the successful defence of the besieged fortress town of Kolberg against French troops between April and July 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars.
The film ends with King Frederick William III of Prussia being convinced by Gneisenau to rise up against Napoleon, and in the final scene he sits down to write the proclamation ‘An Mein Volk’ (“To my People”) announcing the ‘War of Liberation’.
Joseph Goebbels explicitly ordered the use of the historical events for a film, which he regarded as highly suitable for the circumstances Germany faced.
Kolberg, begun in 1943, was made in Agfacolor with high production values.
At a cost of more than eight million marks, it was the most expensive German film of the second World War, with the actual cost suppressed to avoid public reaction.
At a time when the war was turning against German fortunes, thousands of soldiers were used in the film.
Principal cinematography took place from October 22, 1943 to August 1944.
The exteriors were shot in Kolberg and environs, Königsberg, Berlin and environs, Seeburg and Neustettin.
To film scenes with snow during summer, 100 railway wagons brought salt to the set in Pomerania.
The film was finally completed at the Babelsberg Studios at Potsdam, while the town and nearby Berlin were being steadily bombed by the Allies.
Two extras were killed during the making of the film when an explosive charge went off too early.
The film opened on January 30, 1945 in a temporary cinema (U.T. Alexanderplatz) and at Tauentzien-Palast in Berlin, and ran under constant threat of air raids until the fall of Berlin in May.
One of the last films of the Third Reich, it never went into general release.