Probably no other country has had so many films made about it by foreign film makers as Germany. Given the importance of Hollywood, popular images of Germans are in large measure influenced by these foreign depictions. This is perhaps difficult for Americans to understans as almost all important American images come from American-made television and movie programing. Many of those film focus on the NAZI and World War II film. HBC is struck by the lack of realism in these films. Many films, especially films made before the end of the War did not begin to display the true horror of what went on in Germany or the occupied countries. Many of the depictions of Germans in these films are perhaps understandably unflatering charactures. Relatively few films have sought to show German characters as real people. HBC has wondered how Germans viewing World War II films view the scenes of American and British tanks entering German towns and villages. Most Germans would today at least intelectually say that they were liberated from the NAZI tyrany as much as the occupied countries. (The experience was different in the areas occupied by the Red Army.) We are curious, however, if the emotional reaction is perhaps not different from the intelectual reaction.
Probably no other country has had so many films made about it by foreign film makers as Germany. Given the importance of Hollywood, popular images of Germans are in large measure influenced by these foreign depictions. This is perhaps difficult for Americans to understans as almost all important American images come from American-made television and movie programing. Hollywood was, however, very reluctant to taken ion the NAZIs. This was in part because Hollywood made money from distributing films in Europe, especially Germany. Warner Brothers was the first sudio to take on the NAZIs. Hollywood did take on the Japanese, but anti-NAZI films were rare. This of course changed dramatically after Pearl Harbor and American entry in the War. A torrent of anti-NAZI and anti-Japanese films poored out of Hollywood. The main target was the NAZIs.
Many of those film focus on the NAZI and World War II film. This is not surprising. World War II was by all measures the most significant event in the 20th century. The outcome of the War had enormous consequences which are still being felt today. Imagining what the World would be like today if the NAZIs had prevailed is a chilling exercize. Movies are theatrical productions and few dramas could have a more dramatic setting than NAZI Germany and World War II.
HBC is struck by the lack of realism in these films. Many films, especially films made before the end of the War did not begin to display the true horror of what went on in Germany or the occupied countries. I was watching a film about the Dutch resistance made after tyhe War. It was titled "????" and stared Clark Gable. The film showed Dutch resistance fighters attacking a Luftwaffe base and killing scores of German soldiers. Now in the Netherlands there was no such resistance actions, in part becaise in the Netherlands there was no place to hide large armed resistance units. Even more unrealistic was the German reaction--they shot three hostages. In actuality, in countries where the resistance did attack German military units, whole villiages including women and children were murdered. Also until the 1970s, Holocaust was not realistically depicted. As a schoolboy in the 1960s, I only learned about the true horror and demensions of the Holocaust in reading about the War. If anything, Hollywood has down played the true evilm of the NAZIs.
Many of the depictions of Germans in these films are perhaps understandably unflatering charactures. Of course given what they did, there were real monsters. What tje Hollywood films failed to depict is how NAZIs could murder thousands of people, including women and children, and at the same time have warm family relations. Some SS camp commanders even had their family installed at the camps. Relatively few films have sought to show German characters as real people. (One of the few I can think of is "The Young Lions"--of course well after the War.) A Dutch reader with German ancestors repirts, "American and British movies were replacing the German products immediately after the end of World War II. Whenever Germans were portrayed in these films they never looked like normal human beings. Hollywood made sure that ALL Germans were monsters, mad scientists or just laughable carricatures. The filmmakers have been producing
that stuff for more than 60 years. They started already before the War after Hitler came to power. They have continued with their stereo-typed portrayal of Germans until today.
The American movie industry is very careful how it pictures other nationalities and minorities. If there are Italian gangsters on the screen, they would show an honest cop or a judge with an Italian name as compensation. Same with the blacks: no more domestics or criminals. Jews are always wonderful warm people with a great sense of humor, Orientals (even the Japanese!) are being treated well and until September 11 also the Arabs.
Only the Germans remain stereo-types. Imagine the uproar the above-mentioned groups would create if they were shown in such a negative way as the Germans! They would organize demonstrations in front of the studios and their anti-defamation leagues would not rest until the producers would stop this kind of treatment of their people. The Germans, however, remain silent, they never protest and they act as if it does not concern them. But I know that they do not like it."
A HBC reader writes, "As far as the depictions of Germans in the movies is concerned: Only now, in the year 2003, 58 years after WWII, have I finally seen an American movie in which a character with a German surname is being portrayed as a normal person: Jack
Nicholson as Warren Schmidt in "About Schmidt". This truly is revolutionary. I remember too many movies where people were given German names and guttural accents just to make them unsympathetic. Do you remember "The Snakepit". The cruel sadistic headmistress' name was Boehler. Then we have Freddy Krueger, a monster, and the caricatures in "Hogan's
Heroes" and the heel -clicking, leather coat-wearing NAZI in the Indiana Jones film "The Lost Ark", and many more. On the other hand when Albert Einstein (who had a strong German accent) is being portrayed, his accent is called "charming Bavarian" and not "clipped Prussian". The same goes for Beethoven or any other famous German who has worldwide admiration (except Richard Wagner of course)."
The question must be asked what were the Germans and Austrains really like during the War. We think that our Dutch reader is correct that Hollywood does commonly portray Germans in World War II films as charactures. There is a huge historical debate today as to what extent the German people knew what the NAZIs were doing. This subject is beyond the capability to develop in any detail. We can, however, mention some known facts. The NAZIs after they seized power involved as much as the populations as possible in their program of anti-semitism and political suppression. Considerable support in imprtant professins (academics, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and others) was gained by dismissing Jews, Socialists, and others. Many Germans obtained apartments, homes, businesses, and other confiscated property at low prices. The NAZI Party completely controlled the media in Germany. Many Germans undoubtedly privately question the media. May others did not. The German Army during World War II was orimarily committed on the Eastern front after the June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. This is when the killings began. Einsatzgruppen (mobil killing units) had been deployed in Poland, but the mass executions were relatively limted in comparison with what began in June 1941. The actions were directed primarily at the Jews, but many more were murdered as the goal of the NAZI occupation was to completely eradicate Polish culture. These actions and the roundups were not limited to the Einsatzgruppen, but Wehremacht units were also involved. It is inconceivable that the average German soldier was not aware that atrocities on a massive scale were being conducted by their country. Surprisingly, unlike the correspondence of American servicemen, German mail from the front was not sensored. Many letters home included graphic descriptions as did conversations during home leaves. There was also civilian involvement in the Holocaust such as the German railway system. It is clear that many more Germans knew and were complicit that are willing to admit it, although we will probably never know the true dimensions here. It is likely here that young people who had gome through the NAZI education system and the Hitler Youth may have been some of the worse. Many others were caught up in an evil system and had no choice but to follow orders. Here it is difficult to assess the motivations of the average German soldier. Not all Germans supported the NAZIs. Some like the "Die Weiße Rose" group or people around the General Stauffenberg, who tried to kill Hitler. There were acts of great courage, such as the industrialist Oskar Schindler. Others objected to the NAZI genocide, but couldn't or were afraid to do anything. [Mueller]
Germany in the last weeks of the war were no doubt shell-shocked and numb. Reports vary on how the Germans responded to NAZI propaganda in the final days. A German reader reports, "I think most Germans believed in the news put around of the NAZI regime in the last days. They fought until their final defeat. Thousands Hitler Jugend boys resisted against impossible odds in Berlin." [Mueller] Another German reports, "We listened to the daily tirades of our propaganda minister Goebbels on the radio, telling us what we could expect when the red hoards should reach the city. A couple of times I heard him tell the Berliners to fight with anything we could find. But I honestly must say that we did not pay attention to such ravings." Many Germans in the major cities had lost their homes from the allied bombing. One should understand that their world was coming to an end. There was total destruction. Chaos. There was no food. Water lines were cut. Everybody tried to save his own life. Most Germans were probably glad that it was all over and they had survived with their lives, perhaps even the ones who fought till the bitter end for the 1000-year Reich. [Stueck, Rudi. E-mail, July 24, 2002.] A German reader writes, " At the end of WW II most Germans weren’t happy to be "liberated", except for those who had been into imprison camps. Most of them had to learn the benefits later." [Mueller]
HBC has wondered how Germans viewing World War II films today view the scenes of American and British tanks entering German towns and villages. Most Germans would today at least intelectually say that they were liberated from the NAZI tyrany as much as the occupied countries. (The experience was different in the areas occupied by the Red Army.) We are curious, however, if the emotional reaction is perhaps not different from the intelectual reaction. In addition, there have been substantial changes in how Germans view war since World War II. One German reader writes, "Well, wars do just happen. But the same way crimes and accidents do just happen and everything is done to prevent
or at least to keep them at a low number, everything should be done to prevent wars, too. Furthermore, wars are always man-made, so man should be able to prevent them. It is just a simple black and white creation. Strange, that this could work over centuries so very well, and now still works. World War II brought democracy to us, but at a high price. Towns were bombed, many of them being no military targets. And two nuclear bombs were thrown on Japan. Not to mention the thousands of people died on all sides. I think the
price is too high." [HBC Note: On this page we do not want to discuss the issues involved, but primarily present the Hollywood image and German recations to it. The view expressed by our German reader are fascinating and not unlike comments we have received from Japan. We therefore have created a separate page for discussion.]
World War II experiences: German boy
Hitler Youth experiences: HBC has collected some actual accounts from Hitler Youth members
German school experiences: HBC has collected some actual accounts from Hitler Youth members
Post-war experiences: European boy
Dixon, Ursula Grosser. "Living Through the Götterdämmerung of the Third Reich," Ursula's History Lab, Website accessed July 25, 2002.
Mueller, Reinhard. E-mail, July 24, 2002 and April 20, 2003.
Stueck, Rudi. E-mail, July 24, 2002.
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