German Movie Industry: NAZI Era


Figure 1.--The NAZIs took film making very seriously. It was one of the many areas covered by the Ministry of Propaganda led by Joseph Goebels.

After the NAZI takeover, considerable resources were given to cinema and other media. Lavish resources were provided the industry. Making money was no longer the primary goal For the NAZIs, the primary purpose of the movies was to manipulate popular thought. Technically the movies continued at a high level, but the propoganda element stifiled creativity, There were some powerful films, like Triumph of the Will. Another important production was Hitler Youth Quex. The overall quality of the films declined during the NAZI period. They were still often high quality productions technically. The originality and creativity so important in films was lacking in the NAZI films.

Weimar Film Industry

The German film industry in the Imperial area was not a very impressive industry. It did not compete well with foreign competition. It was not until World War I (1914-18) began and foreign imports were restricted or unavailable that the industry began to develop. The industry after the War began one of the most inovative abnd technically proficient. The output was rather dark and intelectually deep for American audiences, but German films were popular in Europe, especially before the talkies were perfected. Thus the industry that the NAZIs inherited in 1933 was one of the most technically inovative and creative industries in Europe.

Studios

We dont't have lot of information on German film studios during the NAZI era. I thought the largest studio was Ufa. A Reader writes, " It was produced by the Tobis Film Company that made nearly all German movies during the Nazi era (1933-1945). I noticed that you included some of my earlier comments on the German movie industry of that time. I have seen a list of all the Tobis movies and it seems to me that they made more entertainment films than Nazi propaganda movies. That undoubtedly was to divert people's attention from the horrors of the War."

Individuals

The first step the NAZIs took was to expel Jews from the film industry. Many of these indivuals came to America and made an impact on Hillywood. A few non-Jews resisted the NAZIs. The moist prominant was Marele Dietrich. Goeebels made a personal effort to convince her to return to Germany. She never did until after the War. Most German actors and directors went along with the New Order. There were foreigners involved in the German studios. A reader writes, "It still amazes me that so many non-German actors played roles in these productions. Popular stars were Olga Tschechowa, a Russian, Marika Rökk, Hungarian, Lillian Harvey, an English beauty, Anny Ondra from Czechoslovakia, who was married to boxer Max Schmeling (who was not a NAZI), Zarah Leander and Kristina Söderbaum, both Swedish, Maria Cebotari, a Romanian opera singer, who sang in many operetta movies, as did Dutchman Johannes Heesters, who at 103 still performs on German television. In the Netherlands he is being ignored on account of his participation in German movies all through the War years. René Deltgen, a similar case, who is not welcome in his native Luxembourg. Another Dutch actor was Frits van Dongen, who was in several German movies until 1939 when he went to Hollywood where he performed under the name of Philip Dorn. He later went back to Germany to try his luck in television."

NAZI Film Making

The NAZIs took film making very seriously. It was one of the many areas covered by the Ministry of Propaganda led by Joseph Goebels. The Reich Minister took a special interest in film making and film stars. After the NAZI takeover, considerable resources were given to cinema and other media. The NAZI's first step was to expel all the Jews from jobs in the film industry. Lavish resources were provided the industry. Making money was no longer the primary goal For the NAZIs, the primary purpose of the movies was to manipulate popular thought. Technically the movies continued at a high level, but the propoganda element stifiled creativity, There were some powerful films, like Triumph of the Will. Another important production was Hitler Youth Quex. The overall quality of the films declined during the NAZI period. They were still often high quality productions technically. The originality and creativity so imprtant in films was lacking in the NAZI films.

Questions

One reviewer poses several questions about NAZI film making. I can't say that I can answer these questions, but would be interested in any insights by HBC readers. We have also added qustions from readers.

Why are Riefenstahl's documentaries "better" than other Nazi propaganda films? A HBC contributor suggests: Leni Riefenstahl was a gifted film maker, entrusted by Hitler to film Triumph of the Will, a film intended to overawe potential opponents of the regime with evidence of Germany's might. Riefenstahl was not a NAZI, but went along as most Germans did. Her motivationnwas to further her career. Just what her personal views were are debateable. Many other directors had to pass an "ideological litmus test" (were they good Nazis?) before they were allowed to make films. Maybe they were good Nazis, but erratic film makers at best. Most, but not all, films of the Third Reich are lightly regarded by modern critics, who dismiss them as typical Nazi propoganda (and those treating topics such as euthanasia can be disturbing). Jud Suss and Die Ewige Jude ("The Eternal Jew") are reprehensible Anti-Semitic propoganda films. Modern critics are biased against the film makers, naturally, but they also attack their pedestrian style and techniques. The propogandistic elements of these films could overwhelm the best of plot lines and performances. Imagine taking the film, Gone With The Wind, and having the romantic themes subordinated to a four hours' long historical and political defense of slavery, states' rights, and secession!

What types of NAZI propaganda does Riefenstahl's film show frequently?

Name some techniques that Veidt Harlan uses?

I know this question is more related to the NAZI film industry than to clothing in films; however, I was hoping you could point me in the right direction. I have come across a NAZI army [more correct would be: Whermacht] movie pass, from 1941; however, it also has English writing on it. Who would have had access to such a pass? Description: 1.5 inch diameter copper token. In the middle are the words "Heer Austweis 1941". Surrounding this on top are the words, "Das Forum Kino", and on the bottom the English translation "The forum cinema", these two phrases are separated by swastika's. Thanks for any information you might be able to provide. -- Frank Sandor HBC has no insights to offer. We are not even sure what "Heer Austweis" means. An English reader suggests, "Perhaps the pass was issued in the German-occupied but English speaking Channel Islands." Frank after some research provided additional information, "I was able to track down it's origins via the German underground hospital museum on Jersey Island, in the Channel. It is for the Forum Cinema which was sited at Grenville Street, St Helier. The cinema showed German propagamnda films primarily for its own forces but also English versions for the local populace. The cinema seated 800 and was the first in Jersey to show Cinemascope movies. It was demolished to make way for offices in the 1970s."

Clothing

Films made during the NAZI era not only provide information on boys' clothing styles during the 1930s and early 40s, but also details about Hitler Youth uniforms.

Gender Roles

The NAZIs are most noted for their hateful racial theories. They also had very strong beliefs about appropraite make and female roles. The NAZIs saw women's roles were to have children and care for hildren, defend the church, and cook the meals. In the film Quex the NAZI males have the dominant roles; the boys and men provide the excitement, live dangerously, and perform the heroic deeds. Heini's girl friend, Ulla, is a member of the German Girls' League, the girls' counterpart of the Hitler Youth, and she symbolizes all that is good and pure about the Aryan "race". Ulla is a dedicated NAZI girl, subordinate and supportive. Heini and Ulla are prototypical members of the NAZIs' new generation and order. Interestingly the NAZI attitude toward women was to have a profound impact on the War. The NAZIs hesitated to recruit women for war work, although this changed toward the end of te War. The British mobilized women (perhaps out of desperation) and by the time of the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940) were out producing the Germans in aircraft production. American War production of course swamped the Germans and Rossie the Rivitor and her cohorts was at the center of the American industrial miracle.

The New Order

Individuals in NAZI films are creatures of the state, not God; all totalitarian regimes want to destroy the old world (represented by Heini's alcoholic, abusive father, who is also a Communist) and his mother, who is a decent and good woman, but ineffectual. The NAZIS, like the Communists, would replace the old order with state-ordained groups and organizations for everyone.

Uniforms

The uniforms prescribed by the NAZI regime were an expression of this new order. The NAZIS wanted to level the old class structure (they served "one dish" or"one pot" meals at party gatherings to symbolize the oneness of the state and its people - everyone at the gathering would be served the same meal from the same dish or pot.) The uniforms served to obliterate class distinctions (produce conformity?) and reenforce one's identification as a servant (cog in the wheel?) of the state. One interesting questin is who purchased the uniforms. Did the parents. What about children from poor families. Did the NAZI party provide assiastance for such boys? We do know that when the NAZIs took over Alsace in 1940 that HJ uniforms were distributed free of cost to the boys. [Tomi Ungerer: Tomi: A Childhood under the NAZIs (Tomico: Boulder, 1998.]


Figure 2.--The first important film of the NAZI era was "Hitler Youth Quix" made in 1933. It provides a good look at early youth organization uniforms. I have not seen the film yet, this may be the Communist group that Heine joins first at his father's insistance.

Individual Films

The NAZIs inherited a major movie industry. One of the most important in Europe which at the time (exceptfor Hollywood) one of the most important in the world. We are not familiar with most of the films made in Germany during the NAZI era. In part this is aeflection that foreign-language films are not widely shown in America. We have some infotmation on a few of the films. HBC knows of only a few NAZI era films that have children with important roles, providing information on clothing and the uniform worn by the HJ boys. Numerous former HJ members stress how important those uniforms were to them as boys. Many more films were made about the NAZI era, but not by the NAZIs. Some of the important NAZI films include: "Bahn frei" (Clear the road) Praise of Autobahn; "Sonntag - Alltag" (Sunday - workday) (Nazi ideology on workday); "Die Scholle" (The soil); "Mädel im Landjahr" (Girls in their service year) women as militarized workers; "So wird's gemacht" (That's how it's done) women during the war-- 1944; "Hakenkreuz" (Swastika); amd Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph des Willens" (Triumph of the will) 1934 and "Olympia" 1936. The most sinister films made by the NAZIs were aimed at the Jews. The two most evil were "Der ewige Jude" (The eternal Jew) which portrayed Jews as rats--1940 and "Jud Süss" (Jew Suss).

Hitler Youth Films

Films about the Hitler Youth or including Hitler Youth boys were made both during and after the Third Reich. The depiction of th organization and induividuals boys were, of course very different. The BNAZI films were propagandisic and highly idealized. Since the War the film depicytions have been highly varied. The subject of NAZI Germany's Hitler Youth has fascinated fim makers since the very first years of the Third Reich. Several films have been made specifically on the Hitler Youth, but it is a rare film about NAZI Germany that does not include a required scene with Hitler Youth boys. The most notable such scene is from the Broadway musical Cabaret. Information on several other Hitler Youth films, several made in Germany, are avialable on HBC. The first such film was made in Germany, Hitler Jugend Quex. While it looks rather hokey to us today, it had a powerful impact in mid-190s Germany. The prevelence of the Hitler Youth in movies is extrodinary. The much larger Boy Scout movement is rarely depicted in films. The Hitler Youth, however, is rarely left out in a film with a German setting from the late 1920s to 1945. Many of the films made about the Hitler Youth are one-dimensionaled, especially the World War II propaganda films. The films made later, especially in Germany present much more complex, nuanced views. Please let us know if you are aware of a film which should be added to our list.

Heimat Films

A Dutch reader tells us, "It is interesting to note that during the war especially comedies were made and shown in German movie theaters. They were also shown in Holland and other occupied countries. Austrian stars like Hans Moser, Paul Hörbiger, Paula Wessely and Marika Rökk played many rolls in these German films. Some were made in Austria and were so-called "Heimat Filme" (sentimental Alpine productions in regional dialect). It was done deliberately to give the population a lift during those war years. We as children went to see these movies as did other Dutch people, but there always were many who refused to watch any German movies We did avoid the Nazi propaganda films though, but surprisingly they seldom were shown." [Stueck]

Broadcast Restrictions

Some of these films were effective propaganda films. Especially among young people they helped strengthen support for the NAZI regime. The current German Government does not permit the broadcast of these films in Germany, in part because they are effective propaganda films. They are sometimes used for educational purposes. Sometimes excerpts are shown in documentary films about the NAZI era. [Mueller]

Sources

Mueller, Reinhard. E-mail, July 24, 2002.

Stueck, Rudi. E-mail, April 14, 2004.








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Created: August 18, 2000
Last updated: 9:36 PM 4/16/2007