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Third Reich 1933-1945

by Kolar
My new project, a chronological sequel to Apursan​sar nice list Weimar Cinema: Daydreams and Nightmares . A list for people who have a historical interest. No glorification and no advertising for these films. Over 1000 German feature films produced between 1933-1945, 10-15 percent are propaganda. Films of the Third Reich (1933-1945) On March 28, 1933, only eight weeks after Adolf Hitler’s inauguration as Reich Chancellor, Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels sketched out for a group of filmmakers the shape of National-Socialist film policy (Mat.) to come. Film was to take on the “contours of the Volk,” and it… Read more

My new project, a chronological sequel to Apursan​sar nice list Weimar Cinema: Daydreams and Nightmares . A list for people who have a historical interest. No glorification and no advertising for these films. Over 1000 German feature films produced between 1933-1945, 10-15 percent are propaganda.

Films of the Third Reich (1933-1945)

On March 28, 1933, only eight weeks after Adolf Hitler’s inauguration as Reich Chancellor, Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels sketched out for a group of filmmakers the shape of National-Socialist film policy (Mat.) to come. Film was to take on the “contours of the Volk,” and it was imperative that “the National-Socialist movement intervene in the economy and in general cultural affairs, and that includes film.” Only art that “has taken root deep in the bedrock of National Socialism” was to be permitted. This exertion of political influence took place by no means against the will of the majority of German filmmakers, technicians, and business people. In fact, National-Socialist film policy — especially after Jewish filmmakers were forced out and into exile — was rarely repudiated. The total control of the German film industry was further pursued through interventions in its corporatist structure, reform of the Film Law, and through changes to the system of censorship and rating. The actual nationalization of the film industry took place gradually and covertly until on January 10, 1942 all state-owned film companies were united in a single holding company, Ufa-Film GmbH. But not only film production, distribution, and exhibition was subject to state control and intervention; film criticism, too, was affected. As early as 1933 the film press was officially put under Joseph Goebbels’ personal control, and in 1936 the criticism and individual evaluation of films were outlawed by decree. In place of film criticism came “film observation,” which was limited to the description of films acceptable to the regime and the dissemination of propagandistic hate speech.

Liebelei (1933)

Leni Riefenstahl, Veit Harlan, “Triumph des Willens”, “Jud Süß”, and “Kolberg” — names and titles like these come up again and again in discussions of the National-Socialist cinema. Both famous and notorious as the treacherous concoctions of the Nazis’ propaganda factories, these films have become synonymous in the public eye with the National-Socialist cinema per se, and tend to inspire a combination of curiosity, aversion, horror, and fascination. This identification of cinema of the National-Socialist period with its most ostentatiously propagandistic products is equally symptomatic and misleading. The Nazis were unarguably single-minded and vehement in their deployment of the film medium’s considerable powers of suggestion for the indoctrination and mobilization of the masses.

Stoßtrupp 1917 (aka Shock Troop, 1934)

Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that National-Socialist film propaganda was not the same thing as National-Socialist propaganda film. As recent studies have shown, the entirety of film culture under the Nazis was designed to disseminate its ideology through the sophisticated combination of entertainment with the mediation of political content.

Political-ideological indoctrination was the explicit domain of the documentary, the Kulturfilm, but especially of the weekly newsreels; in 1938, they became a mandatory component of every cinema screening. The feature film, on the other hand, was meant to provide entertainment and distraction; but it was by no means free of ideological themes and propaganda — it simply combined the elements of entertainment and propaganda in more subtle proportions.

Triumph des Willens (aka Triumph of the Will, 1935)

To equate National-Socialist cinema with its propaganda films is problematic, especially as propaganda films —films pertaining directly to political measures taken by the National-Socialist government or that specifically and aggressively exhibited the Nazis’ world-view — made up only about one-tenth of the over one thousand feature films produced during the Third Reich. The majority of these films are familiar to viewers today only by name. Because of their ideological content and their incendiary potential, the films are considered dangerous even today, and are prohibited from public exhibition. What, aside from being banned (since a prohibition often provokes curiosity) makes these films so interesting and at the same time so volatile? Many of these films stand out from the mass of Third Reich film productions by virtue of their immense financial, technical, and personnel expenditures alone. The so-called Staatsauftragfilme, or “state-produced films,” which were commissioned by the Propaganda Ministry under at Goebbels’ word. With budgets exceeding four million Reichs Mark and a full contingent of stars, these were the most expensive film productions of the time. As late as 1944/45, during the Volkssturm, or “people’s storm,” entire army units were deployed as extras for the “holding-out film” “Kolberg” (Burning Hearts). Aside from the state-financed megalomania, these productions demonstrate above all how propaganda, fastidious technical skill, and artistry — embodied above all by the stars — can be combined to insidious ends. They provide, above all, models for understanding the Nazis’ subtle methods of propaganda.

Zu neuen Ufern (aka To New Shores, 1937)

Film propaganda was thus implemented primarily by way of polarizations, in which the audience was presented either with idealized images of the perfect society or radical depictions of the enemy (both according to National-Socialist ideology). Furthermore, the propaganda function of the films was frequently context-oriented, meaning, films were produced and distributed in conjunction with specific political actions. Judging from the general principle of National-Socialist propaganda, these took various forms, gradual attempts to take elements like the “Führer principle” and the “master race” doctrine, the myth of blood and soil and the cult of the Volk, as well as specific images of the enemy and themes like war and nation, and to popularize and instill them in the masses once and for all.

Der Berg ruft! (aka The Mountain Calls, 1938)

After the rather negative reception received by the films “SA-Mann Brand”, “Hans Westmar, einer unter vielen”, and “Hitlerjunge Quex” — the Nazi “trilogy of martyrs” made directly after the seizure of power in 1933 —, the Nazis tended to avoid direct representations of their regime or of the National-Socialist movement in film. Instead, in further attempts at mediating the norms of a world-view, as was predominant in propaganda films of the 1930s, they resorted to doing so at a spatial and, especially, temporal distance. Historical biographies like “Robert Koch, der Bekämpfer des Todes” (Robert Koch: The Battler of Death, 1939), “Friedrich Schiller, der Triumph eines Genies” (Friedrich Schiller: The Triumph of a Genius, 1940), and “Der große König” (The Great King, 1940–42 — with Otto Gebühr, recalling the “Fridericus Rex” series of the early 1920s) were produced as aggrandizements of “great Germans” and justifications for the “Führer principle.” The teleological interpretation of history underlying these films celebrated Hitler and the Third Reich as the logical end of German history.

Münchhausen (aka The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1943)

With Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the beginning of World War II, came changes to the demands on film propaganda. The number of propaganda films explicitly justifying the war and the mobilization of the German people rose considerably. Slogans celebrating war and military heroism were typical for the pilot films, most of which were directed by the avid National-Socialist Karl Ritter. In films like “Feuertaufe” (Baptism by Fire), “Kampfgeschwader Lützow” (Battle Squadron Lützow), and “Stukas” (Stukas), themes like camaraderie, obedience, duty, readiness to fight, and heroic death for the fatherland were embedded and mystified in stories of adventure, romance, and male bonding – complete with spectacular flight footage. After 1941, when it became clear that the war would not be ending any time soon, its representation in feature films became practically taboo. Instead, studios began making films dedicated to mobilizing the home front, like “Ein schöner Tag” (A Beautiful Day, 1943/44), “Die große Liebe” (The Great Love, 1942), “Wunschkonzert” (Wish Concert, 1940), and, lastly, the big-budget film “Kolberg” (Burning Hearts, 1945), which was made during the final phase of the war. While pre-war National-Socialist film was not particularly incendiary, not least out of consideration for its own export potential, the construction in films of images of the enemy served, as film publicist Wolf Donner has incisively put it, “as ideological background music for the Nazis’ shifting foreign policy.” The propaganda films “Menschen im Sturm” (People in the Storm, 1941), “G.P.U.” (The Red Terror, 1942), and “Ohm Krüger” (1942) demonstrated anti-Slovenian, anti-Polish, anti-Russian, and above all anti-British tendencies.

Opfergang (aka The Great Sacrifice, 1944)

The most infamous examples of National-Socialist propaganda, however, were inflammatory anti-Semitic productions like “Jud Süß” (Jew Suss), “Die Rothschilds” (The Rothschilds), or the pseudo-documentary “Der ewige Jude” (The Eternal Jew). All three were released in 1940, a year in which the Nazis greatly intensified their “Jewish policy” by building the Warsaw Ghetto and beginning the deportation of German Jews to the east. By effectively spreading discrimination and defamation to the masses, these films colluded with the Nazis’ genocide of the European Jewry, which took the lives of over six million people. The most extreme of these propaganda films, Veit Harlan’s “Jud Süß”, was shown to SS commandos directly before their assignments. The threat posed by the assimilated Jew Süß to the national community is woven as a central theme into the tradition of the bourgeois tragic-drama. Not only was the film a box-office hit at the time of its release, but it is enjoying an unfortunate renaissance today amongst right-wing radical groups and organizations.

Die Feuerzangenbowle (aka The Punch Bowl, 1944)

The great majority of films produced under the Nazis are today no longer officially prohibited from being exhibited. Only a handful of offensive propaganda films are still classed as “conditionally banned” [Vorbehaltsfilme] due to their racist, anti-Semitic, militaristic, or incendiary content; these can only be shown in closed gatherings accompanied by a scientifically sound introduction and discussion. Guidelines for deciding how to treat films from the National-Socialist period thus drew an apparently clear line between a handful of “dangerous” propaganda films and the mass of commercial entertainment films. For a long time this distinction also influenced public debate and scholarly discourse. Beginning with the early studies of Nazi-period cinema made in the 1960s, discussion has proceeded more or less along two main lines.

Große Freiheit Nr. 7 (aka Great Freedom No. 7, 1944)

On the one side is the argument, which for reasons of opportunity has reflected the way the National-Socialist film legacy has actually been dealt with, that aside from a handful of exceptions, the cinema of the National-Socialist period had nothing to do with Nazi films but rather with a non-political star culture. Many have thus argued for normalization for the majority of these films; and this argument has been taken up by those with commercial interests in the matter, as well as by others seeking to justify their involvement in the production of National-Socialist films. The other side has in turn levied a reproach against downplaying. Here the entire feature film production of the National-Socialist period is viewed in terms of ideology and the focus is on detecting National-Socialist manipulation devices.In general, however, both the polarized evaluation of Nazi-period films between condemnation on the one side and vindication on the other, and the distinction between political and apolitical films. (

Famous or important people


Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda

Veit Harlan, Director

Zarah Leander, Actress

Fritz Hippler, Director

Wolfgang Liebeneiner, Director

Carl Raddatz, Actor

Leni Riefenstahl, Director

Heinz Rühmann, Actor

Hans Steinhoff, Director

Kristina Söderbaum, Actress

Luis Trenker, Director & Actor

Gustav Ucicky, Director

Ilse Werner, Actress

Links / more Information/ Books

Book: David Stewart Hull. “Film in the Third Reich: a study of the German cinema, 1933-1945”, University of California Press, 1969

German films 1933–1945 on Mubi

Specials: “Unter den Brücken” is filming 1944/1945, release: 1946, “Das blaue Licht” / “The Blue Light”, Originally released: 1932, but it is the start of a career as a film-maker for Leni Riefenstahl. It was “The Blue Light” which impressed Hitler and Goebbels enough to engage Leni Riefenstahl to direct the Nazi party’s subsequent propaganda films.

in chronological order (year) more films coming soon…

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