Sunday , September 20 2020
Controversial Nazi film heritage: what are defector films? | Movies | DW

Controversial Nazi film heritage: what are defector films? | Movies | KG

It started with a couple of tin film cans: "At the end of November 1945 – at least that's how the legend goes – two Soviet soldiers in a bunker in Babelsberg Film rolls found ", says the film historian Ralf Schenk. The big film show" Defector: From the end of the National Socialist film production and their continued life ", which can now be seen in Berlin.

In the heart of the German capital, im "Zeughauskino" of the German Historical Museum, a large part of the films that historians and film scholars have long categorized as "defectors" will be shown until the end of September. These are films that were shot in Nazi Germany before the end of the war and largely completed, but were only completed and shown after the war.

Berlinale venue: Zeughaus cinema in frontal view in the sunlight (picture-alliance / dpa / G. Breloer)

The Zeughaus in Berlin: location of the retrospective of the "defectors" films

Joseph Goebbels recognized the outstanding importance of cinema

Review: During the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, the cinema played a prominent role in the range of arts. Above all, Joseph Goebbels, "Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda", had campaigned for film and saw the cinema as a decisive tool for guiding the masses. The cinema was used for propaganda purposes, but also served for entertainment, later mainly to distract from the atrocities of war.

With the German defeat, the German film heritage fell into the hands of the Allies. The question now was: How should it be dealt with? The victorious powers divided the German films into three main categories. A large part was classified as politically harmless and approved. These films were allowed to come back to the cinemas – as soon as that was possible in a destroyed Germany. In category B there were films that could only be shown with editing conditions. But after more or less major changes, the way to the cinemas was free for them too.

German Nazi film heritage: "Reserved films" and "Defectors"

A third part was banned. These were the propaganda films of the "Third Reich". Initially, it was a corpus of around 220 works. Even today, 75 years after the end of the war, a smaller part of them may only be shown under certain circumstances: the so-called "reserved films". One of them is Veit Harlan's notorious "Jud Süß".

Finally, there were a few dozen films that did not fall into any of the categories, the very ones that were later given the title "Defectors": works that were on the verge of completion when the war was lost for Germany. These are now the focus of the Berlin show. The starting point for the rediscovery of these initially unfinished works were the film cans that were found by two Russians on the edge of the Babelsberg studios.

The journalist, film critic, film historian, author and director of the DEFA Foundation Ralf Schenk (Imago Images)

Film curator Ralf Schenk

Ralf Schenk: "The soldiers who found the roles then went to the technical director, a Russian who was from the Soviets at the time [für den Bereich Film, Anm. d. Red.] The German editor Alice Ludwig was then asked what might be hidden behind the mysterious find. Alice Ludwig knew: It was about the one shortly before the end of the war Completed film operetta "Die Fledermaus" with stars like Johannes Heesters and Marte Harell.

The Soviets use German films for their own purposes

According to Schenk in an interview with Deutsche Welle, the Russians would then have recognized the potential of films like "Die Fledermaus". The Soviets were in the process of founding DEFA. So you could use these films – provided they weren't works that propagated the values ​​of Nazi Germany: "They made sure that these weren't crude propaganda films anymore, they were also made at the end of 1944 / Hardly any more at the beginning of 1945. The films that were the first 'defectors' to hit the cinemas in 1946 were 'pure entertainment films'. "

Film still from the film Dreimal Komoedie with three actors having a chat, a woman in the middle, two men in full coat outside (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation)

Another defector – the comedy "Three Comedy", started before the end of the war, premiered in Germany: 1949

The Russians were primarily pursuing two goals. On the one hand, they had the first basic film stock for the German audience for the time after the reopening of the movie theaters. "The Soviet films alone could hardly have filled the cinemas in the Soviet occupation zone," says Schenk: "Something else had to be produced there, and so the old German films were based on."

At DEFA the German "defectors" were completed

Second, according to the film historian, the Russian film officers knew that these films could also be shown in front of a large audience in the Soviet Union. So after finding the "Fledermaus" roles, "the order was given to look for further film roles in this jumble in and outside the Babelsberger studio." A whole series of almost finished films was found. "These were then processed by DEFA over time."

Scene from destroyed Berlin in 1945 (picture-alliance / akg-images)

At first, cinema was out of the question in destroyed Berlin, but a few years after the end of the war, the population was hungry for entertainment

The films were made by DEFA on behalf of the Soviets, mostly they had to be provided with sound and music and, if necessary, a synchronization. Short scenes were only filmed in exceptional cases. One did not care about rights. How was that supposed to happen in the devastated German film industry?

Ralf Schenk: "A win-win situation for East Germans and Soviets"

"It was of course a lucrative story for DEFA," says Schenk, "because 'Sovexportfilm' paid DEFA a great deal for the completion of the films." In "Die Fledermaus" they are e.g. 300,000 Reichsmarks: "With this money DEFA was able to build its own infrastructure." Only around 100,000 Reichsmarks were needed to complete the film operetta, so 200,000 Reichsmarks were left over: "That could be used to shoot the new films. A win-win situation!"

Leni Riefenstahl filming 'Tiefland' with a camera (picture alliance / Keystone)

Leni Riefenstahl during the filming of "Tiefland", the recording is probably from 1940

The East German DEFA took over a large part of the defector films. But in the west, in the areas occupied by the Americans, British and French, there were also "defectors". "Lowlands" of Leni Riefenstahl is one of the most famous films in this category. The famous director in the service of Nazi propaganda (she staged propaganda works such as "Triumph des Willens" and the "Olympia" films from 1936) was able to gain a foothold in West Germany after the war.

But "defectors" films like "Tiefland" are the exception. As a rule, this small but important part of the sometimes problematic German film heritage from the years 1933 to 1945 was entertainment films for a large audience. Three quarters of a century after the end of the Second World War, these films can now be seen again in a larger context in Berlin.

43 queries 0.633