Films on German history. Collected in international archives.
Films on German history. Collected in international archives.
It’s a sunny and warm spring day. On April 16, 1945, Weimar citizens were taken to the concentration camp only 10 kilometers away to show them the inhuman horror of the Nazi regime. The shots will be shot by an American film team from William Wyler’s “Special Film Project”. Unfortunately, the shots are not in a very good condition. The later American President General Dwight D. Eisenhower writes about the background of the action:
“I have never been able to describe the feelings that came over me when I first saw such an undeniable testimony to the inhumanity of the Nazis and their unscrupulous disregard for the most primitive commandments of humanity. […] Nothing has ever shaken me as much as this sight. […] As soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters in the evening, I telegraphed to Washington and London and urged the government authorities to immediately send a number of newspaper editors and people’s representatives to Germany without further ado. I thought it right to make this evidence immediately available to the public in America and England in such a way that there was no room for cynical doubt.”
For us Germans, Weimar means Goethe, Schiller, German classical high culture. In contrast, Buchenwald describes the bestial rule of the totalitarian Nazi regime. Only ten kilometres lie between the centre of Weimar, the city of poets and thinkers, and the Buchenwald concentration camp, which was built on the Ettersberg in 1937. The Buchenwald concentration camp is one of the largest camps in the Third Reich. Almost 280,000 people from over 50 nations were imprisoned in Buchenwald over the 8 years of its existence. About 21,000 prisoners were liberated by the US troops on April 11, 1945.
It is not plausible that the citizens of the small Thuringian town of Weimar knew nothing of the existence of the camp. Could they have guessed the conditions? Shortly before the end of the Nazi regime with almost certainty. After bombing raids, concentration camp prisoners were used to clean up the middle of the city. And in the weeks before the liberation of the camp, thousands of prisoners had been driven on death marches to clear the camp at the last minute. This could not have remained hidden from the population.
The film footage shows to a certain degree the extent of horror and the disturbing reactions, especially of women. At the crematorium, piled up corpses can be seen. The horror is written all over the faces of the viewers. The American soldiers have set up a table on the roll call square. Objects from the medical test area of the camp can be seen on it. Above all glass vessels with preserved human organs inside. The killing of prisoners during human experiments was part of everyday life in the camp. The faces of most of these Weimar people, to whom an American officer explains the background to the creation of the showpieces, remain apathetic and unbelieving.
In 1947, on his 80th birthday, the newsreel of the American occupying power publishes a film about Emil Nolde. The narrator tries to portray Nolde as a positive figure for a new beginning of culture and art in Germany. For a long time, the history of the “Verfehmten” will shape the official image of Nolde in post-war Germany.
The “Haus der Deutschen Kunst” was opened in Munich in 1937. The works exhibited there are on a rather simple artistic level, a kitschy realism pleasing to the Führer Hitler. The day before, another picture show was opened in Munich’s Hofgarten. The exhibition “Degenerate Art”. This show reviled almost the entire celebrity of German art in the first half of the 20th century. Here, too, I found a unique film document in the National Archives that the American Julien Bryan shot in Munich in 1937.
The picture marked in the original colours at the end of the film is “Christ and the Sinner” by Emil Nolde. It was acquired by the Berlin National Gallery in 1929. There was a fierce dispute about the recognition of expressionist artists during the Weimar Republic.
Nolde made his first major attempt at recognition in Berlin in 1910. It was fermenting in the art scene, in Munich the Blaue Reiter caused a scandal, in Berlin Nolde and the painters of the “Brücke” also wanted to make a revolution. But Nolde’s paintings were rejected by the Berlin artists’ association Secession. This rejection marks the beginning of Emil Nolde’s history of anti-Semitism. The art dealer Paul Cassirer and the painter Max Liebermann, both Jews, determine the fate of the Secession and become Nolde’s intimate enemies. This personal antagonism was also about Nolde’s threatened economic existence as a free artist.
Nolde celebrated his 60th birthday in 1927 and the Kunsthalle Dresden presented him with a large exhibition of his work, which was long overdue for public recognition. Nolde is a very ambitious painter who understands the expressionist style as a unique way of representation. “I would like my paintings to be more than just a nice entertainment by chance, no, that they (…) give the viewer a full sound of life and human existence,” he writes. Since 1927, Nolde has been one of the great stars of classical modernism in Germany. But he remains an anti-Semite and tries to serve himself to the Nazis after 1933. He becomes a member of the Danish NS foreign organization (Nolde is a Danish citizen) and tries to please Hitler by all means. Hans Fehr, perhaps Nolde’s best friend, wrote: “But since everything in Nolde was born out of a primordial instinct, out of a primordial force far from the mind, he saw his innermost being hurt when someone dared to touch this mysterious world”. The deep injury from the years before 1927 perhaps explains the closeness to the Nazis. And Nolde always saw himself as a painter of the Nordic. Nevertheless, Nolde’s art in its radical subjectivity is virtually inconceivable as state art of the Nazi regime.
After the blasphemy of 1937, Nolde is banned from selling and painting. 1052 works of art are removed from the museums and a large part are sold for foreign currency to finance the armament. The “distribution and reproduction” of his works was prohibited.
In his letter of 23 August 1941, the President of the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts, Adolf Ziegler, an artist who is popularly known as the “Master of the German Pubic Hair”, prohibited Emil Nolde “with immediate effect from any occupation, including part-time, in the field of fine arts”. 3 months later the painter was also forbidden to “sell, distribute and reproduce the products listed in the special” (his paintings).
It is objected that the high income from sales in 1940, which Nolde stated in the denazification declaration of 1947, indicates that he had been quite well. It is not said that the income in 1942 was only a tenth of that of 1940. Of course, Nolde, who was over 70 years old at the time, did not have to fear for his life like other persecuted and deprived of his rights. And some private buyers, like 1941 the Hanoverian factory owner Sprengel, supported him with high sums for oil paintings up to the sales prohibition. But the ban on his work brought the great old artist to the brink of despair.
He wrote to Hans Fehr in 1942. “I haven’t worked on anything since the first of August. (…) Not to know what one ‘may’ and ‘may not’ and to have this sword of Damocles hanging over one’s head – does not then the already sensitive artist muse have to leave the people?
New documents prove Nolde’s continuing attempt, even after 1937, to persuade the Nazis to change their minds. The head of the Berlin National Gallery recently announced on television’s evening news that he too (like the Chancellor!) would no longer want to hang Nolde’s in his apartment. A memorably embarrassing statement. It boils down to the same thing the Nazis did with the “degenerate artists”.
The man Nolde was wrong, but the artist went his way. An artist of Emil Nolde’s rank has a special responsibility for his behaviour. The fact that he was an anti-Semite and that the disenfranchisement and annihilation of his Jewish fellow citizens after 1933 did not lead him to a rethink and a clear break with Nazi ideology has now fortunately been clarified. So there remain questions: Why did moral law fail in him? As one of the most prominent artists of the Weimar period, he had friends among his fellow artists, who had already been driven into emigration in 1933. Among them was Paul Klee, whom he met in Switzerland in 1935. What did the artists discuss? Apparently, as so often, Nolde kept quiet.
Nolde offered himself to the Nazi regime, like Heidegger, Richard Strauss, Gottfried Benn or Mies van der Rohe. They only recognize the populist banality, the plebeian and bloodthirsty violence, and the small-minded taste of the Nazi empire when it’s long too late. They have succumbed to the fascination of evil, when one should expect immunity from them. The French art historian Jean Clair calls this a “humiliation of our moral hierarchies.
The “Photohaus Hoffmann” in Munich’s Amalienstraße 25 has just moved into new, larger business premises. On a Friday evening at the beginning of October 1929, a man comes over from his office in the Schellingstraße to visit his friend and party comrade Hoffmann in the new shop. He is in his early forties and, at one meter 75, rather average in size. He enters the shop and Hoffmann asks him into the next room. As so often, the visitor is nervous and restless. Hoffman thinks a snack will be good for him. That’s why he calls his new apprentice to get beer and Leberkäs from a nearby innkeeper.
When the young trainee returns with steins and meat cheese, the men stand at the light table bent over new photographs. Hoffman fetches plates and cutlery and asks the trainee to join them. Eva Braun is just 17, has finished commercial school in Munich and started her apprenticeship a week earlier. The special guest is called “Mr. Wolf”. As Hoffmann remarks, he has less eyes for his meal than for the girl he is staring at all the time.
Since it is already late, Eva wants to go home. The visitor offers to drive her home in his Mercedes Cabriolet, but she refuses. The following morning her boss Hoffmann asks if she had not recognized Mr. Wolf? “Have a look around, he is Adolf Hitler, who can be seen here on so many photos of us”. In this way – reconstructed from stories told by the Braun family – a story begins that will be one of the best-kept secrets of the Third Reich. And which leads to the films of “Frau Hitler”.
October 1929 is a historically significant month. Hitler and his NSDAP were still a small splinter party in Germany. Only 2.8 percent of the voters had voted for the party in the Reichstag elections the year before. But Hitler’s party already has rich financiers. And a few days after the first evening meeting between Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, the New York stock exchange crashes. The collapse of the world economy becomes a chance for the populist Hitler to become an important political power factor in the country overnight. For he now has access to the mass press of the Hugenberg newspaper group and can drum his message all over the country: I, the Führer, am making Germany great again.
The Mummenschanz in party uniforms pretends to be serious, secure and strategic. The party is a male alliance, arm of a military organization, held together in the minds of the narratives of the front fighters of the world war. “My Combat” – with success. In 1930, the NSDAP achieved 18 percent of the votes. Today we would call this the success of a populist. For Hitler’s simple mind, who believes in his role as a saviour with religious fervour, this success may have been connected with the entry into his life of the blond Madonna figure of the maiden Eva Braun.
A few years earlier, in 1923, Adolf Hitler had come to Berchtesgaden for the first time to meet his party colleague Dietrich Eckart. Eckart was the editor of the party newspaper “Völkischer Beobachter”. After his conviction and imprisonment in Landsberg, Hitler returned to the mountains immediately after his release. 1926 he writes there on volume 2 of “Mein Kampf”. His preference for young women is already evident here. Mizzi, the 16-year-old Maria Reiter, succumbs in the autumn of 1926 to the “stabbing gaze” of the party leader, who is 21 years older. Half a child, half a woman, an easy-to-control playmate, an immaculate Madonna, after that is the “wolf”. Until 1931 the unequal liaison lasts, with which the girl let “everything happen with (herself)” according to her own statement. However, whether “everything” actually happened, whether Adolf Hitler seduced the minors, can no longer be clarified.1928 Hitler can permanently rent a holiday home at Obersalzberg, the Haus Wachenfeld. And again a young woman comes into play. His niece Geli Raubal, whose guardian he is, becomes entangled in a tragic love affair with her uncle. She ends in suicide in 1931.
Hitler comes to money and power and buys the house Wachenfeld in 1933. Now the idyllic holiday home is transformed into a stately summer residence according to Hitler’s specifications. The Obersalzberg becomes a restricted area. The Führer-Versailles of the dictator in the mountains.
A court belongs to a pleasure palace. Eva Braun is one of the characters at the Berghof. A relationship has developed between the wolf, Adolf Hitler, and the 33-year younger since the first encounter in October 1929. After the death of Geli Raubal, Eva Braun became Hitler’s new muse and lover. Simple and nice, finds Albert Speer. A simple Munich girl. She is 19 years old, he is now 42. Eva Braun also makes two suicide attempts. Because the party leader does not make the relationship public. Marriage is out of the question. But he lets his relationship cost him something, buys Eva Braun a house, provides her with a princely income. Keeps her in the golden cage “Berghof”.
Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s in-house photographer, was one of the first to gain access to the new Agfacolor colour films developed by AGFA in 1936 in the mid-1930s. With this film material Eva Braun is able to capture the scenery at Obersalzberg. Frau Hitler’s films, which were kept top secret during the Third Reich, allow an unusually close look at Hitler. The films were found and confiscated in 1945 by American soldiers in Eva Braun’s villa at Wasserburgerstrasse 12 (now Delpstrasse) in Munich’s prestigious Bogenhausen district and in Austria.
In the first part of our cut you can see Hitler in white NSDAP party uniform in conversation with his adjutant SA-Gruppenführer Wilhelm Brückner in brown uniform jacket. Albert Forster, then an important official of the German Labor Front, can also be seen with his back to the camera. Hitler had four adjutants who can be seen in other parts of the films. There were also three military adjutants. One sequence shows Hitler in a brown uniform, an excursion in a convertible and a bumpy scene at the staircase to the Berghof building. After all, the always irritable dictator appreciates his girlfriend’s passion for film and plays his role as ruler in the film well-behaved. Often for the pleasure of those involved, who come into the picture by chance. It is said that at the Berghof Hitler felt like he was part of the family. Private shots, however, look different. There is no casualness to be seen. Hitler tries like a bad actor to play the nimbus of the leader infallibly led by Providence.
Hitler pats the children of his architect and later arms minister Speer, Albert (junior) and Hilde. We see a smart Albert Speer on the balustrade of the Berghof terrace. Speer, by the way, ridiculed the building, which according to Goebbels was Hitler’s favourite place and his real home, as the work of a dilettante. What was meant was Hitler himself, who had his architectural ideas realised there. The Speer couple nevertheless became regular guests at Obersalzberg and belonged to the closest circle around the dictator. There was the power and the money. And power is a beguiling plant. Albert Speer’s arrogance becomes visible on the film. Johanna Morell, wife of Hitler’s doctor, can also be seen. And Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. A photograph from the summer of 1938. Then again Speer and Gerhard Engel, who was the liaison to the General Staff of the Army.
Hitler tried to hide his relationship with Eva Braun from the public. Eva Braun was not allowed to attend any official reception in Berlin. When visitors came, she, the mistress, was also hidden on the Berghof in the next room. Eva Braun attempted two suicides to escape this difficult double life. The first in 1932, even before Hitler had come to power, the second in 1935. An outcry of deepest despair. Because Hitler must have felt his love for Eva Braun as a flaw and weakness. It is said that he treated her contemptuously in the circle of the faithful of the Berghof.
But she seems to have found joy and happiness in the magnificent Bavarian mountain world around the Obersalzberg and on summer excursions to the Bavarian lakes. Because Hitler enables her to lead a luxurious life in idleness. She has cut together her private film footage as “Bunte Filmschau”. A film excerpt shows a swimming trip with the Braun family, the parents Franziska and Friedrich and Ilse, the younger sister Evas and secretary of Albert Speer, the actress Else von Möllendorff, Annie Rehborn-Brandt and Karl Brandt, Sofie Stork and her clique in the sports pool Fleischmann, Steinebach am Wörthsee. The film title “Die bunte Filmschau” was drawn by Sofie Stork.
Dr. med. Karl Brandt can be seen on many photographs. He belongs to the regular crew of the Berghof. Since 1934 he was a constant companion of Hitler as a surgeon, the “accompanying physician”. If Hitler had been involved in an accident, he should help immediately. The young, slim, tall man is an SS group leader and doctor at the Berlin University Surgical Clinic. In 1939, Brandt was personally commissioned by Hitler to lead the euthanasia program.
Brandt was responsible for the murder of thousands of mentally handicapped people. The idea of defining the value of a human life “at human discretion” is not an invention of the National Socialists. Eugenics had been an internationally recognized research discipline since the end of the 19th century. Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, had founded this scientific teaching. High-quality genes were to be promoted, inferior ones excluded. From here, euthanasia, which can mean either euthanasia or deliberate killing, was also scientifically legitimized. Karl Brandt later tries to persuade himself that the responsibility for a killing lay with the doctor in charge.
How can the scientific discourse in society slide in this gruesome direction? There was hardly any discussion in the medical profession of the Nazi era about the admissibility of killing programs. Under the conditions of the Nazi society, what did it mean to “extend the powers of physicians to be appointed by name” in such a way that “at human discretion” “at the most critical assessment of their state of illness” “grace death can be granted”? Well over 100,000 people were killed at the end of these instructions, as Braun himself confirmed during his interrogation. Scientific arguments serve to destroy humanity. Braun was therefore sentenced to death and executed in 1948.
Also today we can only act correctly in the discussion of euthanasia if we are aware of the influence of the circumstances of our environment on our judgement. But science is not value-free, not “true”, but always a child of its time. In this respect it is a deceptive basis, especially when it comes to the decision about life and death.
The Berghof became Hitler’s most popular and important residence in 1935. Eva Braun’s films immortalize a number of women who belonged to the court. The NSDAP originated from the military male unions of the time of the First World War. The propaganda of the NSDAP saw the role of women as helpers and fellow combatants of men. Hitler was always able to cast a spell over women. The ecstatic scenes at NSDAP major events are well-known, at which women enthusiastic about leadership are close to powerlessness.
Eva Braun has titled a film sequence “Pünktchen am Berg”. “Pünktchen” is the Munich actress Else von Möllendorff. She was a close friend of Eva. You can also see Gerda Bormann, Herta Schneider and Evas Braun’s sister Gretl. Casual posing of the protégés of a powerful man who is about to reach for world domination. He has tens of thousands of Jewish families humiliated and destroyed without hesitation at this time, he does not shrink from any act of violence, he plans the great war that will cost millions of victims and destroy Germany as well as Europe. The little dot on the mountain – despite all its harmlessness in detail a disturbing document of naive normality.
Some of the summer films of the Upper Bavarian lakes show Eva Braun doing fitness exercises. So one can assume that she wanted to impress Hitler with these shots. Whatever the relationship between the two looked like, body cult and sex play an important role for Hitler’s muse.
Magda Quandt, who later marries Josef Goebbels, has played the role of the “First Lady” of the Third Reich since 1931. In Berlin, Hitler appeared at her side at official receptions, much to the displeasure of his head of propaganda. Goebbels remarks about Hitler that he had no luck with women because he was too soft for them. However, the myth of Hitler includes his role as a single high priest, accessible in principle to all women. “If the Führer knew this,” was a topos among the people, with which the misdeeds, corruption and failures of the NS functionaries were noticed, but Hitler and his totalitarian system were excused. Therefore, tens of thousands of petitions, complaints and petitions from the population were sent to the leader, naively believing in the just leader and Messiah.
Hitler was only able to play a private role on the cordoned off Berghof grounds. The location above the Berchtesgadener Tal corresponded to his self-image as a farsighted visionary and artist. With Hitler’s extended stays, the Berghof became a kind of seat of government. For the Reich Chancellery under Hans Heinrich Lammers, a branch office was set up in Bischofswiesen. The Berghof was accessible around the clock by telephone and telex. The secretaries and adjutants worked in the building. Nevertheless, Hitler loved to make himself inaccessible here. On the other hand, party leaders came and went, and official state visits were also made to the Berghof.
The role of Eva Braun could not remain hidden. Officially, Eva Braun was run as Hitler’s secretary. And perhaps she pretended to be an employee of the Heinrich Hoffmann company and a photographer when she took film shots of the visitors? However, the photographs show, after careful examination, that no one in the leadership circle of the Third Reich had been unaware of Eva Braun’s role.
Mussolini’s Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano flirts with her on a photo. And Josef Goebbels jovially greets the camera, Himmler also jokes in a relaxed manner. Eva throws herself coquettishly at the powerful NSDAP treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz. He or Martin Bormann gave her envelopes with cash. Hermann Esser, party book number 2 of the NSDAP, leads her partying on his arm.
When the Nazi regime was over, Esser tried to cash in with a manuscript “Women around Hitler”. Already in 1938 Eva Braun was mentioned in a Czech magazine. The American Reuters correspondent in Munich, Ernest Pope, who spread some knowledge of the nightlife of Munich’s NS celebrities in the years before 1940, had little to say about Eva Braun. The German public, however, learned nothing about these suspicions. Because, according to Josef Goebbels, the Führer “devotes himself entirely to the nation and has no private life …”. But the Germans’ curiosity was as big as a crack, thousands defiled the fence of the Berghof during the summer weeks.
On April 28, 1945, Hitler dictated to his secretary Traudl Junge: “Since I believed in the years of the struggle that I could not take responsibility for founding a marriage, I decided now, before the end of this earthly career, to take the girl who, after many years of faithful friendship, came into the already almost besieged city of her own free will to share her fate with mine”. Eva Braun becomes Hitler’s wife for 24 hours. Then both end in suicide. At the same time, on 25 April, the Berghof is reduced to rubble by British bombers. American soldiers film the spooky scenery at the beginning of May 1945.
Text: Stephan Bleek. All films are available for licensing.