How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film
The Nazis wove anti-Semitism into their films, often quite subtly, as part of their propaganda scheme. How should these films be treated today?
Hitler's favorite director
Leni Riefenstahl was among the Nazi filmmakers who tried to redeem their reputations after 1945. She was responsible for filming the Nazi party's massive rallies and was an integral part of the propaganda machine. Anti-Semitism was inseparable from the party's ideology.
Retelling history with anti-Semitic twist
"Jud Süss," one of the Nazis' most famous propaganda films, which is restricted today, was directed by Viet Harlan in 1940. Harlan tells the historical tale of 18th-century German-Jewish banker Joseph Süss Oppenheimer and places it in the context of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. "Jud Süss" was seen by millions of Germans when it was first released.
Mixing anti-Semitism with 'art'
In Harlan's film, anti-Semitic prejudices are underlined by the plot and the way the characters are portrayed. The writer Ralph Giordano said, "Jud Süss" was the "most mean-spirited, cruel and refined form of 'artistic anti-Semitism.'" Michael Töteberg wrote, "The film openly mobilizes sexual fears and aggression and instrumentalizes them for anti-Semitic incitement."
'The devil's director'
His biographer once called Veit Harlan "the devil's director," due to his unabashed service to Nazi ideology. Harlan had "qualified" himself to make "Jud Süss" after making his own films with anti-Semitic tendencies in the 1930s. After 1945, the director was able to continue working after going on trial and serving a temporary occupational ban.
Dealing with propaganda films - in film
Much was written and said about Viet Harlan and his anti-Semitic film "Jud Süss" after the war. At least one response to Harlan's work was uttered in film form. Director Oskar Roehler dealt with the origin and effect of the propaganda film in his melodramatic, controversial film "Jud Suss: Rise and Fall" (2010).
Joseph Goebbels pulled the strings
The Nazis were quick to recognize that cinema could have a powerful effect in swaying the people. Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda used the medium to promote their ideologies, including anti-Semitism. Besides feature films like "Jud Süss," cultural and educational films were also made.
A so-called documentary
Another Nazi-made anti-Semitic film was "The Eternal Jew," released just a few months after "Jud Süss" in 1940. The film, made by Fritz Hippler, shows well-known Jewish artists, scenes from the Warsaw Ghetto and images of Jewish religious practices, combining them in a deceitful manner with excerpts from Hitler's speeches and SS marches. The propaganda work was billed as a documentary.
Devil in the details
Most of the propaganda films the Nazis made between 1933 and 1945 used smaller doses of anti-Semitism and were not as overt as "Jud Süss." Some films were even toned down during production. The historical film "Bismarck" (1940) was originally planned as a much more aggressive anti-Semitic propaganda film.
Anti-Semitism from the perspective of Charlie Chaplin
During the war, Hollywood produced a number of anti-Nazi films that condemned anti-Semitism. Charlie Chaplin humorously portrayed Hitler in "The Great Dictator" in 1940. After the war, Chaplin said he would have acted differently, had he been aware of the extent of the Nazis' extermination policy against the Jews.