Tag Archives: History

How Hitler helped make Hollywood

GlobalPost, February 14, 2013
BERLIN, Germany — Two months after Adolf Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in 1933, Jews working in Germany’s groundbreaking film industry were warned there would be no place for them under the new Nazi regime.

“We will not even remotely tolerate that those ideas, which Germany has eradicated at the root, are able to make their way either openly or surreptitiously back into film,” Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels announced that March. The powerful UFA studio canceled contracts for most Jews working there the following day.

Thus began the greatest rupture in German film history, marking the end of the golden age for Weimar cinema. Soon not only Jews, but left-wingers began fleeing the country, followed by others who saw no place for themselves in what would become the Third Reich’s propaganda machine.

Their departure would help transform another film industry: Hollywood. Of the some 2,000 movie professionals who left Germany in the 1930s, most ended up in California, where the techniques they pioneered back home would have a lasting impact on American film.

This week, the Berlin International Film Festival is honoring them in a retrospective called “The Weimar Touch.” More than 30 films dating from 1933 to 1959 are being shown in a program co-curated by the Deutsche Kinemathek film archive and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The selection explores not only films made by those immigrants after they left Germany, but also their influence on international cinema in general, from their experimental sets and lighting techniques to the way they viewed the world.

“Weimar cinema paid attention not only to the surface but the deep currents beneath,” retrospective director Rainer Rother said in an interview. “It was a cinema more of doubt than of self-assuredness, very open to nuances and ambiguities.”

Film was one of many arts that flourished under Weimar Germany, a period of nascent democracy and great instability between the end of the World War I and the Nazi rise to power. The political and economic uncertainty somehow translated into a great burst of creative energy that’s rarely been matched.

Although experimental works such as “Dr Caligari,” “Nosferatu” and “Metropolis” may be the first to spring to mind on mention of Weimar, Germany also boasted a vibrant commercial film industry that turned out comedies, musicals and other popular entertainment for the home market and international distribution.

But German cinema’s most creative and productive period ended with the exodus that began in 1933. Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Peter Lorre, Douglas Sirk, Max Ophüls, Robert Siodmak and Max Reinhardt were just some of the actors, directors and others to leave. Continue reading

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Auschwitz documents surface, then vanish

GlobalPost, Jan. 17, 2012

BERLIN — Before the Nazis fled Auschwitz in January 1945, they destroyed most of the incriminating documents relating to their operation of the death camp, in which over a million people perished.

Yet, it now seems a small number of surviving documents may have resurfaced — only to disappear again.

According to Polish media reports, two unidentified Germans located three crates in south-western Poland containing documents relating to the former death camp, and then smuggled them out of the country.

The news has led the Auschwitz Museum to file a criminal complaint with Polish prosecutors and the Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN), which is responsible for investigating crimes related to the Nazi occupation of the country.

“There are several laws regarding archives, regarding historical items, that were violated,” Auschwitz Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told GlobalPost. “That is why we informed the Prosecutors office and the IPN.”

The museum took the step on Monday after Polish media reported that a Pole named as Mieczyslaw Bojko had helped the Germans find the crates near Przelecz Kowarska, a village near the German border. The crates were reported to contain military service records and over 100 personnel files. Continue reading

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Rudolf Hess’s body removed from cemetery to deter Nazi pilgrims

The Guardian, July 21, 2011

For the past two decades, every 17 August has seen the small Bavarian town of Wunsiedel become overwhelmed by neo-Nazi pilgrims. The far-right gathers to commemorate the death of Rudolf Hess, the Nazi deputy to Adolf Hitler, who was buried in the town cemetery.

Now officials in Wunsiedel are hoping they have come up with a way of keeping the rightwing hordes away. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Hess’s remains were exhumed and the gravestone – which read “Ich hab’s gewagt” or “I have dared” – has been destroyed. Continue reading

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Harnessing Anarchy for Hitler: The Nazis’ Bid to Control Carnival

Germany’s Carnival is an expression of anarchic fun and mockery of those in power. Yet the Nazis sought to harness the potential of the festivities for their own ends. Anti-Semitic floats and speeches attacking Germany’s enemies were commonplace, and defiance was rare.

It was Rose Monday in the German city of Cologne and the festivities for the 1934 Carnival were well underway. Of the many floats taking part in the traditional parade, one featured a group of men dressed up as orthodox Jews. The banner above them read “The Last Ones Are Leaving.” This was, after all, Carnival under the Third Reich.

The float was one of the many expressions of anti-Semitism marking the German Carnival season during the years leading up to World War II. Another float from 1935 seems a terrible harbinger of the Holocaust to come. In Nuremberg, where the infamous anti-Semitic race laws would be introduced later that year, a papier-mâché figure of a Jew hung from a bar on a model mill as if on a gallows.

Yet until recently, it has been almost taboo to speak about Germany’s Carnival and the Nazis in the same breath. Carnival, the pre-Lent festival celebrated in the predominantly Catholic west and south of Germany, displays the cheerful, humorous, raucous side of Germany. Nothing could seem further removed from the horrors perpetrated by Hitler’s regime. Continue reading

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Berlin Clears One of its Last Remaining Squats

One of the last remaining squats in Berlin was cleared on Tuesday. After a long-drawn out legal battle, 600 police descended on Brunnenstrasse 183 to evict the occupants. Berlin’s days as a squatter’s paradise and alternative mecca are long gone.

Berlin is a city that has marketed itself on its edgy alternative image, but in reality the German capital is increasingly becoming like many other European cities. One of the hallmarks of its vibrant alternative culture had been the city’s many former squats. But on Tuesday another one of these self-styled “house projects,” or experiments in alternative living, bit the dust.

On a mild November afternoon around 600 police officers descended upon the alternative house project at Brunnenstrasse 183, clearing out a total of 21 people from the dilapidated five-story house in central Berlin. The expected outbreak of violence by left-wing extremists didn’t happen. The closest it came to a showdown was when a few of the occupants climbed onto the roof and waved Anti-Fascist flags. Continue reading

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Where the Berlin Wall First Fell: Historic Border Crossing Finally Gets a Facelift

The former border crossing at Bornholmer Strasse may have been the spot where the Iron Curtain cracked wide open, but 20 years on there is little in this drab corner of East Berlin to indicate its historic significance. That is set to change now that Berlin has commissioned a firm of architects to create a new square to commemorate the events of Nov. 9, 1989.

Not all historic places announce themselves with pomp and fanfare. Sometimes they can be modest and unassuming, even a little bit shabby.

The Bösebrücke bridge to the north of Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district is just such a place. This desolate corner of east Berlin is the spot where the Iron Curtain cracked wide open 20 years ago. It was here that East Berliners streamed past the suddenly moribund Bornholmer Strasse border checkpoint and into West Berlin at approximately 9:20 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1989. Yet today there is little to indicate that this is the place where communist East Germany entered its death throes.

That is soon set to change, however. Berlin’s city government has commissioned a new urban square to commemorate that fateful day in 1989. Just over a week ago, Sinai, a firm which specializes in landscape architecture, was named as the winner of the competition to design the new “Platz der 9. November 1989” (Nov. 9, 1989 Square). Continue reading


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Berlin Return for Restored Classic: Film Festival to Show Uncut ‘Metropolis’

One of the most important works in cinematic history is to be shown in its complete uncut version at next year’s Berlin International Film Festival. The restored version of Fritz Lang’s silent classic “Metropolis” is to hit the silver screen 83 years after it first premiered in Berlin.

Fritz Lang’s silent opus “Metropolis” was the first film ever to be granted World Heritage status by UNESCO. Yet for years the version film buffs and auteurs had hailed as a masterpiece was incomplete. But next February, a Berlin audience will finally get to see the original version of the sci-fi classic in the city where it first premiered 83 years ago.

The Berlin International Film Festival is to show the fully restored movie in the city’s Friedrichstadt Palast venue on Feb. 12, accompanied by an orchestra playing the original score by Gottfried Huppertz. “Just about no other German film has inspired and influenced history as greatly as Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis,'” Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement released on Thursday. “We are especially pleased and honored to be able to present the reconstructed original cut of this legendary and seminal film classic at the festival’s 60th anniversary.”  Continue reading

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Oct. 7, 1989: How ‘Gorbi’ Spoiled East Germany’s 40th Birthday Party

The celebrations to mark 40 years of communist East Germany couldn’t hide the mounting rumbles of dissent. Many East Germans looked to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to persuade the Honecker regime to implement reforms. It was soon clear that Moscow was not going to help the hardliners crush the growing unrest.

If history had turned out differently, the old East German state might have been celebrating its 60th anniversary on Wednesday, just days after Communist China did the same. But instead, the Berlin Wall fell on Nov. 9, and less than a year later the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) was no more, having been reunited with the old West Germany.

Back on Oct. 7, 1989, as East Germany prepared huge celebrations to mark its 40th anniversary, the seeds of its imminent collapse had already been sown, and it was soon to succumb to the unstoppable wave of protests and demands for change. Continue reading

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Cold War Cinema: Revealing the Cracks in Communism

A retrospective series of Eastern European films is about to go on tour in Germany. What unites these very different movies is the way they reveal the tensions that would eventually lead to the collapse of the communist regimes.

Two teenage punk girls back-comb their hair while they talk about hating school and running away from home; a wizened old woman who has just celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary confides that she married the wrong man; a single mother carries out dirty and repetitive tasks in a factory before speaking about her loneliness and the difficulties of raising her disabled daughter alone.

This is a film depicting women, young and old, frankly talking about their hopes and fears, their marriages, children and jobs. It wouldn’t be so very remarkable were it not for the fact that the year is 1988 and this is communist East Germany. Helke Misselwitz’s ground-breaking documentary “Winter Adé,” or “After Winter Comes Spring,” caused a sensation when it was first shown in the Eastern German city of Leipzig exactly one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Continue reading

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Remembering Rosa: Luxemburg Still Popular 90 Years after Assassination

Rosa Luxemburg helped found the German Communist Party and was brutally murdered 90 years ago for her efforts. Today, she continues to provide inspiration to lefties and feminists the world over. But do those who revere her really understand her?

Visitors to Berlin who stroll away from Alexander Platz to take a look at the imposing Volksbühne theater and the Hans Poelzig designed Babylon Cinema nearby may be puzzled to notice a series of metal words embedded at zigzag angles into the pavement. A closer look, though, reveals that the installation is yet another monument to history in a city full of them.

This one is to Rosa Luxemburg, or Red Rosa as she was known, and is made up of quotations from the early 20th century socialist leader. The Polish-born Jewish academic was assassinated 90 years ago this week. But far from having faded into the history books, Luxemburg, one of the founders of the German Communist Party, remains a heroine to many in Germany — from both the east and west — as well as to fans across the world. Continue reading

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