Michael's Reviews > Nazi Propaganda Films: A History and Filmography

Nazi Propaganda Films by Rolf Giesen
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Apr 27, 2016

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bookshelves: fascism, film-guides, media-studies, politics
Recommended for: Film historians, Germanists, History instructors
Read from April 03 to 27, 2016 , read count: 1

This book serves as a film guide to movies made for the purpose of supporting or promoting the National Socialist outlook and official party line in Germany from 1933 to 1945. It does not cover any movies made before Hitler became Chancellor that may have promoted or supported the Party. Most of the movies listed here were intended as commercial releases: we do not get instructional films used for army training, for example, nor educational films screened in schools. Because these are large-scale productions, many of these films still exist and some of them have had home video releases or can be found on the Internet, while others can only be seen in special screenings at museums or film archives today. The book consists of three sections: a narrative history of propaganda film in Nazi Germany, broken into roughly chronological thematic sections, a listing of the movies and their production details, and a listing of the individual artists involved in a “who’s who” section. The details in all three sections are well-researched and authenticated as best as possible, and most readers will find much new information here.

The author seems to be conscious of the fact that his book may attract sympathizers to National Socialism and he goes to some effort to distance himself from that audience. At times, he seems to go a bit far, as when he introduces the section on anti-Semitism with an extensive citation of Daniel Goldhagen without noting that Goldhagen’s rather forceful argument (that Germans were instrinsically anti-Semitic and therefore culturally and genetically predisposed to perpetrate the Holocaust) are not generally accepted among historians of the Holocaust. Similarly, his biographies of the film artists often emphasize their long lives and ability to find work after the fall of Nazism, as if none of them ever should have worked again. Such a bitterly vengeful attitude seems appropriate in the cases of major propagandists like Leni Riefenstahl and Veit Harlan, but does it apply to every set designer or actor who took a job for the State?

The major problem with this book, however, is its poor translation, which was obviously undertaken by someone who did not speak English natively. No translator is credited, which may mean that the author attempted it himself, or perhaps the translator asked to have their name removed since they could not do justice to the original. At least they knew enough not to leave lengthy sentences with no breaks. However, a few examples (by no means the most egregious) follow:

p.141: “In Mein Kampf Hitler, in his social Darwinism influenced by terms like “struggle for existence” and “survival of the fittest,” wrote:”

p148: “In the miller’s daughter speaks the simple girl, who initially finds nothing in the strokes of fate, and in the corporal speaks the brave, simple soldier, who is racked with guilt because he doesn’t understand the loving kindness of his King.”

P148: “The historian has the task of telling people the truth, the artist has the task to arise man and give him strength and belief.”

The whole book isn’t quite this bad, but there are enough head-scratching moments like the above to slow down any native English reader. The book serves mainly as a film guide for those interested in finding the movies listed, and will likely add to the list of “want-to-sees” for anyone who studies the period. It is not really a very useful book beyond that, it’s analysis of the films tends to be facile and the attempt at broader contextualization is marred by poor translation and an overly-polemical approach.
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message 1: by Lilo (new)

Lilo Maybe this book would be beneficial for Donald Trump. He has studied Hitler's speeches. This book might bring his education on the subject "how to start and maintain a dictatorship" to the next level.


Michael Lilo wrote: "Maybe this book would be beneficial for Donald Trump. He has studied Hitler's speeches. This book might bring his education on the subject "how to start and maintain a dictatorship" to the next level."

Very funny. Actually, I think Trump is wise to avoid old media like film. Having established himself as a reality TV star, he now dominates Twitter. I think that's the winning strategy for the 21st century.


message 3: by Lilo (new)

Lilo Michael wrote: "Lilo wrote: "Maybe this book would be beneficial for Donald Trump. He has studied Hitler's speeches. This book might bring his education on the subject "how to start and maintain a dictatorship" to..."

"Armes Amerika!" (Pitiable America!)

("I assume you know some German and are familiar with the double-meaning of "Armes Deutschland!")


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