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25 September 2005

Rats, Spider Women, Nazis, Torturers, Hairdressers, Jews: Film As Weapon

In a strange and beautiful novel by Manuel Puig, and the film made from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" ("El beso de la mujer arana"), a gay hairdresser and a Marxist revolutionary are cellmates in an Argentine prison during the brutal military junta of the 1970s. (The hairdresser's crime is being a homosexual.)

To pass the time, calm the fear, and ease the pain after the revolutionary's daily torture sessions, the hairdesser tells him stories from a beautiful, romantic old movie he dimly remembers from his childhood.

It was an old black-and-white movie his mother took him to see. It told of a beautiful, mysterious woman and a brave, handsome young Army officer in Paris during World War II. The woman was a spy for a dangerous underground of evil, bearded gangsters who were always committing vile crimes while they hid in the night shadows.

The hairdresser is completely innocent of politics and history. He has no idea what the movie was about. He just remembers how romantic it all seemed in the dark Buenos Aires theater so long ago.

But it slowly dawns on the tortured revolutionary, with horror and disgust, that the hairdresser is telling him beautiful love stories about handsome Nazi heroes. And the evil underground gangsters are Jews. The hairdresser's mom had taken the little boy to see antisemitic Nazi propaganda movies exported to Argentina during the War.

Fritz Hippler, director of the Nazi propaganda film "The Eternal Jew" ("der Ewige Jude") died in May 2002. (Vleeptron approves; what took him so long?) In the previous post about the literature and cinema of Rats, Hippler's "The Eternal Jew" was notorious for its equating rats and Jews with cinematic cross-cuts/montage.

The illustration is a poster for the showing of "der Ewige Jude" in Vienna in 1938.

An English translation of an essay by Hippler on "Film as a Weapon," for a Nazi publication for propagandists, is posted on a Calvin College website. Calvin College is a Dutch Reformed Church college in Michigan, the alma mater of the screenwriter and director Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver," "Hard Core," "Blue Collar," "Light Sleeper"). From a Protestant perspective, Calvin does a lot of deep thinking and fine teaching about the human troubles of Planet Earth.

Not everyone on the Web thinks badly of Hippler. These odd people
Germanic Cultural, Racial and Spiritual Preservation
(a lot of American high school students seem to hang here)

thought he was a great visionary artist, and mourn his passing in the Google summary. To read more of their encomium, you'll have to log in.


Monday 11 December 2000

Nazi hate film maker
looks back with some regrets

by Adam Tanner

BERCHTESGADEN, Germany -- When the Nazi leadership wanted to prepare the German public for the brutality of the Holocaust, it commissioned the anti-Semitic movie "The Eternal Jew," the most notorious hate film ever made.

The man who made that film, Fritz Hippler, today sits in a hospital room in the Alpine town of Berchtesgaden, his window overlooking the mountain where Adolf Hitler built his Eagle's Nest residence. Saying he may die soon, the 91-year-old agreed to discuss the film and his life in which he served as an ardent Nazi party member and head of Germany's propaganda film department.

"After all the bloodshed took place, I fully believe that the film can be considered a milestone on the road to the Holocaust," he said in slow, measured speech.

"I am ashamed for many things but I cannot be ashamed about this thing," he said. "They were not killed because of my intentions, my will or my order." He took a long pause, and a awkward silence filled his private hospital room. His mind drifted from the reality of his own poor health to the haunting memories of the Third Reich.

Head of Reich's Film Department

During the crucial first part of World War Two from 1939 to 1943, Hippler exercised significant power as head of the Propaganda Ministry's film department, shaping what newsreels and feature films Germans saw. Photos from those years show a dashing, good looking man with neat, slicked-back hair in his 30s, one who by his own description was brash and self-confident.

[photo] Goebbels
A month after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Hippler's direct boss, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, (left) asked him to film scenes from the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, that became the core of The Eternal Jew.

In perhaps its most famous scene the film -- which called itself a documentary showing 'Jews as they really are' -- compared the migration of rats with those of Jews, showing close ups of hordes of rats scurrying about.

"I just did what Goebbels told me. I didn't want to debate this topic with Goebbels because it would have been useless," Hippler said. "Of course I didn't feel that one could compare Jews with rats." Another scene, aiming at showing how Jews could easily mask their background in European society, shows Jews wearing traditional dress and curly locks, and then the same people, smiling and clean shaven, dressed in suits and ties.

Smiling Prisoners

"It seems like they are happy, but they are all Nazi prisoners, and their smiling in the pictures does not show inner happiness, but was just a way of saying 'cheese'," Hippler said. The film later includes a segment of a speech in which Hitler warns that war would lead to the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. Hippler's footage also shows Jews slaughtering cattle, scenes that prompted Goebbels to write: "Such brutishness makes you recoil with horror. The Jewish race must be annihilated."

With the Fuehrer's backing, the film was widely shown during the winter of 1940-41. In his private diary, Goebbels praised Hippler for his work. Today Hippler says Goebbels was the real film maker and that the propaganda minister exploited his documentary footage of Jewish life in Poland to his own ends.

"This film from its conception was under Goebbels's hand, and was the most miserable piece in a long string of anti-Semitic mistakes," Hippler told Reuters. "It upsets me greatly that Goebbels used my name for the credits."

Ewige Jude

Yet Hippler stayed quiet at the time and only complained after the war. Today The Eternal Jew is banned in Germany, although a few stores sell bootleg videos of it.

"Elderly people who lived in those times like to watch these old films," said one such Berlin dealer as he showed off a large collection of Nazi-era videos in the back room of his store.

A True Believer

Hippler makes no bones about his full backing for the Nazi programme. He was an early member of the party, joining in 1926. "For me it was important at that time to realise the pure ideas of National Socialism," said Hippler.

"For me, anti-Semitism was a by-product of National Socialism that one had to accept and could accept because anti-Semitism has a long tradition in Europe.

"Should I ... have fought a useless, senseless struggle against anti-Semitism? Should I have hindered the arrival of new, and clean (Nazi) structures?"

During the war, Hippler said he had heard but did not believe news about the Holocaust. "We heard a lot of news and absolute lies from the Allies. It was really hard to find out the truth in all this mass of information," he said. "We, all Germans, could not believe that these rumours were really true."

"When I filmed the pictures in the ghettos, there was no talk of Auschwitz or other horrible names we know today that we have heard so many times," he added.

But Hippler, like so many Germans from that era, denies personal responsibility on the road to the Holocaust.

"I, like many other people, was helpless to do something decisive to help the Jews," he said. "In many clashes with Jewish people I was standing against the mob when they were plundering.

"I know that probably all Jews have a bad opinion about me," he continued. "But on a personal level I have had no problems especially with my very old friends Goldenberg and Lowenthal and some others who warmly greeted me when they first saw me after the war. "They understood that I did not have any direct initiative in making the movie."

After the collapse of the Third Reich, Hippler was jailed for two years as a war criminal, then moved to idyllic Berchtesgaden in Bavaria where his wife ran a travel agency. The pair lived quietly for decades. Sitting in a chair dressed with a blue robe and covered by a blanket, Hippler is contradictory in assessing his life.

"If it were possible to annul everything (about the film) I would," he said. "Terrible things happened and I had many sleepless nights because of this."

But later, when talking about his life's greatest regret, he gave a surprising answer. "There are many possibilities. Perhaps it's that I could not care for my mother 100 percent as I could have," he said. "If someone asks me if I could go back in time and do something differently, I would say I would do it exactly the same."

© 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


Blogger pat's pub said...

the movie is not actually banned. filmmakers in germany have been allowed to use parts of the movie in several documetaries about nazi germany or its propaganda. Incidently they usuually pick the scene with rats coming out of a cellar to show what the nazi propaganda had in mind.
On a historical note : Philologist Victor Klemperer notes in his diary that "Der ewige Jude" was taken out of cinemas shortly after its release bcause adience response was very low. Same thing with "Jud Süss".
The equally disgusting and even more disturbing propaganda films about the Olympic games in 1936 by Leni Riefenstahl can be freely purchased at amazon in germany.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Olympiad is nothing compared to her other ???masterpiece??? of propaganda, which is regularly credited with Hitler's winning the next big national election:

Triumph des Willens / Triumph of the Will (1935)

Fritz Hippler got two years in War Crimes prison after the War, and then vanished into oblivion; he is an obscure figure to political scientists and students of propaganda. I know and have seen the Rat Parts of Ewige Jude, but I never knew his name or anything about him until this thread.

But Refenstahl is regarded as a Goddess of World Cinema everywhere -- America, Europe, everywhere people regard movies as an Art Form. She is spoken of and taught in the same Pantheon as D.W. Griffith, Eisenstein, Orson Welles, Chaplin -- one of the seminal creators and inventors of the way Film moves the Mind and Heart. Even university-educated Jews speak of her achievement with respect, admiration. I've never heard even an older Jew spit at the mention of her name. She probably even gets grudging respect in Israel; I wouldn't at all be surprised if Olympiad and Triumph play at art houses in Haifa and Tel Aviv once a year. These movies are so powerfully hypnotic -- like looking into the face of Medusa.

If I ever get into her kind of trouble, I want her Press Agent! This woman took a swan dive into an Olympic swimming pool of shit, and came out after the war smelling like roses! Applause! Applause!

I also read that Ewige Jude and Jew Suss didn't do well at the German box office. Certain aspects of life under National Socialism were apparently still Voluntary, like buying a movie ticket. Nice to know that the German audiences were less than enthusiastic about some of these films.

Well -- I've been to Berlin and have Berliner friends. Berliners had centuries of the highest artistic, educational and humanitarian traditions. They weren't going to give all that away for some crazy Austrian and his psycho gangster friends who were probably Just Temporary. They say Hitler hated Berlin as much as Berliners hated Hitler.

LOOK AT THE CAST that Riefenstahl had for Triumph des Willens! Tonight the Oscars and the Palm d'Or! Tomorrow the War Crimes Trials!

(from IMBD, which gives Triumph 7.4 out of 10 stars):

Adolf Hitler .... Himself (lauded by Hess, Physical Labour speech to RAD, Behind Us Comes Germany speech to HJ, We Created Our State speech, Black Shadow speech to SA, reviews parade, Two Principles speech to Party)

rest of cast listed alphabetically:

Max Amann .... Himself (views parade of SA in long pants, no banners)
Martin Bormann .... Himself (sits on Hitler's left, at HJ rally, enters hall behind Hess, sits behind Streicher)
Walter Buch .... Himself (views parade of SA in long pants, no banners, views SS parade)
Walter Darré .... Himself (Health of Our Farmers speech)
Otto Dietrich .... Himself (Truth About Germany speech)
Sepp Dietrich .... Himself (Commander of the SS-Leibstandarten)
Hans Frank .... Himself (speech)
Josef Goebbels .... Himself (arrives by plane with Hitler, Bright Flame speech, at HJ rally, views RAD parade, listens to Hitler)
Hermann Göring .... Himself (listens to Hess, reviews Army, parades in SA uniform then joins Hitler, listens to Hitler, stands and nods agreement)
Jakob Grimminger .... Blood Flag Bearer
Rudolf Hess .... Himself (opens Congress, You Are Germany speech, at HJ rally, reviews parade, sits on Hitler's right, introduces Hitler, listens to Hitler, Hitler Is Germany speech)
Reinhard Heydrich .... Himself (views SS parade with other officers by Hitler's car)
Konstantin Hierl .... Himself (National Labour Service speech, presents RAD to Hitler, leads RAD parade then joins Hitler)
Heinrich Himmler .... Himself (walks to flame with Hitler and Lutze, leads SS at SA rally, leads SS parade then joins Hitler, sits beside Lutze, listens to Hitler)
Robert Ley .... Himself (reviews DAF with Hitler, Single Thought speech, salutes SA parade, listens to Hitler with Schwarz)
Viktor Lutze .... Himself (speech as new SA leader, walks to flame with Hitler, Faithful to Führer speech, leads SA parade then joins Hitler, sits between Himmler and Hess, listens to Hitler)
Erich Raeder .... Himself (listens to Hess, salutes SA parade when Göring sighted)
Fritz Reinhardt .... Himself (Improvements speech)
Alfred Rosenberg .... Himself (Unshakeable Belief speech)
Hjalmar Schacht .... Himself
Franz Xaver Schwarz .... Himself (sits between Wagner and Himmler, listens to Hitler with Ley)
Julius Streicher .... Himself (stands with Hitler, Purity Of Race speech, sits on Hitler's left near podium, nods in agreement with Hitler)
Fritz Todt .... Himself (Autobahn speech)
Werner von Blomberg .... Himself (reviews Army units with Hitler and Göring)
Hans Georg von Friedeburg .... Himself (salutes SA parade when Göring sighted)
Gerd von Rundstedt .... Himself (behind Raeder as he salutes, views Army parade with officers) (unconfirmed)
Baldur von Schirach .... Himself (in car, arrives at stadium with Hitler, Selfless Youth speech to HJ, views SS parade, listens to Hitler)
Adolf Wagner .... Himself (reads Hitler's proclamation, views parade of SA in short pants, sits beside Schwarz, listens to Hitler)

Blogger pat's pub said...

Riefenstahl died in 2003 at the age of 101. this is just not fair.
Casualties in modern film making using the riefenstahl style include Anton Corbijn (video director for Depeche Mode and U2), George Lucas (who actually claimed that one of the scenes in Star Wars was influenced by Riefenstahl) and countless art directors doing tv commercials who fell into the trap.

Hiscorical note: the same moron who did the off-commentary in "Der ewige Jude" was also doing the off-comentary for the Nazi Wochenschau (the weekly news reels).
I think I thought enough about that propaganda crap now, I guess I'll kick back on the sofa with the Canterbury Tales


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