The Triumph Of The Will- Propaganda Or Documentary?

 

One of my earlier blog posts was about director Leni Riefenstahl, who is responsible for the most famous propaganda movie about the Third Reich- The triumph of the will. Scenes of marching masses and swastika flags have become part of our cultural knowledge thanks to Riefenstahl’s film lens. Therefore, I have decided to watch the whole film yesterday- not an easy thig to do I can tell you. The movie itself is rather boring from a modern perspective. It covers five days of the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934, with which Hitler wanted to show the nation how strong and united the new political leaders of Germany are. The film becomes much more interesting, however, considering that it is made as if was a documentary.

triumph of the will image

Credit: stedwards.edu

Riefenstahl herself always claimed that it was a pure historical document of its time; as if she just placed the camera and let it roll. Obviously, that is not case which makes the movie so seductive and ultimately dangerous. According Riefenstahl biograph Steven Bach, some of the scenes in the film were filmed after the actual party congress in a studio in Berlin. The fact that “The triumph of the will” does not have a voiceover was a reason for the director to claim that the movie could never be a propaganda film since it only shows actual pictures. Riefenstahl seems to forget, however, that she is a master of cutting images and putting the right music over them. The film doesn´t need any voiceover to express Riefenstahl’s adoration for the Führer. Camera shots of Hitler are always taken from below, which created an image of majesty and superiority- the so-called “Hitler myth”. Right from the beginning, it becomes clear that Hitler is the only protagonists of the film, adored by its followers and the masses. At the start of the film, we see him arrive in an airplane to Nuremberg, descending from the clouds. As Bach points out, this creates a good like image. With Wagner’s music, those sequences become very dramatic, creating an emotional environment.

 

 The film was very important to Hitler and his party because of its closest and most powerful members had just been killed a few month before. Ersnt Röhm was the leader of the SA paramilitary group and Nazi- member since the first hour. For Riefenstahl´s first film about the Nazi party rally in 1933, Hitler and Röhm still divided the stage being equally important for the movement- a fact that didn´t work for Hitler´s “one leader only” mentality, due to which he assassinated Röhm. The documentary in part had the purpose to underline that the party was still behind Hitler, united under one single leader. All theses aspects must have been known to Riefenstahl, which make it very difficult to believe that the movie is supposed to be a simple documentary. Interestingly enough, it was not only awarded with prices in Germany and Italy, but also with the gold medal at the world fair in Paris in 1937. The triumph of the will had a huge impact on modern propaganda movies and it never lost its attraction, which ultimately make it very dangerous up to this day.

 

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Trump, the next Hitler?

Donald Trump made headlines earlier this year for comparing American intelligent agencies to Nazi Germany. This statement received a lot of criticism, mostly from CIA director Jhon Brennan who called Trump´s words outrageous: “Now that he’s going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he’s going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that US and national security interests are protected”, Brennan said. As Brennan, most people found the president´s statement very dangerous. Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called his comments “a despicable insult to Holocaust survivors around the world”.  According to author Ron Rosenbaum, on the other hand, there can be made a comparison between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler itself.

trump card

credit: usatoday.com

Both men “bluffed” their way to power using demagogic and populist methods, mostly by spreading false statements about the current political establishment. Clearly, there can be made a certain comparison between one man and the other but Trump over all seems more like a parody of the German dictator; thank good. Let´s not forget, also, that Donald Trump faces serious problem with his political agenda in the US and divides the whole nation when it comes to oppose or support his agenda. For Hitler this situation was very different, having had the back of the majority of the nation when he came to power. One particular parallel, however, seems to be rather concerning- the way the 45. President of the United States is treating the press in the country. “Fake news” has become a current expression in the vocabulary of the Trump administration. The fact that the president refuses to talk to reporters and call them out of being false and misleading is pretty concerning. Adolf Hitler, on the other hand put Journalists into concentration camps, threatened media representatives and shot newspapers down. Trumps way of dealing with the press clearly is far from being presidential, but at the same time, how many leaders in the free world do have complicated relationships with news representatives. From Silvio Berlusconi to Wladimir Putin, the list of democratic elected leaders who have opposed the press, sometimes with illegal methods, is rather impressive.

But can they, therefore, all be compared to Hitler and Nazi Germany? According to Ron Rosenbaum, the parallel’s, in Trumps case, are there: “Now Trump and his minions are in the driver’s seat, attempting to pose as respectable participants in American politics, when their views come out of a playbook written in German,” said Mr. Rosenbaum, “The playbook is Mein Kampf.” I personally wouldn´t go as far as the author. Yes, Trump might be a populist and certain members of his cabinet might have a controversial background (White House chief- strategists Steve Bannon had to face criticism for being editor of the ult- right Breitbart web side), but there is still a difference between calling journalists fake news and killing them. After all, the United States do have a free press with all its problems and issues; but its free at last. The comparison to a killing dictator might therefore sell books and get attention but is far from being true.

Leni Riefenstahl

I first came across Leni Riefenstahl whilst doing my undergraduate degree in Milan, which focused on the work of Luis Trenker, an alpinist and film director of the 1920´s and 30´s who was briefly involved with Riefenstahl. From the moment I read about the German filmmaker and photographer, I started to be both scared and fascinated by her at the same time. My Master´s dissertation, in fact, is going to be about her probably most famous documentary “The Triumph of the will”- according to some scholars, the most famous documentary film of all time. It is largely due to Riefenstahl`s documentaries about the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934 that most people have a similar, at least visual, perception of Nazi Germany. The images of marching Nazi´s as well as Hitler speaking to the crowd taken by Leni Riefenstahl have become part of popular culture.

riefenstahl blog

credit: diversionary.org

The reason I have chosen Riefenstahl for this entry is because she is considered to be a highly controversial figure that helps to understand that extremism is not simply black and white but more complicated. Leni Riefenstahl was never an official member of the Nazi party, although she obviously gained certain privileges due to her position as Hitler´s favorite director. At the end of the Second World War, she faced legal consequences for her role within third Reich ad was ultimately condemned of being a follower of the regime but not responsible for any crime. As Riefenstahl stated herself in the documentary, “The wonderful horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl” by Ray Müller, she didn´t know about the criminal activities in Germany at the time and ultimately hasn´t killed anybody. At the same time, the film director was accused of using gipsy´s from a concentration camp as statists for her film “Tiefland”. Whether Riefenstahl knew about concentration camps and millions of Jews being killed, is very difficult to answer but she clearly did enjoy the privileges her special position provided her.

The most interesting part for me, however, is that Leni Riefenstahl never publicly admitted to being aware of any responsibility. Yes, it´s true that she might not have killed another human being but trough her films she clearly paved the way for Hitler and his regime. It is this lack of critical understanding, of guilt so to speak, that is missing. Neither in her almost thousand pages log autobiography nor in any of her interviews did she express any sorrow; on the contrary. When asked by German television journalist Sandra Maischberger in 2002 about any regrets, Riefenstahl, 100 years at the time, claimed that she would have done the same work she did for Hitler, for Stalin or Churchill. This opportunistic behavior was one of the major points of criticism Riefenstahl had to face. For all her life, she never got rid of the title of “Hitler´s favorite” film director, which stopped her career as a filmmaker by the end of world war II. Even her photographs of the Nuba tribe in Africa led Susan Sontag to write her famous essay “Fascinating Fascism” in which she accused Riefenstahl of having created a fascist astaticism. As far as I am concerned, Leni Riefenstahl serves as a good example of how easy it is to fall for extremism of any kind. Her lack of consciousness and glorification of Hitler through her movies make not a war criminal out of her but certainly a very ambiguous personality.

Mein Kampf

My entry today is going to be about one of the most controversial books in history, which at the same time can be seen as cornerstone of Nazi- ideology; of course, I am talking about Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. After 70 years the copyright of the book, hold by Bavarian authorities, has expired, which preoccupied many people, fearing that a new wave of right- extremism would threaten democracy. The new and edited version, which includes a critical analysis and commentary of 4000 books, has been sold out in a breathtakingly fast amount of time. To censor the book, in my opinion, would not be a problem- solving approach since it would possible create a certain aura of glamor and glory.

To critically analyze it and in that way to deconstruct Mein Kampf is certainly a much more effective way to hinder possible neo- Nazis to get affected by this highly seductive piece of work. As James Butler states in his article “People are buying Mein Kampf: Should we be panicking?” audiences have to be very careful with Mein Kampf and although hButlere is against censorship e suggested an attentive reading of the material. But why are people at this day and age still scared of a book, written 70 years ago, which in most aspects is rather primitively written and at least doesn’t hide its anti-Semite and anti- Bolshevist message. As far as I am concerned, it has much to do with the fear that people still see Nazism as something evil from the past that has happened but at the same time will stay there and does not concern our modern society anymore. If people think about the third Reich, it seems that they link Nazi- ideology always to Germany and treat it as something that could have happened only during this particular time and under particular conditions. The issue here is that Nazism and the hateful ideology of

The issue here is that Nazism and the hateful ideology of Mein Kampf in particular, cannot be seen as something solely evil and stay somewhere on its own but has always to be linked to humankind in general- it´s our product, and our burden. If we really want to unmask Hitler`s famous autobiography, we, first of all, must admit that his horrendous arguments against certain races and geographical areas are as part of our society nowadays as love and understanding for everyone are. As Terrence already said: ”Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” (I am human, and I think that nothing that is human is alien to me). It does not help anybody if we censor or even prohibit dangerous literature but at the same time, we understandably have to be very careful with it. I do think that books and films can be terribly seductive and led people to do wrong things, which in the case of neo- Nazism is clearly the case.  At the same time, I think that it is important that we all understand that what has happened in Nazi Germany is not a relic of the past but can happen every time again. It should be our goal to create a social environment in which dangerous and hateful literature and books like Mein Kampf have its space but at the same time do not affect people because the simply know better.

American History X

Good evening people. This is my second entry for the blog and I´d like to dedicate it to the American movie classic “American History X“. Strangely enough, that movie was the first thing that popped into my mind when thinking about Nazi ideologies. The scene with Edward Norton in his underwear breaking a black man’s neck on the boardwalk will forever stay with me, I can assure you. I think the film is a good example of how dangerous the modern neo- nazi culture is. Edward Norton´s character, Derek, becomes a skinhead after his father, a police officer, has been killed. He finds a father substitute in Cameron, a hardcore anti- Semite and sympathizer of nazi ideology. Together with a group of rowdies and extremists, Derek threatens and terrorizes foreigners in his neighborhood in Venice Beach Kalifornia; until getting imprisoned for killing two black men, who were trying to steal his car. The prison fundamentally changes Derek´s way of thinking and he decides to quit with the neo- nazi gang. But his younger brother starts to show some interest for Cameron and his fellows…

american hitory x

Credit: YouTube.com

The aspect of the movie that made me reflect the most, was the part toward the end where the viewer is shown a flashback in which he understands that  Derek´s father was a racist himself, making a racial statement about his black teacher. This brief scene doesn’t only make the audience understand why Derek has become a neo- nazi but made me also reflect on the story of real life right extremists. It would be too easy to generalize and say that all neo- nazis come from a troubled social background, although in some cases that might be true. But if we take the german extremist gang NSU (Nationalsozialitischer Untergrund) who was responsible for killing ten people and have a closer look at its single members, it becomes clear that one cannot blame an ult- right tendency on the social background. While Beate Zschäpe´s childhood was very simple, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt had a middle-class background. The same can be said about American ex- white supremacist Arno Michaelis. I was watching an interview of his the other day which left me stunned. It was the classic story- an aggressive child feels alienated from society and starts to idealize a bunch of skinheads, with which it tries to save the “white race”. Although Michaelis claims that he comes from a troubled household where emotional abuse was happening on a daily basis, the ex- radical admits that his neo- nazi background cannot be blamed on that. After all, not every troubled child becomes a neo- nazi and some young adults from settled social backgrounds on the other hand- as we have seen- do.

It is very difficult to understand where the exact reasons for right- extremism lies. According to a theory by Theodor Adorno,  prejudice is one of the fundamental aspects of an authoritative character. People that have that kind of characteristics are more likely to follow powers and other authoritarian voices. But after all, this is just a theory and cannot e taken for a fact. Whatever makes people fall for the neo- nazi trap, the important thing is that in some cases like the one of Arno Michaelis or even Derek in America History X, they manage to see the danger and the stupidity and eventually break out of the movement.

 

 

Hey there…

Hello and welcome to my brand new blog about Neo- Nazism and its impact on nowadays society. What I am interested in is in how far Neo- Nazi ideology still attracts people around the globe and why so many of us still fall for its ideas. I’m going to have a look at different cases in the UK, Germany, and the US and try to understand the reason behind a growing Neo- Nazi movement. Examples of racism and nationalism up to claims of racial superiority can be found in current German and American politics and the migration and financial crisis in Europe doesn’t seem to calm this situation very much either. Through a look into some neo- Nazi websites, by watching interviews, films and hopefully reading about some firsthand experiences of ex- Nazi sympathizers, I hope to gain a better understanding what really attracts people about this issue. What is so interesting to me about this particular topic is the fact that fascism never seems to lose its fascination to a lot of people, although we should know better by know. During the first part of the 20th century, Fascism obviously had its culmination in Europe with the dictatorships in Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia.

nazismCredit: holocaustonline.com

Although this dark period in European history is thankfully behind us, many of its key ideologies are still very much alive. I, myself have been confronted in the past with its ugly representatives- living in a small village in the Italian Alps, where neo- Nazism is still an issue. In the United Kingdom, where I am currently living and studying this seems to be very much the case as well. Talking to a couple of students the other day made me discover that I, as a blond, tall and more northern looking person, would have less of a problem when moving to the countryside around Halifax or Hull than a person from the south of Europe would have.

One of the most shocking and concerning evolutions of the last years for me was the rise of the ultra- right AFD (Alternative für Deutschland/ Alternative for Germany) party in Germany. Although not being on the same level as neo- Nazism and its German representatives (NPD– party/ Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands/ National democratic german party),, many of its party members have been accused of being populist, racist and misleading. AFD deputy Alexander Gauland made headlines last year by saying that football player Jérôme Boateng, member of the national football league, was appreciated as a sportsman but nobody wanted to have him as a neighbor living next door.  Statements like the latter could be repeatedly found in the last American presidential elections as well, up to the point where the chairman of the American Nazi Party, Rocky Suhayda, referred to Donald Trump’s presidency as a real opportunity for his organization. This blog doesn’t have the intention to simply condemn all of the above-mentioned examples but to critically evaluate them and hopefully to make them more comprehensive. Is it pure fear that drives people into the arms of fanatics and extremists or is there more behind the latest rise of the alt- right around the globe. I will try to find out more about it.