Film propaganda under National Socialism

1939 — 1945


Discrimination & Inequity Media & Culture Race & Ethnicity

Propaganda is a crucial factor in the establishment and maintenance of National Socialist rule, encompassing marches, mass events, the press, radio, art, and culture. The medium of film assumes a central role in this regard.

With the establishment by Joseph Goebbels of the “Reich Chamber of Culture” in 1933, which was fully integrated into his Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, there began in Germany a systematic coordination of the press, the radio, literature, art and film. The aim was to inculcate the populace with National Socialist ideology and thus create loyal adherents of the Nazi regime.

The medium of film was seen from the beginning as a valuable propaganda instrument. Thus the German film industry was increasingly nationalized and brought under state control. In the summer of 1933, it was decreed that all filmmakers must be of “German descent” and register as members of the newly established “Film Chamber of the Reich” or face being banned from the occupation. With the Cinema Act of 1934, Goebbels introduced censorship and later the obligatory broadcasting of weekly newsreels and so-called “culture films” (Kulturfilme). Kulturfilme were documentary or non-fictional films that propagated “racial”-ideological content, while the weekly newsreels were news reports that, from 1940, were played before every cinema screening and informed viewers of military accomplishments. Their purpose was to generate popular enthusiasm for the ideology of National Socialism and for the war effort. In 1937, furthermore, a firm with close ties to Goebbels bought up the majority of shares in Germany’s largest film company, ufa (Universum Film AG), thus effectively nationalizing it. Ufa had already begun to fire its Jewish employees a few years before. The seizure of the German film industry by the National Socialist regime led to the exile of numerous Jewish and dissident filmmakers.

More than 1,200 films were produced during the years of the Nazi regime. Alongside aggressively propagandistic films, an increasing number of entertainment films were produced as a means of mass indoctrination, and were deemed by Goebbels to be of particular political importance during wartime. Through the medium of film, Nazi propaganda did indeed reach the masses, both before and during the war: in 1939 more than 624 million tickets were sold at German box offices, while in 1943 this number rose to more than a billion.

During the Weimar Republic, many black people and people of color were engaged in German film productions. They played above all “natives”, as in the case of the actor Louis Brody (born Ludwig Mpesa) in the film Ohm Krüger. Alongside Brody, Mohamed Husen (born Mahjub bin Adam Mohamed) counted among the most prominent black screen actors of the National Socialist period. Between 1934 and 1941 he featured in 23 films. Born the son of a Sudanese mercenary in Dar es Salaam in 1904 (then part of the colony of German East Africa), he served as a child soldier in the First World War and moved to Berlin in 1929. Because of several extramarital affairs that he conducted with German women and which produced children, he was deported without charge or trial to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen in 1941, where died three years later. In February 2007 a Stolperstein memorial plaque was laid at Brunnenstrasse 139 in central Berlin to commemorate him.