Focus Material

Chris Wahl on Triumph of the Will:
Triumph of the Will has probably been re-used more often than any other production in film history. Its influence on our imagination of National Socialism is still essential. But although a lot has been written on Leni Riefenstahl’s work, this aspect of its function in memory culture has never gained much attention.

My subproject aims at fulfilling this desideratum by reconstructing the material history of the film as well as the history of its appropriation: Is there such a thing as an original version? Which other versions exist and which copies were the basis of most reuses? Since the end of the 1930s, Triumph of the Will has been considered a cornucopia of images and sounds open to exploitation for a wide range of purposes: Which shots of the film were the most appealing? What is the relationship between individual recontextualizations and the development of memory and media culture?

I will also try to trace (as far as possible), on which occasions the film has been shown (including considerations of various copyright issues) and to put into perspective the plethora of journalistic and academic studies and remarks issued since production began. Last but not least, I will examine the film itself once again because a frame-by-frame analysis with digital tools and fresh eyes should foster new insights into some of the visual compositions and also into some instances of rather unintentional documentation. Part of this will be a comparison with stylistic forerunners or models. In order to adequately convey findings on artistic and forensic matters, a video essay shall accompany the publication of a monography.

Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann on the private film by Reinhard Wiener from Liepaja 1941:
In Summer 1941 the German naval soldier Reinhard Wiener approached a killing site next to the lighthouse of the Latvian costal city Liepaja with his private KineKodak 8 camera. There he recorded approximately 80 seconds of film that depict at least four different killings of predominantly Jewish men that were transported to the killing site on trucks by the help if Latvian auxiliary police. The killings were ordered and overseen by the German Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and executed by German or Latvian special killing squads. During summer 1941 the German Einsatzkommando 2 (EK2) was based at the city.

Wiener’s film is a rare example of moving images that depict the so-called “Shoah by bullets”. Wiener only revealed the existence of the film at the end of the 1950s when in Ulm members of such killing squads were put on trial because of their crimes committed against Jews and others in German occupied territories. Wiener was questioned by the Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in 1959. He handed over a copy of his film to the investigators, which was used for the identification of defendants. In the 1960s the film served as evidence in a trial against members of the EK2.

Its use and appropriation in trials and for criminal investigation offers many possibilities for an in-depth visual inquiry. In my research, I perform close readings of particularly interesting shots from the film and connect them to other sources, in particular photographs, maps, diaries, reports and testimonies. In this context, I am experimenting with a variety of methodological tools of such visual and audiovisual inquiry, for instance an audiovisual notebook that allows me to add additional layers of information and documentation to the original footage, to mark and highlight specific parts and to compare the film with other sources, particularly photographs of potential victims, perpetrators and bystanders. Desktop videos assist me in organizing and relating different materials and documents, and visualize how the film and its traces are manifested in the postwar culture of remembrance in Germany and Israel.

In 1961, Wieners film began to migrate into other films, first documentaries and later, most prominently in the case of the US-American TV series Holocaust (1978), also in feature films. I am particularly interested to explore how the film changed its status from a wartime trophy to evidence, to an often illustratively used visual document, and finally became the subject of techniques of visual inquiries performed in front of the camera. Video essays are a useful tool to connect and compare different forms of use, and to adopt cinematic tools for the study and exploration of the different ways how Wiener’s film is interlinked with and related to other films, photographs and testimonies. Although it is a particularly blurred and significantly mute document, the film made by a German soldier in Liepaja in the Summer of 1941 invites practices of an “interpretative montage” (Georges Didi-Huberman) that constitutes “image acts” (Horst Bredekamp), which turn the film into an agent that might be able to testify against itself.

Noga Stiassny on the Wochenschau Material of the April 1st Boycott (1933):
The Wochenschau’s material showing the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses enacted in Berlin on April 1st, 1933, has been widely circulated over the years; it has been edited into documentaries and re-enacted in feature films, depicted in graphic and visual artworks, in computer games, and in historical exhibitions in memorial museums. Functioning as a visual marker of the beginning of the (pre-Holocaust) Nazi persecution of European Jews, and German Jews in particular, the Wochenschau’s material is frequently used in sequence with footage from the Book Burning event that took place in Berlin on May 10, 1933 and the (so-called) ‘November pogrom’, also known as Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938).

However, while the events depicted in the April 1st Boycott footage are well-known among the scholarly community and the public alike, little has been done to directly test the ‘travelling’ process through which the material became culturally iconic, especially given its status as propaganda footage with a unique performative quality. With this in mind, my research seeks to look at this footage from a perspective that acknowledges its ‘performativeness’; in my view, such a perspective has the potential to open up new spaces in which to think about Nazi propaganda footage, and the afterlife of such ‘(con)sequential images’.

This research method design is informed by my training as an art historian and memory studies scholar, and by my motivation to experiment with new methods of visualising – and preforming – the research process and its outcomes.

Daniel Körling on Der ewige Jude:
Released in 1940, Der ewige Jude was promoted as a serious and eye-opening documentary about the Jewish people and their disastrous impact on Germany. Together with two feature films released in the same year, Jud Süß and Die Rothschilds, Der ewige Jude was designed to unmask the camouflage of the Jewish people, show their alleged goal to undermine other societies – especially the German – and prepare the Germans for more extensive oppressions which finally led into the Holocaust.

As a compilation film, Der ewige Jude uses many scenes from various feature films, documentaries and newsreel footage; pictures and some animations are utilized as well. Furthermore, a lot of the material was shot in the newly established ghettos in Łódź and Warsaw. Therefore, I intend to differentiate the source films shot by shot and evaluate them statistically in order to get a deeper insight in the properties of the film. Hereby my goal is to analyze the traveling and misusage of footage which was intentionally produced for other purposes. In order to inspect the film thoroughly I employ various digital tools.

Another part of my examination is the quotation of Der ewige Jude in further films: Which shots/sequences are mainly used, in which specific context and how are they arranged? Is it possible to detect cyclical developments throughout the decades? Eventually I aim to answer the question if the film footage is predominantly used to illustrate antisemitic propaganda during the Third Reich in general, or if Der ewige Jude is in fact explicitly contextualized when visually quoted. Hence ethical and moral issues concerning the origin and the intentions of the film are raised. Embedded in our larger project I plan to gain deeper insights of the structure of the footage and the usage of it.

Alexander Zöller and Yael Sarah Ben-Moshe on DW 755 – The Last Moving Images of Adolf Hitler:
In March 1945, Adolf Hitler stepped in front of the newsreel cameras one last time, receiving a number of Hitler Youth child soldiers who had been decorated at the front. The footage shot on this occasion was edited into the final Nazi newsreel, the Deutsche Wochenschau, and continues to circulate widely in documentaries about Nazi Germany and World War II. Ever since, it has been contextualized along very different narratives: the collapse of the Nazi regime, exposed in all its futility — German children as ensnared and abused victims of a totalitarian system — Hitler, of failing health, holed up in his bunker during the Battle of Berlin — the methods and effects of Nazi propaganda. Some of these contexts have compelled filmmakers to misappropriate the footage, dating it to April 1945, during the Battle of Berlin, and therefore much closer to Hitler’s death.

Our investigation is focused on establishing the context and production background of these moving images, such as individuals present, filming locations, the exact date the footage was shot, and the function and limitations of the Nazi newsreel propaganda in the closing days of World War II. Beyond this, we will look at the divergent narratives that have evolved and changed over time, and which have taken on distinct characteristics between individual countries, as well as between domestic and international productions. For the purposes of our project, a closer look at German and Israeli memory culture and the respective understanding of the role and function of the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany will be essential.

Fabian Schmidt on the Westerborkfilm:
The so-called Westerborkfilm was made in 1944 on behalf of the camp commander of the „Judendurchgangslager“ („Jewish transit camp“) Westerbork in the Netherlands, Konrad Gemmeker, and is today one of the few film materials showing the internment of deported Jews during the Second World War. Since Alain Resnais in 1956 used parts of the film in his famous Holocaust documentary „Nuit et Brouillard“ („Night and Fog“), it has regularly appeared in documentaries but also feature films about the Holocaust and has become an integral part of collective visual remembrances. With its inclusion in UNESCO’s World Documentary Heritage in 2017, the material has once again received special attention. However, due to the lack of research into its creation as well as into its wandering through the Holocaust’s imageries, this attention hasn’t created much resonance yet.

Nevertheless, the discourse accompanying its utilization has always been marked by shifting myths about its creation. My investigation of the material, informed by memory theory, therefore proceeds in two directions. On the one hand, I am concerned with the making of the film and the perpetrator’s gaze inscribed in the film. Secondly, I examine the use of the material in the post-war period up to the present and its significance in the formation of collective historical images. Both qualitative interpretation procedures and quantitative methods (distant reading) are used in investigating the interplay of usage of the transit camp for Jews and its cinematic memory.

Alexander Zöller and Yael Sarah Ben-Moshe on Bromberg:
Taking place at the beginning of September 1939, the so-called Bromberger Blutsonntag“ (Bloody Sunday) remains one of the most controversial incidents from WW2 until today. In a sequence of violent events between the German minority and Polish nationals, the killing of a number of Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) led to the retaliatory execution of Polish hostages by the German Wehrmacht. Newsreel footage taken inside the city of Bromberg showed German soldiers arresting civilians and marching them off to an uncertain fate. The instrumentalization of the event for propagandistic means generated highly divergent narratives for Poles vs. Germans – blaming each other for starting the massacre – and implementing these narratives deep into their collective memories after the war. Whereas the collective remembrance in Poland and Germany molds the events into coherent narratives, very little is known about the footage shot inside Bromberg at that time. In the frame of our research, we aim to collect as much information as possible about the places and individuals seen in the newsreel footage. We attempt to discover who shot the footage and what its purpose was. In addition, we seek to explore testimonies not yet integrated into the latest research, and to add to the current knowledge the Jewish perspective, in light of the fact that the Jewish community of Bydgoszcz was eliminated at that time. This perspective has been largely ignored between the contested narratives in Poland and Germany, and should add further insights to a complex incident that remains controversial to this day.

In the second stage of our research, we intend to explore the appropriation of the footage in canonical Israeli and German films, as well as other international productions. The analysis provides information concerning the misappropriation of the footage, and the most used parts from the so-called „Bromberger Blutsonntag“. To this we add to the analysis various research categories in order to compare between the different narratives and modes of appropriation.

Alexander Zöller on Warsaw Ghetto:
In the spring of 1942, professional cameramen of the German Army shot extensive 35 mm film inside the Warsaw Ghetto. The resultant footage was edited into an unfinished propaganda film which depicted life and death – as well as Jewish customs – in the Ghetto from a Nazi perspective. Never screened publicly at the time, the rough cut and other film materials were deposited at the German Reichsfilmarchiv. When the film was rediscovered in the archive’s vaults in the 1950s, outtakes began to circulate widely in documentary films and TV productions. Until today the film remains one of the most commonly cited moving images from the Warsaw Ghetto. But its production background, the purposes for which the film was made (the filming took place shortly before mass deportations commenced from the ghetto to the extermination camps), and its confused and convoluted provenance as it was handed down across various archives remains puzzling

The research into the Warsaw Ghetto film as part of this project is focused on highlighting the production background, individuals and institutions involved, as well as the nexus of Nazi film activities in the ghettos, which saw the Warsaw Ghetto being visited and revisited frequently by German photographers and cameramen for propagandistic purposes. Beyond this, the perspective of the Jewish victims, some of which were coerced to participate in the film in scenes that were either arranged or outright staged for the camera, will be considered. In the second stage of our project the focus will move to the use and contextualization of the film in postwar years, and the changing perspectives along which the material has been appropriated and interpreted until today.

Evelyn Kreutzer (former member) on Eva Braun’s Home Movies:
Eva Braun’s home movies, mostly shot in color, are among the most frequently used and recognizable perpetrator films from the Nazi era. The films document the leisure and travel activities of Braun, her family and friends, and the domestic lives of Hitler and a number of prominent figures from his immediate circle in the Bavarian mountains. Excerpts from the films have most commonly been used to depict and illustrate Hitler as a private man, as well as the mysterious relationship between Hitler and Braun. The footage shows an uncanny, seemingly parallel, world, unaffected by the horrific realities of the war and the Holocaust.

I research the material along three main questions: first, which excerpts from the over 5 hours of film have been quoted most and least frequently, and which analytical frameworks do these insights generate? Second, how are quotations of the footage manipulated, aestheticized, re- or de-contextualized? Third, which iconographic, filmic, and mnemonic legacies does the original footage draw on itself? In this I rely heavily on videographic methods to analyze, compare, challenge, and reflect on the significance of the Eva Braun films in the context of the larger project.