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1970s film on private Hitler rediscovered

The Local · 13 Nov 2009, 16:02

Published: 13 Nov 2009 16:02 GMT+01:00

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When “Swastika” was shown at the 1973 Cannes film festival, fights broke out and somebody threw part of a chair at the screen.

“All hell broke loose,” says the film’s Australian-born, Los Angeles-based director Phillipe Mora. “There were eruptions all through the theatre. Finally they stopped the film and a French guy came out, looking like a head waiter and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Cannes film festival, not a beer hall.”

The cause of the ruckus was, primarily, that the film appeared to humanise Adolf Hitler and his inner circle. Never-seen-before colour footage, shot mostly by Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun, showed the personification of evil cuddling his dog, playing with children and discussing “Gone with the Wind.”

Though “Swastika” went on to play in Britain, France and the United States, it was blackballed in Germany – until now. In the past fortnight, “Swastika” opened Biberach Film Festival in Baden-Württemberg and played at Berlin's famous ufaFabrik. It will be screened on Friday at the University of Dresden and in early December in Laupheim, with further screenings planned.

The revival of “Swastika,” championed by the German documentary director Ilona Ziok, is a sign, Mora says, that Germany has matured in how it handles its Nazi legacy. After the Berlin screening, a German film producer effusively told Mora, a Jew whose father was born in Leipzig, that “Swastika” should be shown in every school.

It’s a far cry from its reception in 1973. Three decades before films such as “Downfall” began breaking the taboo against exploring the human side of the Nazis, Mora’s film provoked outrage.

“The film was made under the assumption that everybody knew Hitler was a monster and a murderer. I didn’t realise it was open to debate,” he says.

“But he was a man with a mother and a father and sisters and a pet dog. And that viscerally disturbed people. They had only seen Hitler ranting and raving in grainy black and white film. It took 30 years but now a new generation is interested.”

The story of the intimate footage is remarkable in itself. While researching his documentary, Mora visited Albert Speer, the Nazi architect and Hitler confidant, after his release from jail for war crimes.

Speer showed Mora some of his1930s home movies in which Eva Braun is seen holding a movie camera at Hitler’s Bavarian mountain retreat, the Berghof in Obersalzberg.

“I asked Speer, ‘Whatever happened to the footage from Eva Braun’s camera? He said, ‘It doesn’t exist.’ But he was lying.”

Around the same time, Mora’s German partner Lutz Becker met an American soldier who was among the first into Berghof at the end of the war. He asked the soldier whether they’d found any film and the soldier replied, “Yes, piles of it.”

Lost at the Pentagon

Mora went to the Pentagon, which found the eight cans of film and happily handed them over.

“We were just dumbfounded,” he recalls. “Here was this incredible footage that’d just been sitting there because no one had asked for it.”

As they watched the eight hours of film, eyes agog, the first thing that struck Mora was the sheer banality of Hitler’s private life and his inner circle.

“We would have loved it if they were all having black magic orgies and Satanic rituals, but instead it really just excruciatingly middleclass and boring.”

Mora combined the Berghof footage with clips of Nazi propaganda films and newsreels to create a subtle work that has no narration and therefore does not force any interpretation on the viewer.

The result is something like a Rorschach inkblot, in which people see what they want. Some viewers have attacked it for being pro-Nazi, others for being anti-German.

James Baldwin, the late African-American writer who defended the film at the Cannes screening, privately told Mora his one complaint: “Swastika” was unfair on Jesse Owens, the black US athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Baldwin didn’t like that the film showed a newsreel of Owens praising Berlin and the German people.

Story continues below…

Making his pets cringe

Watching “Swastika” today, it is hard to see Hitler on holiday as anything but quietly malevolent. The scenes in which he makes small talk with colleagues and friends are stiff and awkward. One journalist who saw the Berlin screening swears that even Hitler’s German Shepherd Blonda, not to be confused with the dictator's other dog Blondi, cringes when he pats her.

Eva Braun, by contrast, is eerily gay and light-hearted. When her pet Scottish terrier, Stasi, begins to bark, she gently chides it by saying: “Stasi, don’t disturb your Führer.” Banal it may be, but far from normal.

“I don’t think you need to be a body language expert to see that this is a really strange, creepy man,” Mora says.

The director feels that the great question of how the Nazis led Germany down such a dark road has never been properly answered. But acknowledging that Hitler was still a human being – no matter how vile his crimes – is a vital step and a stark reminder that it could happen again, anywhere.

“If you think of Hitler as coming from outer space or as a supernatural demon, you are not going to see the next one coming,” Mora says. “But there probably will be another one.”

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

09:12 November 13, 2009 by derExDeutsche
how wonderful to come up with all the old films....

we again need to hear what con-men sound like.

Stern @ NYU has more Hitler footage than anyone.
10:13 November 13, 2009 by Barry James
Hitler should be shown as 'Human'. After all, that is all he was. It was his thinking that was abnormal. To constantly show him as some superhuman evil genius, or some ranting lunatic - (courtesy of war time propaganda) - is to turn him into a comic character, which is totally devoid of reality, thus never likely to really exist - ever again? Since Hitler, we have had Pol Pot, Idi Amin and so forth.

These swine were Human Beings also.
10:50 November 13, 2009 by KBCraig
Quite right, Barry.

To deny Hitler any humanity is the same as sticking one's head in the sand and denying that it could ever happen again.

Ordinary people can be evil. Extraordinary and charismatic people can also be evil. The only difference is that the former perform their own evil, while the latter persuade others to carry out their evil for them.
11:06 November 13, 2009 by The-ex-pat
Sticking one's head in the sand and denying that it could ever happen again.

But as humans, that is something we are very, very good at. Look at Bosnia, on our doorstep. We let that go on for many, many years before the intervention.
14:56 November 13, 2009 by romber58
It is also documented that he was into water sports and worse in the 1930,s with his niece Geli and you dont get more bourgois middle class than that.

Maybe thats the real meaning of Brownshirts...
15:54 November 13, 2009 by marisk
I strongly believe that Hitler itself was only the face of Nazi thinking and acting peole.There were people such as Wolfram von Soden for example who build the idea of German perfection and superiority.Similar to what is said in the film von Soden was simply a German noble and one of the best asiriologists in the world,he died in 1996 without being even accused for his evil`s work.Normal German scientist,world-wide famous,but what made him to create the idea of Nazi, that`s the question we should ask ourselves! Is it possible the new von Sodens to occur and to repeat the WW || horror?!
17:00 November 13, 2009 by wood artist

You have, inadvertently I'm sure, put your finger on the entire problem. All of the monsters in the world, be they serial killers or megalomaniac political or religious leaders ARE humans. If we simply turn them into cartoon characters and then treat them as being something completely unique, we fail to understand how they came to be, and worse, how they come to power.

Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and others weren't born as monsters. They were little babies just like every other little baby. Something, probably more than one something, in their nurturing and development began the process of twisting them into something different, and at some point that became dominant. It is said that Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But there is more too it than that, and pretending that Hitler arrived fully formed is to deny the truth just as surely as pretending no Jews were killed in the Holocaust is.

It's sad to see that your hatred of what they did, which is completely justified, has blinded you to the idea that we only prevent future Hitlers and Stalins by understanding more about how they came to be. As Bruno Ganz showed us, Hitler was both human and a monster. Perhaps we all are. Maybe it's time to be mature enough to look at how one becomes controlling of the other.
17:38 November 13, 2009 by romber58
Wood Artist

I agree with you.You express what i think.

My only beef is that after your first paragraph you forgot the religious brainwashers mentioned in your first.

They mentally torture and do as much harm in another way....
20:43 November 13, 2009 by kent
Hitler was the result of a psycho-sociopathic phenomenon of mass psychosis brought about by group ego at the SUB-CONSCIOUS LEVEL

if you look at the mans background he was a house painter and a watercolor artist and a corporal in the army all LATIN metaphors,,,...the language of dreams and the subconscious that's why its called a DEAD language it references sleep-soma

the fact he was born on April 20Th-4 20 shows the old prehistoric group ego at work ..

.it was Julius caesar who moved Jan and Feb into numbered months thus moving 4 20 from the summer solstice.... to April 20Th

Hitler was a manifestation of ancient group think

actually a sort of mind less herding instinct

examples of Hitlers latin suited behavior...he would in a fit of anger fall on the the floor and chew the carpet........

fuhrer in German means leader in latin it means anger...he would CARPE DIEM....seize the carpet+day

he was a corporal a military rank but in latin means the PHYSICAL BODY a latin metaphor

i could go on and on the fact that the catholic church brain washed the German people for thousands of years is what brought about the weird and strange horror that Hitler became

he was an ORDINARY MAN who was given EXTRODINARY power and any ordinary man can be a mere pawn given the gigantic forces that group ego can manifest upon the sub conscious MIND
20:51 November 13, 2009 by romber58

The catholic church has brainwashed many more nations and people than just the Germans.

Which book did you read and believe to be able to give such a comment?
04:18 November 14, 2009 by kamioner
Hitler was elected by the majority of the German people of that period because he represented the ideology of the German people, and the promise of a better financial future at all costs no matter if it included the annihilation of an entire race to assure Germany's rule of the entire world. Hitler was beloved by the Germans because Hitler was Germany and Germany was Hitler. Had Hitler and Germany won the war he would be considered a hero among the German people who idolized him. There are German's today who still idolize him and praise him publicly. Hitler and his henchman like Goebells, Goehring, Eichmann and even Werner von Braun he ran the concentration camp at both Peenemuende and in Mittelburg Dora, who was befriended by President Kennedy inspite of his crimes against humanity just demonstrate any evil can be forgiven if there's enough financial value in it. Still, the German people are as much to blame as Hitler because they elected him, idealized him and shared his beliefs. 1,000,000 innocent Jewish children were gassed in Auschwitz by the German people and the murder of the rest was supported by those who watched the train loads of people being sent to death camps, and those Germans who watched their neighbors being chased out of their homes, and who then took those homes and belongings and made it their own. Hitler was Germany, and there are many, many German people today who wish he had won the war instead of accpeting their role in complicity with the crimes. In fact, the whole world was complicit in the crimes when he should have been stopped after the rape of Poland and the rape of Europe.
19:04 November 14, 2009 by BR549
I believe there are two distinct species of people on this planet. Human beings and homo Sapiens. Both look identical but their behavior is entirely different. Human beings are thoughtful and caring, Homo Sapiens is self centered and animalistic. I think Hitler was a Homo Sapiens. I also see a lot of Homo Sapiens on the autobahn every morning....
23:43 November 14, 2009 by Logic Guy
Well, of all articles that you guys have commented on, I feel that this group of comments are the most intelligent and thought inspiring.

And I must say, this is yet another film about the Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust. There have been how many over the last 2 years? There has probably more over this period,than any other time in history. And the director beleives that there will be another Hitler. I personally don't think there will be. Perhaps there will be someone who is similar.

I simply beleive that the world is too "Global" to allow such a thing to happen again.

From what it seems, Hitler cared a lot about Germany. But he obviously did things that led to destruction, instead of making Germany the world's greatest nation.
00:33 November 15, 2009 by Ducano
There are very rich,famous and infamous,who were complicit in this war.There are far more factors than just Hitler and his henchmen.Where was the rest of the world,when Germany started to re-arm?Tyssen Krupp was very close to the Nazis at that time and Prescott Bush,the grandfather of George W.Bush had very cozy relations with Fritz Tyssen,which lasted until Roosevelt put an end to it.There is no excuse for what that regime did,but we should see itin a broader context and not keep using Hitler as a scapegoat.And to make him out for stupid or some such thing is totally ridiculous.It took the combined effort of the rest of the world to defeat him.That does not say much for them.How are the history books going to describe the present wars?They have become more ruthless and cruel and just as unjustifiable.It is a big ego power-struggle.Some so-called elite very rich people are addicted to money,which buys power and no matter how much they get,it will never be enough.And in that bunch are some,who could easily become a person just as wicked as Hitler.When I watch and analyze the behavior of some modern day leaders,I have the inclination to believe in reincarnation.We should pay closer attention to the major religions and the cruelty,pain and suffering that has occurred through the ages in the name of religion.And to think,that they are all based on a common belief,the basis of which they cannot prove.Those are the people you have to fear,because they are easy to fool and brainwash.And all religions and sects are guilty of brainwashing and indoctrination.It already starts at birth.It took me almost four decades to work up the courage and say farewell to it all.I have never felt so liberated.
02:40 November 15, 2009 by kiwikraut
@ kamioner and his comments in #15

The German people might have voted Hitler onto the first pedestal to power, but once he stood on it he managed to step further and further by setting his own steps his own way and the german people didn't know in which direction these steps were heading. Some of them had a forsight and resentment was shown in different ways, as you probably should know.

Your entry here sounds very much like one of many other typically indoctrinated know-all's that read everything in books, saw everything on TV but actually knows jack sh.t about the real history. I bet you've never talked to even one german that has lived through those times because you're afraid to hear things that might alter your ego !
08:41 November 15, 2009 by Edmond Schindler

"he was an ORDINARY MAN who was given EXTRODINARY power and any ordinary man can be a mere pawn given the gigantic forces that group ego can manifest upon the sub conscious MIND"

You described George W. Bush perfectly. The fallout from his regime will continue to disrupt this planet for scores of years to come...
19:54 November 15, 2009 by kamioner
To KiwiKraut from Kamioner: I spent 9 years living in Germany for the purpose of talking and meeting people who love through the war on the German side. My parents lived through it in concentration camps and the rest of my family were killed in Auschwitz. Nothing has changed. German's still resent that they lost the war and Hiter was always be their Jesus.
23:13 November 15, 2009 by wxman
Kamioner summed it all up very well. The over-the-top anti-Nazi mindset of today's Germans is a bit much. Methinks they doth protest too much. They lost, so they had to change their tune.
16:21 November 17, 2009 by dlplife
The time is right to put a human face on Hitler. As already stated, how can we realistically expect to recognize this evil in the future if we pretend it was anything other than human.

Yet it is wrong of history to blame World War II on him alone, or even on the German people alone. There was a confluence of ideas and realities that brought about the war. The only fair treatment of the entire matter would be to have the private lives of Chamberland, Roosevelt, and Stalin also displayed, as well as Mousolini, Toto and The Emporer of Japan. Plus the raw ambitions of the German military force.

We also should review the thinking that led to the punishment of Germany after World War I. No question that one of the greatest changes that came from World War II, is in viewing war as caused by unsolved social-economic problems. No matter how much Hitler patted his dog, as intriguing as all of this is, it does not explain the war. He alone did not cause the war, but was merely the wrong person at the right moment. (Do not forget that he had to fight for power within the Nazi movement and his ascendency to the top was not assured from the outset.)
18:12 November 17, 2009 by Scottrocks9
I am tired of hearing about Hitler. Tell us about Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill (Dresden) Feb 1945, Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, hey what about George Bush. Fortunately he was a bumbling moron that 51 million Americans voted for, not in 1934, but in 2004. Just imagine if he had an IQ. Yes it can happen again.
22:33 November 17, 2009 by Fredfeldman
George Bush a bumbling moron? Guess again. Fortunately for all of us he was instrumental in avoiding an even bigger catastrophe in the Middle East than we are experiencing now. Think Iran/Iraq axis was / is an impossibility? Think again. Hitler and Stalin hated each other but carved up Poland together. George took Sadam out of the equation, now we have to follow through or the world will suffer the consequences. Thank GW for giving us the time to do that.
19:32 November 18, 2009 by Kodawolf
To Fredfeldman,

Before W took Saddam out of the equation, he offered him and his sons the opportunity to go into exile prior to the US invasion of Iraq. Saddam refused. Later on he was tried for crimes against humanity and subsequently hung. Suppose he had taken George up on his ultimatum and went into voluntary exile along with his sons. Would he be alive today even though he was already a human rights criminal deserving of death? And what of the lack of WMD's - the pretext for the U.S. invasion?

Poland was the reason for England declaring war on Germany. What did Poland gain as a result of the Allied victory over Germany - half a century of Communism. What did England gain for Poland - nothing.

Had the Nazi's not come to power in Germany in 1933, the Communists surely would have. The Weimar Republic had no hope of survival as it was a puppet state of the western powers and offered no hope for a better future to Germans economically struggling during the 1920's, a time in which the western nations were experiencing increased economic prosperity in the post-war years prior to the stock market crash of 1929.

Hitler was indeed human. He was not a monster nor an animal. Monsters don't exist and animals don't behave as humans. That should not come as a surprise and shouldn't even be a subject for rational debate.
15:10 November 19, 2009 by Fredfeldman
What of the lack of WMDs? The US was determined to rid itself of the threat to its middle east oil source. Sadam's fate was sealed one way or another, it was just a matter of time. And of course Hitler was not a "monster" or an animal, he was very human which made him all the more culpable. He and his criminal National Socialists got what they deserved. Too bad he cheated the world out of the pleasure of executing him.
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