Filming Hitler: July '39: War was weeks away when Hitler and most of the Nazi heirarchy attended the three-day festival of German art in Munich. A recently discovered amateur film, hidden for 50 years, shows Hitler at ease, adored, in colour

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The Independent Culture
IT WAS the afternoon of 16 July, 1939, in Munich. Adolf Hitler sat under a blue canopy embroidered with his initials in gold, watching a five-mile parade snake past. The day was officially designated 'The Day of German Art' and the parade, entitled '2,000 years of German Culture', took two and a half hours to pass the Fuhrer's reviewing stand.

A few weeks later, Germany was at war, and in subsequent years Munich's annual art exhibitions were to include increasing numbers of military portraits in the heroic style.

Had it not been for a series of extraordinary events, the scenes of that July day might only have been remembered by art historians researching landmarks in Third Reich cultural policy. But they have been preserved - in startling detail and in colour - in film shot by an amateur cameraman.

The film was hidden for years. But with its rediscovery, its sharp and brilliant colour has brought that distant, rainy afternoon unforgettably into the present: Adolf Hitler, secure in his power, relaxed against the background of a city in celebration; the Munich crowds, cast not in the role of adoring and anonymous masses of the Third Reich's propaganda films, but participating, complicit, sharing with their leader the excitement of the parade.

It was a stupendous show, the culmination of a three-day event that aimed to put the stamp of the Third Reich on the German people's understanding of art and history. And despite the weather, Hitler and the party leaders around him had reason to be pleased. As Goebbels had put it two days before, they had rescued German art 'from the Jewish snare'.

That morning, Hitler had opened the 'Third Greater German Art Exhibition' in his monumental new gallery, the House of German Art. It was a large show of 'healthy' painting, dominated by scenes of virtuous pastoral life and slightly dubious nudes. The foreign correspondents who waited, with some impatience, for the Fuhrer to comment on the increasingly tense international situation had to content themselves with reporting his exhortation to the nation's artists to celebrate

Germany's present. It was at least as great, he said, as Germany's past. He rounded off his day of culture by attending a performance of his favourite operetta, The Merry Widow.

Sixty years later, Alex Van Dulmen, a young film researcher with Munich City Council, telephoned a manufacturer of artificial limbs named Berndt Feierabend. He had been looking for Feierabend for some time.

Van Dulmen had been asked to track down and catalogue, on behalf of the Munich Film Archive, all film shot in Munich between 1933 and 1945. He had spent several months viewing his hoard, most of it Nazi propaganda. 'I was living in a very strange world, eight hours a day,' he said, 'listening to that music, watching those images. I was almost inoculated against it.' But what he was to find through Berndt Feierabend was different.

One of the leads Van Dulman had followed was a list of entrants to the Munich Amateur Film Festival in 1940. Among the prizewinners was a Hans Feierabend but he was not listed in the Munich telephone book. His film, though, memorably enough, had been titled Wooden Leg. There must, thought Van Dulmen, be a connection between Hans Feierabend and Berndt the artificial-limb maker.

Berndt Feierabend said, yes, Hans had been his father, and a pillar of the Munich Amateur Film Society in the late Thirties and early Forties. And yes, there were some bits of his film still around, in the possession of Berndt's brother, Peter. In fact, said Berndt, there was some film of Hitler. A few days later, Peter Feierabend brought a reel of film into the archive. 'It took some time,' recalls Van Dulmen, 'before it had an impact. When I first saw it, I thought, oh yes, there's Adolf Hitler. Two weeks later, I was mesmerised by it.'

The film was 35 minutes long and extraordinarily well shot. What mesmerised Van Dulmen was the still-vivid colour. 'Before this, the past had always been in black and white. Seeing Hitler in colour, it made it contemporary.' Not only was Hitler in colour, with his brown party uniform and his sandy moustache, he was relaxed and informal, almost unrehearsed.

Hans Feierabend's prized possession was a Bolex 16mm camera. He was, his family insist, an opponent of the Nazi regime, but he was also one of the more competent members of the Munich Amateur Film Society. Perhaps that was why, despite Feierabend's politics, the Gauleiter of Munich, Adolf Wagner, commissioned him to make a film of The Day of German Art. Wagner offered to supply the film - Kodachrome negative stock, which was still quite rare and expensive - and to arrange access to Hitler and the rest of the leadership. Feierabend's passion for film, we must assume, won out over his political reservations.

More than five decades later, the impact of his footage is overwhelming. Most of the surviving images of Hitler were carefully selected by Goebbels's film teams, who weeded out the casual shots to leave only those designed to boost the impression of the Fuhrer's power. Hitler himself was conscious of the effect of the Third Reich's genius for theatricality and tailored his behaviour to the professional camera. But Feierabend's film lacks the craft of Goebbels's propaganda. It offers instead a glimpse of the Nazi leadership at home with a crowd, sharing an event that seems, despite the date and the content, almost innocent.

To judge from their faces, the parade's spectators were not greatly preoccupied either with the thought of an approaching war or the fate of the Jews who were already being dispossessed and arrested in their own city. Nor did they think much about the future of the artists and writers who did not fit into the Nazi version of German culture. The success of the day was testimony to the power of Nazi mythology. This was gift-wrapped National Socialism, its victims out of sight, its appeal apparently uncontaminated by the existence of a concentration camp in the picturesque town of Dachau, only a 20-minute train ride from Munich.

Munich was home to the National Socialists, the place where the party was born and had its early triumph. Hitler kept a flat there and, even after he took power in 1933, spent a lot of time in the city. He dreamed of restoring the cultural pre-eminence it had enjoyed under the great Bavarian kings of the 19th century.

It was in Munich that Hitler built the huge gallery - the House of German Art - that was to house the Third Reich's showcase exhibitions. It was designed by Paul Ludwig Troost, who was Hitler's favourite architect until his early death in 1934. Troost began by building Neoclassical villas for the bourgeoisie and went on to design the interiors of ocean liners. When Hitler came to power, he commissioned Troost to work on his first grand cultural project - a replacement for the Glass Palace that had burned down in 1932. The aim was to create a building that would not only house the eternal culture of the Thousand Year Reich but would itself be a representative structure. The building was completed in 1936 and a huge model of it was carried through the streets on 16 July 1939, as a symbol of the Third Reich's contribution to 2,000 years of German culture.

'One of Hitler's dreams was to become an architect,' said Willibald Sauerlander, a Munich art historian. 'He had very conventional Neoclassical taste, which coincided closely with Troost's. Troost was not a particularly good architect, but at least he kept his buildings moderate in their proportions - unlike Speer, who was building for the megalomaniac phase.' Troost's House of German Art still stands, an imposing edifice on Munich's main thoroughfare, on the corner of the great 18th- century park, the English Garden, though its portentous flight of steps was sacrificed to a new road a few years ago.

For Adolf Hitler, it was, for a time, the defining instrument of the Third Reich's artistic policy. And the question of what was to be exhibited there forced a decision in the battle over art that had raged within the Nazi party since the early Thirties.

Under the Weimar Republic, modern art had enjoyed extraordinary status and its practitioners had dominated the available cultural posts. As a result, many in the traditional art establishment felt displaced and resentful, ready, when the Nazis came to power, to back a counterattack. Though Hitler's personal taste was anti-modern, he did not take sides until the imminent completion of the Haus der Kunst forced him to settle the question of what kind of art would be exhibited there.

In 1937, the regime organised an exhibition of 'degenerate art'. The nation's museums and galleries were stripped of works by such artists as Picasso, the Impressionists, Otto Dix and George Grosz, and from this loot the works of 112 'degenerate' artists were displayed. At the opening, Adolf Ziegler, a mediocre artist who had been made president of the Reich Chamber of Visual Art and nicknamed the 'master of German pubic hair' promised that the exhibition would show the nation what 'monstrosities' the 'madness, insolence, incompetence and degeneracy' of modern art had produced.

In counterpoint, the regime presented the first 'Great German Art Exhibition' in the House of German Art. Instead of the masterpieces of Expressionism, there was a pastoral fantasy - landscapes, peasants and glowing nudes. It became the annual showcase of National Socialist art and, in 1939, boasted no fewer than three Judgements of Paris (one of which depicts Paris as a Hitler youth member, complete with shorts). But the sensation of the show was a louche version of Leda and the Swan, painted by Paul Mathias Padua and remarkable for what one (foreign) critic described as its 'Bierkeller qualities'. It was bought by the Fuhrer himself.

'I think Hitler may genuinely have been convinced that modern art was a sign of cultural and biological degeneracy,' said Professor Sauerlander. 'And it was his aim to make the German people healthy and sound. Getting rid of the Jews was part of that. Making German art 'clean and pure' was another.'

At the popular end of this cultural construct were the parades - a hotchpotch of Rhine maidens, knights in armour, Wagnerian imagery and, bringing up the rear, the impeccable marching of the Wehrmacht and, finally, the SS. The parades were expensive and spectacular, meticulously designed to make their spectators feel proud of German purity.

Inge Ungewitter was in the parade in 1939, dressed as a Valkyrie. She was 15, from a good family, and a keen horsewoman. Now 69, she lives in a splendid apartment on the Grilpartzerstrasse, a stone's throw from Hitler's former flat. She remembers that day well. 'My mother wouldn't come,' she complains, 'I was terribly disappointed. It was a wonderful day. If you give Bavaria people something like that . . . all that glitter and gold, they love it.'

But for some of Munich's citizens, the day was less than festive. Charlotte Knobloch was born in 1932, the daughter of an affluent Jewish lawyer who was a hero of the First World War. She lived in Munich until the mass deportation of children began in 1942. Her father, who had already been forced to choose between sacrificing his mother or his daughter to an earlier transport, hid her with a German farming family, where she remained until liberation in 1945.

For people like the Knobloch family, Munich's celebrations in July 1939 were just another part of the nightmare their lives had become. 'You had to wear the star,' she said, 'and when you wore it on the street, you might be dragged off somewhere. We would try to hide the star in some way: put a jacket over it or hide it behind a bag so that we weren't so obviously identifiable as Jews . . . We had been robbed of our rights and we were very scared. We kept away from any so-called festivities.'

'It's completely unbelievable for me,' she said, watching the images flicker on the screen, 'that people can be so happy here when 20 kilometres away there's a concentration camp in Dachau, already overflowing with people.'

'We didn't know,' said Else Peitz, who did watch the procession that day. 'We didn't know until after the war about . . . about what we know now. We knew that there was a camp called Dachau, but we thought it was for political people. Young people ask me how we could have believed in it, but Hitler had abolished unemployment and you could feel proud. I felt proud when I watched that procession.'

Else Peitz knew Hitler well: her father, Adolf Muller, was his publisher, printing Mein Kampf and the Nazi newspaper the Volkischer Beobachter. The Fuhrer was a frequent visitor to the family house on the Tegernsee, outside Munich, and offered himself as a witness at Frau Peitz's wedding. Sixty years later, she remembers that he was a 'real gentleman, who would never have dreamed of walking into a room in front of a woman'. Though now she condemns 'what happened later', she still remembers 1939 as a high point in her life.

In humbler circles, there may have been doubts. But many kept their reservations private. In the Munich Amateur Film Society, says Martin Summer, an optical engineer who still lives and works in Munich, 'we never talked politics'. The society, of course, was under political control from 1933: 'In Hitler's Germany,' said Enno Patalas, the director of Munich's Film Museum, 'nothing like that could have functioned without political supervision.' But for Summer, it was not irksome.

Summer is a cheerful man of 80, who hints proudly that his important customers include Hitler's favourite film-maker, Leni Riefenstahl. He remembers the 1939 parade well. 'I filmed it, too,' he said. 'But I didn't get as close as Feierabend to the leadership. The whole town was decked out. It was beautiful.'

There were about 20 members in the film society, recalls Summer, and they mostly filmed their families or the scenery around Munich. 'In 1940,' he recalls proudly, 'I won 100 marks with a film called Experience in the Mountains.' Anyone could join, he said, but no, he could not recall any Jewish members. Yes, he did join the party. Not for political reasons, just because he played ice hockey.

Ice hockey?

Yes, he said, it was necessary, as chairman of the ice hockey club, to be a party member. 'It was just better for the connections,' he explained. 'If you needed something, you were more likely to get it if you were in the party.'

And not in the amateur film society?

Well, yes, admitted Summer. 'But I was not an office-holder in the amateur film society. Just an ordinary member.' Those who were office-holders were, of course, paid-up Nazis. But, Summer recalled, they were sufficiently well-mannered not to make a point of it. He does not recall, though others do, that the film club boasted at least one SS member, who features in some of the films. 'There was nothing political about it,' he insists. 'If you were a normal working person and you didn't say Hitler's an idiot, nothing would happen to you.' Most people just wanted to live and work and indulge their hobby.'

Hans Feierabend's sons are adamant that their father was an opponent of the regime. 'In fact,' says Berndt, 'he had a Jew, here, working in the workshop, throughout the war. He kept him. And later this man went to Israel and became a doctor, Dr Ernst Eisenmann. And he still writes to us.'

Feierabend was opposed. But he also wanted to live and work and indulge his hobby. Thanks to his profession, Mr Feierabend stayed in Munich during the war. It meant he could continue to make his films.

In 1942-43, he made a film about the River Isar, which tumbles out of the mountains and rushes through Munich. 'He strapped a camera on to his back and went cycling in the mountains,' said Berndt, beaming proudly. 'My father was always very active.' That film, like his earlier film on artificial limbs, won a prize. And in 1943, he went on the film society's picnic: nearly 20 people, out for a jolly day, filming each other having fun. They went to the picturesque little town of Dachau.

Feierabend's film of that day has not survived, but that of a fellow member, Josef Bielmayer, has. Bielmayer was the baker of Dachau. It was he who suggested the venue, and his film is a cheerful, if poorly shot celebration of a picnic. The group is joined by a passing SS officer, who leaves them, in the final shot, waving cheerfully from his Mercedes.

'My father did know about Dachau,' said Peter Feirabend, 'because he knew Mr Bielmayer.' 'Mr Bielmayer,' said Berndt, 'was in the party. Rather party-minded, in fact. But he was a very nice man.' Mr Bielmayer's widow also insists that Mr Bielmayer was a very nice man. He had two Jews, she told Alex Van Dulmen, who worked in the bakery during the war. They came back after the war to thank him for helping them to survive; 37,000 inmates of Dachau did not. Despite his other successes, the 35-minute film of The Day of German Art, with its precious close-ups of Hitler, remained Feirabend's greatest prize. Thanks, probably, to the outbreak of war, which gave the Gauleiter something else to think about, he kept his footage and that of another film club member, a Mr Eckstaler. He edited the film and projected it in family film shows during the war. When the Americans arrived, he hid it under a woodpile in the cellar.

Was he afraid it would be misunderstood?

Peter Feierabend shrugged. 'No. He just thought they would steal it. He hid the camera, too.' With the coming of peace, Feierabend rose to a national position in the association of artificial-limb manufacturers. He was too busy for film making and the camera was put aside. But his masterpiece was retrieved from the woodpile and the family continued to enjoy it. 'There wasn't any television and it was entertaining for us.' When television, came the film was left on one side again.

Luke Holland, a British film director, has now incorporated the footage into a television documentary. For him it shows 'how ordinary people can be drawn into something as terrible as National Socialism - how they can be seduced by it'. For Alex Van Dulmen, the film had a similar message. 'I realised that if I had been 17 that day and had seen that parade, I would have wanted to join the SS. When I was researching the film, I found a paper in a drawer. It was a list of the associate members of The Day of German Art - all the painters and artists connected with it. It included my grandfather. He came from such a typical family in a typical suburb. He never realised what he had done. But then, he had never tried to understand, either.'

'Good Morning Mr Hitler]', the film by Luke Holland and Paul Yule, will be shown on Tuesday 18 May on Channel 4 at 9pm.

(Photographs omitted)