Propaganda, war, and the truth about Rommel

He's been described the acceptable face of the Nazis. But that image comes under attack in a German film

A new film about Germany's "chivalrous" Second World War commander, Erwin Rommel has provoked furious criticism from members of his family who claim that its authors portray the "Desert Fox" as an unscrupulous Nazi war criminal who was a favourite of Adolf Hitler.

As the head of the German army's elite Afrika Korps, Rommel won fame and popularity for his military successes against the British in North Africa. Initially admired by Hitler, he was widely respected both during and after the war. Even Winston Churchill once called him a "great general".

Defeated by General Bernard Law Montgomery's 7th Armoured Division, the famed "Desert Rats", at the decisive battle of El-Alamein in 1942, Field Marshal Rommel wrote that his campaign against the British was a chivalrous affair and the nearest thing to "war without hate".

He was later alleged to have been involved in the July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. But he committed suicide after he was arrested by the Nazis and told that he would be put on trial for his offences and face certain death. In Germany and Britain he is still widely thought of as Nazi Germany's "decent" general.

In an attempt to explore the latter part of Rommel's life, Germany's SWR television channel is currently making a new feature film about him. Its director, Niki Stein, told Der Spiegel magazine that the film tries to portray him as the personification of a generation of wartime Germans who "realise only gradually and too late that the person they have served with such passion is a criminal".

The film, which casts the German actor Ulrich Turkur as Rommel, has yet to be shown on television. However it has already provoked an angry response from Rommel's 82-year-old son, Manfred, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren.

In letters to SWR, the family complains that all the advance publicity about the film ignores the chivalrous side of the general and portrays Rommel as "an upstart, a favourite of Hitler and as a Nazi war criminal".

"This is simply untrue. These are lies," the family insists in its letter to the channel's director-general, Peter Boudgoust, "Yes, he did value Hitler in the beginning because he was a friend of the army but the mutual admiration ended abruptly with Hitler's "victory or death" order before El-Alamein which resulted in Rommel withdrawing his troops of his own accord and saving many lives," the Rommel family adds.

SWR is reported to have been holding talks with Rommel's granddaughter Catherine, about the film and further discussions are scheduled. However, SWR has since allowed the script of its Rommel film to be examined by a group of prominent historians and military experts. They have praised it for its precision and the "care" taken by the director in his use of dialogue and scene setting.

The SWR's production is the latest attempt by German film makers to provide a realistic assessment of Rommel. A television documentary on the general aired by the ZDF public broadcasting channel four years ago claimed to have exposed the "myth" that Rommel fought a clean war in the North African desert.

Entitled Rommel's War, the documentary claimed that he played a key role in Hitler's attempt to export the Nazi Holocaust to the Middle East. It revealed that the SS had orders to "destroy Jewry in the Arab World" and had set up special "Sonderkommando" extermination units to follow in the wake of the Afrika Korps. "With his victories, Rommel was simply preparing the way for the Nazi extermination machine," insisted the documentary's author, the historian Jörg Müllner.

However, post-war Germany cherished the notion of the chivalrous "Desert Fox". In 1970, the then West German navy had no qualms about naming a destroyer after him.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little