Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bizarre Nazi Propaganda

Here’s a film I’d never heard of before today. Kolberg is a 1945 German propaganda film directed by Veit Harlan and Wolfgang Liebeneiner. It opened on January 30, 1945 simultaneously in Berlin and to the crew of the naval base at La Rochelle. It was also screened in the Reich chancellery after the broadcast of Hitler’s last radio address on January 30.

The film was intended to boost the morale of the Germans in the last phase of World War II. It was based on the autobiography of Joachim Nettelbeck, the mayor of Kolberg. It told the story of the 1807 successful defence of the fortress town of Kolberg against Napoleon’s Grande Armée. The mayor was able to convert the local population into an effective and fanatical militia despite the pessimism of the local military establishment. Nevertheless, a young officer, Count August Gneisenau, later the great Prussian Field-Marshal and reformer, replaced the local military commander. He and Nettelbeck thereafter worked in concert to hold the town for their King.

Started in 1943, the Kolberg was made in Agfacolor with high production values. At a cost of more than eight million marks, it was the most expensive film of the Nazi era. Thousands of soldiers were used in the film, even though every man was badly needed at the front lines (they were quickly returned to the eastern front afterwards). To film scenes with snow during summer, 100 railway trucks brought salt to the set in Pommern. The film was finally completed at the Babelsberg Studios at Potsdam while the town and nearby Berlin were being steadily bombed.

The film was opened in a provisional cinema in Berlin and ran under the constant threat of air raids until the fall of Berlin in May 1945; Kolberg came far too late for the hoped-for propaganda effect, however. By that time, most of the theatres throughout Germany had already been destroyed.