How the Nazis are Portrayed in Films


The Nazi Party has been filmed and chronicled since its creation and since the defeat of fascism in the Second World War; the Nazis have been portrayed in many different films and remain today a subject of criticism. The Nazis instigated a program of genocide against the Jews, Slavs and many other groups such as gypsies and homosexuals as well as removing, imprisoning and executing German opposition to their policies. Since the defeat of the Nazis, Western cinema, upholding the rights of the individual and freedom of speech, has used Nazism as its adversary.

The following four scenes from films all show the Nazis in a different way:

“TRIUMPH DES WILLENS” - This monochrome film was made for the Nuremburg rally in 1934, while the Nazis were in power. It is a German film directed by the very talented Leni Riefenstahl. It glorifies Hitler, the new Germany and the Nazi policies by use of symbolism and imagery, cinematography, association and propaganda so as to convince the German public that Adolf Hitler was worthy of their leadership. It does this by only showing the happy people in the crowd and the well-disciplined Wehrmacht but not the groups of people deemed to be in opposition with Hitler and the Nazi Party. When this film came out, five years before the war, Germany and Britain were on fairly peaceful terms. In fact, in the film you can see the representatives from Britain sitting watching Hitler inspire his people. Some people in Britain at this time liked Hitler and thought that some of his policies had a point to them.

The film’s title refers to the German philosopher Nietzsche and his book called ‘The Will to Power’, which explains that living things are not just driven by the need to stay alive, but by the need to use power, to dominate others, and to make them weaker. This subtle information reveals much about Hitler’s goals for the German ‘Volk’.

The film starts with a few words introducing the film. It begins “On September 5th 1934, 20 years after the outbreak of the World War, 16 years after the beginning of our suffering, 19 months after the beginning of the German renaissance, Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers”. This introduction explains a great deal about Hitler’s views. The third sentence “16 years…” (talking about the Treaty of Versailles in which Germany was forced to give up much of their resources and resulted in population displacement) portrays the feelings of many Germans who thought they were very hard done by, as well as Hitler, but also the feelings of many members of other countries who disagreed with the treaty. The wording also reveals subtle hints. Hitler wanted to appeal to the population by using the word ‘we’ to make the audience feel the same emotions and therefore empathize with him. The phrase “columns of faithful followers” is an open piece of propaganda, which suggests to the reader that Hitler is already powerful and with his ‘army’ of support he will rule Germany. This opening scene was not actually written by Riefenstahl but by Walter Ruttmann, the specialist propaganda film director.

After this, the camera fades into a scene high above the clouds with Hitler’s plane flying over Nuremburg’s medieval buildings to the tune of "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" by Richard Wagner. This is a very joyous, melodious piece of music that illustrates the grandeur and tradition of the buildings and also how they were German-built. Wagner was also German so the music is quite fitting with the theme. The music then slowly and chillingly turns from classical Wagner into the Horst Wessel Song, the Nazi Party Anthem.

As in all films, the camera angles used are very important as they convey the director’s message. In “Triumph des Willens” close up shots are used to show people’s facial expressions and in some cases, emphasize them. This technique is used when Hitler steps off his plane at Nuremburg airport and there is a close up of his face showing a big smile and also of him talking to a young mother and her child. This display of sincerity and generosity is bound to convince any German of the time to