Thursday, January 8, 2009


The drive through the northern part of Bavaria, through unspoiled natural woodlands and narrow winding roads, past half-timbered houses and ruined castles, was refreshing. Our destination was Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria. Much of it has been rebuilt after the destruction of war. From the 1st to the 6th century, it was an Imperial City where German kings resided, and held their Imperial Diets. The castle still looms over the city from the north bank of the River Pegnitz, and at a height of 351 metres.

But Nuremberg was made notorious by Hitler’s National Socialist Party activities. His unfinished Congress Hall is now the Documentation Centre, which chronicles the affairs of the Nationalist Socialist Party, and details Hitler’s inhuman and bloody regime. Here one reads the story of Leini Riefenstahl, who helped propagate the ‘Fuhrer myth’ through her propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.” It was later condemned as ‘masterly deceptive.’

Leini Riefenstahl was a German actress, dancer, and film maker. A born artist with a distinctly romantic inclination, her dance movements were said to express the ‘liberation of the soul.’ Born in a rich family in 1902, she was well educated and well informed about Modern Art forms. She was also a good skier. Her film “Blue Light” was a picture of rare beauty and depth. Blue Light was the reflection of the full moon on the houses built on mountain slopes. The film was one of exceptional beauty but it also stirred up confusing emotions.

This innovator of moving pictures met Hitler in 1932 and was hopelessly smitten, after hearing his speech at the National Socialist Party meeting in Berlin. Her infatuation soon turned into an obsession. Hitler capitalized on it. In 1933, after he was elected Chancellor, Leini was commissioned to film the annual NSDAP Conference at Nuremberg. She was given total organizational control, and wielded her clout effectively.

The Rally was literally a political circus, stage managed to perfection with giant size stage structures. The Zeppelin Field designed by Albert Speer, was converted into a fort like structure with ramparts and flag towers. The main grand stand from where Hitler made his speeches was modeled on the Pergamon Altar. The choreographed crowded scenes (supposed to hold half a million NSDAP members and 250,000 guests) had been well rehearsed. Her film ‘Triumph of the Will’ reflected her total admiration for Hitler.
“To me Hitler is the greatest man who has ever lived. He is so faultless, so simple yet so filled with manly power. He is beautiful, he is wise. Radiance streams from him.”

Rene Clair the film critic thought that Hitler’s larger than life image was due to “the suggestive power of Leini’s films.” Writer Lutz Kinkel was even more critical
“This picture was a get up…A beautiful sham with which the Nazis and their helper Riefenstahl tried to delude the public under conditions where a unity never existed.”

A second film “Olympia” followed in 1938, to extol the virtues of Fascism.

Leini’s absolute belief in Hitler and the ideology of the Third Reich enabled her to create a mirage of peace and harmony of the most brutal and barbaric regime in History. When she was arrested after the war, she claimed reprieve on the basis of her naiveté. She swore she was never a member of the Party.

Discredited and ostracized for her collaboration with the Nazis, her career as a film maker was in ruins. But this spunky lady retrieved some credibility in 1960, through her film on the African Nuba Tribals. At the age of 80, she learnt Sea diving, and her last assignment was an under water film.

Leini died on September 8th, 2003 at the ripe old age of 101. Her obsession with Hitler clouded her powers of reasoning. It made her pursue ‘beauty at the expense of reality’ and so ruined her own reputation.

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