Tangled Pasts: Negotiating Politics of the Past and Present in Postwar German Film
Elizabeth Ward (Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London)
Bill Niven (Professor Emeritus in Contemporary German History, Nottingham Trent University)
Chair: David Clarke (Professor of Modern German Studies, Cardiff University)
Institute: Institute of Modern Languages Research
Focusing on the West and East respectively, Bill Niven and Elizabeth Ward discuss two different attempts to contain socially or politically contentious subjects within political frameworks in the Federal Republic and German Democratic Republic.
Throughout its existence, the German Democratic Republic’s ruling party never officially acknowledged responsibility for the crimes committed during the Third Reich. Instead, it cast the East German working class as both the victims of, and antifascist victors over, National Socialist oppression, whilst marginalising discussions of Jewish suffering. Yet the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews was a present theme in East German film throughout the history of the GDR. So how did East German filmmakers approach the crimes of the Holocaust in a country where memories of National Socialist persecution were highly prescribed, tightly controlled and invariably political? Elizabeth will discuss the findings of her new book, East German Film and the Holocaust (2021, Berghahn Books). Drawing on the findings of extensive archival work coupled with detailed close readings of the films, she will discuss examples from films including Konrad Wolf’s Sterne (1959), Wolfgang Luderer’s Lebende Ware (1966) and Siegfried Kühn’s Die Schauspielerin (1988) to reveal the ways in which East German Holocaust films created an alternative space for the discussion of the National Socialist past as well as how such films were viewed by the state.
Bill’s focus will be on West Germany, and particularly on the postwar career of the film director Veit Harlan, whose notorious antisemitic film Jud Süß had been shown to millions of Germans and non-Germans during the Second World War. While the Holocaust played a largely marginal role West German films in the 1950s and 1960s, the debates around Veit Harlan in the 1950s ensured that the theme was ever-present when it came to arguing for or against his rehabilitation. Bill will discuss the ways in which West German politics, media, judiciary and society more widely participated in and shaped an at times vitriolic controversy over the right to free speech and freedom of artistic expression against the background of complicity in the Holocaust. His paper will also discuss the role of the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (FSK) in the discussions around Harlan’s films from the 1950s, particularly Anders als du und ich on the subject of homosexuality. The FSK demanded so many cuts that Harlan claimed it was the new Goebbels. Harlan took on a peculiarly ambivalent role, seeking to cultivate an image of himself as a defender of Jews and homosexuals, one who had been defamed as the very opposite.
All attendees will receive a code for 50% off the hardback edition of East German Film and the Holocaust.
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