Swastika: Haunting Documentary on National Socialist Germany
Part one is above; part two is at the end of this article.
SCENES OF BDM girls (the female branch of the Hitler Youth) and the 1938 Buckeberg Harvest Festival, as researched by Lutz Becker, are seen in this film, Swastika (1974), among many other archival clips — including Eva Braun’s own home movies — and all are presented without commentary or other pressures to conform to a predetermined evaluation of them.
Lutz Becker is an advocate of the documentary as an art form. This documentary, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, was part of the syllabus of a famous course at Harvard known by students as “Krauts and Doubts.” Newsreels are presented without commentary and without obvious ex post facto musical or other “added context” cues telling the viewer what to think. Swastika provides a window into the Reich as average citizens would have perceived it, enabling a better psychological understanding of that society so very different from our own. For this reason, Swastika is controversial. Becker, an “anti-Nazi” German (is any other kind permitted) was even able to land an Australia-based Jewish director, Philippe Mora, to stitch together the home movies and archival footage in a professional manner. They deserve thanks for their efforts to maintain absolute objectivity in this production; though it must be said that to a significant extent this is also Eva Braun’s film.
This movie is banned in Germany and France today unless seen in the presence of government-approved “educators” or political minders. Such is the case with other “restricted productions” (Verbehaltsfilme) such as the number one film of the German 1939-1940 season, Jud Suss, or the number one film of 1942, The Great Love (Zarah Leander’s most important film).
Lutz Becker has described how, at the age of 19, he discovered Eva Braun’s home movies to which he gained rights from the local Bavarian authorities. While Lutz Becker’s excerpts of the home movies were made available and have have been included in almost all documentaries about Hitler, the movies in full were later deemed “inappropriate for the general public.” Eva’s reels were under lock and key in the US national archives for decades. Her clips give us a glimpse of the Berghof when Hitler predicted that, after the war was won, Eva would become a star in Hollywood playing herself — and that Errol Flynn would attend parties there.
When the film’s intimate color scenes of Adolf Hitler cuddling a pet dog and smiling tenderly like a baby were shown for the first time at the Cannes Film Festival 36 years ago, a scuffle broke out in the audience and the screening had to be abandoned.
These clips showed extraordinary, never-before-seen footage of Hitler entertaining friends, family and his inner circle — including Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels. Much of it was shot by his girlfriend, Eva Braun, at Hitler’s Bavarian mountain retreat, the Berghof in Obersalzberg.
The full-color vision of Hitler as a human being rather than a long-dead monster depicted in grainy black and white so outraged some audience members that fisticuffs broke out and the German distributors panicked. The movie later opened in other countries, including the US, Britain, and France, but — despite widespread critical acclaim — it was mothballed and Germany banned it.