A very old lady died recently in Germany. She was born in 1902 and was 101 years of age at the time of her death. Leni Riefenstahl is considered by many to be the greatest female filmmaker of all time. Her most famous film is “Triumph of the Will”, which was released in 1935. In that year, it was awarded the Gold Medal at the Venice Film Festival and in 1937 it won the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in Paris. This is a propaganda film recording the rally at the Nazi Party congress in Nuremberg in 1934.
|Scene from Triumph of the Will|
|Nuremberg Documentation Center|
Nuremberg was the site of the huge Nazi rallies in the twenties and thirties. It was during the 1935 rally, the Reichstag was ordered by Hitler to convene in Nuremberg and to pass laws revoking German citizenship for all Jews. It was therefore appropriate that Nuremberg was where most of these war criminals were convicted and executed.
|Albert Speer’s Cathedral of Light|
Click on player below to see a video titled, "The Rise and Fall of Leni Riefenstahl".
What happened to Leni Riefenstahl? Her direction of “Triumph of the Will” turned out to be something less than a career enhancing item on her resume. Her work in 1934 was seen to be favorable propaganda for the Nazi regime. The world was later so repelled by the unspeakable crimes of that regime that she found few opportunities for film direction during the rest of her very long life. Her genius as a filmmaker was seen as no excuse. She was arrested after the end of World War Two and was detained for four years, either under house arrest or in detention centers, during which time she was tried four times as an alleged Nazi propagandist. She was never convicted.
Later in life, she would sue for defamation anyone who claimed that she had been a Nazi. She won 50 such libel cases. Yet it cannot be denied that she was a prominent figure in pre-war Germany, who was on friendly terms with leading Nazis. However, in her defense, it can be argued that her work for the Nazis occurred shortly after they came to power and before it became evident that they were a manifestation of pure evil. Furthermore, there is nothing hateful in “Triumph of the Will”, even though it idolizes Hitler. In particular, there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic in that film. This is not the place to consider her guilt or innocence, but her life is a story of wasted genius.
This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on October 2, 2010.