Showing posts with label NAZIS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NAZIS. Show all posts

Nuremberg Germany - Leni Riefenstahl and the Nazi Rallies


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
The film pioneered new techniques such as aerial photography, moving cameras, telephoto lenses and the use of multiple cameras simultaneously.  This film cannot to this day be shown in Germany for the purposes of entertainment. It is banned under Germany’s denazification laws and its display is only permitted in the course of educating the public about the evils of the Nazi regime.  It was in that context that we saw clips of it, when we visited Nuremberg in September 2010.

Nuremberg Documentation Center
We saw the film in a museum called the Dokumentationszentrum Reichparteitagsgelande.  Even for the German language, it must be some kind of record to include no less than thirteen syllables in only two words.

Nuremberg Kongresshall
This museum is located in the remains of the Congress Hall in what was formerly the middle of the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg.  This was where rallies were held annually between 1927 and 1938 and huge numbers of people attended. The rallies were discontinued when World War Two began. The museum contains an exhibition called “Fascination and Terror”, which examines the causes and consequences of national socialism.  Leni Riefenstahl’s famous film is a valuable part of that exhibition, which lays out the entire nightmare in chronological order. We see the beginnings of the party in 1919 in the beer halls of nearby Munich and then, step by step, we move through to 1946 and to the trial of these murderous criminals before an international tribunal sitting in Nuremberg.  One sees how their seizure of absolute power was a gradual process.  One is reminded that a frog will jump out, if dropped into a pan of boiling water, but that it can be boiled alive when the water is initially cool and then heated gradually.  What happened provides a useful lesson for US citizens of today, who must never give up their civil liberties in the name of national security.

Nuremberg Castle
The Russians wanted the trial of the war criminals to take place in Berlin, but the western allies believed that there was greater symbolic value in holding it in Nuremberg and so it took place there.  Nuremberg may be a small city, when compared to such German cities as Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne, but Nuremberg occupied a special place in the history of the Nazi era. This was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, whose parliament met in Nuremberg Castle.

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
There are several examples of Nazi architecture to be seen in Nuremberg, including the Kongress Hall where this museum is located.  Nazi architecture represented, and was meant to represent, “an intimidating display of power”.   Those are not my words.  They are the words of the leading Nazi architect, Albert Speer, writing in retirement in 1978. He had somehow persuaded the Nuremburg War Crimes tribunal to spare his life in 1946, and to impose instead a long prison sentence.  It was Speer who devised the so-called “cathedral of light”, which involved the use of many searchlights pointed skyward and which was always a memorable feature of Nuremberg rallies.

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.

Beyreuth Germany - Wagner's Festspielhaus

A young man, asking for advice on how to succeed in life, was told to “be born the eldest son of the Duke of Westminster”. The Duke is reputed to be Britain’s richest man. While this advice was obviously of no help to the young man, it must be rather pleasant to have the certainty of success by the time one arrives in this world.  And as with people, so it is with buildings.

Wagner's Festspielhaus in Bayreuth

Pat and I saw last weekend a building, the success of which was assured before its first brick had ever been laid.  It opened in 1876 but, even today, it very difficult to obtain tickets to watch a performance there.  Demand for tickets outstrips supply by a factor of ten to one.  Applicants must apply for tickets every year and eventually, after about ten years if one is fortunate, one reaches the top of the list.  Miss an application one year and one has to start all over again.  Traffic in tickets is forbidden and may result in the eventual buyer being refused admission.

Interior of the Festspielhaus

The building that we saw was the Festspielhaus in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth. This is the opera house that was specially built for the performance of the operas of Richard Wagner, then and now seen as one of Germany’s greatest composers.  Every summer, tens of thousands of Wagner fans are attracted to the Festspielhaus and its annual music festival at which only operas by Wagner are performed.  Wagner did not have a well ordered existence because of his political activities, his poverty and his hectic love life.  He was always occupied in running away from his creditors. He was fortunate that Ludwig II of Bavaria became king in 1864.

King Ludwig and Wagner
We have already written elsewhere on this website about Ludwig and about our visits thirty years ago to his “fairy tale” castles at Neuschwanstein and Linderhof.  In any event, Ludwig loved Wagner’s operas and became his patron.  Wagner lived for a time in Ludwig’s capital city of Munich, but in 1870 was forced to move on for the usual reason and decided to settle in the relatively small city of Bayreuth, which lies 150 miles to the north of Munich.

Today the population of Bayreuth is only about 75,000. Wagner chose Bayreuth because its existing 18th century opera house, the Margrave which we also saw, had the very large stage essential for the performance of his works.  However he must have been frustrated to discover, after relocating to Bayreuth, that the Margrave’s orchestra pit was too small to accommodate his large number of musicians.  His solution was to build in Bayreuth a new opera house, the Festspielhaus, exactly to his specifications.  The foundation stone was laid on May 22 1872, which was Wagner’s 59th birthday.  He managed to have the project funded by Ludwig, who by this time was almost as short of money as Wagner.

Festspielhaus orchestra pit
Many of the ideas which Wagner incorporated into the design of the Festspielhaus were highly innovative.  For example, the darkening of the auditorium during performances and the locating of the orchestra in a pit out of the view of the audience were unknown elsewhere at the time.  The acoustics are generally considered to be superb.  The premiere performance at the Festspielhaus took place on August 13 1876.

Just as a person with great advantages at the start of his life, such as the Duke of Westminster’s heir, has very superior godparents present at his baptism, so it was with this building destined for success.  The opening of the Festspielhaus was attended by numerous royals and members of the nobility including the Kaiser, the King of Brazil and of course Ludwig of Bavaria.  Many famous composers also attended, including Tchaikovsky from Russia who correctly predicted that “our children and grandchildren” would be around to see the Bayreuth festival.  The 1876 festival was an artistic triumph, but a financial disaster. Yet, over the years, the Festspielhaus has survived this and other adversities.   In particular, it survived the Second World War undamaged, even though a large part of the city of Bayreuth was destroyed by allied air raids.

Click on player below to see a video of the inside the Festspielehaus in Bayreuth.

One particular adversity that the Bayreuth festival could well have done without was the enthusiastic support of the Nazi regime during the 1930s. Wagner died in 1883 and is buried in Bayreuth but, during his lifetime, he publicized his anti-semitic views.  Adolf Hitler, who was born after Wagner’s death, found these views very much to his taste. Hitler became a great lover of Wagner’s music and made frequent visits to Bayreuth, where he became friendly with members of the Wagner family. The family, then and now, is responsible for producing the festival each year and has inevitably been tarnished by this connection.

Katharina Wagner
To this day, there is an unofficial ban on the playing of Wagner’s work in Israel. It’s not illegal to play it. It’s just not done to play it. There is no suggestion that Wagner’s work is not of the highest quality or that he was personally responsible for activities of Nazis over 50 years after his death.  It is simply that Wagner and his music are seen by many to be symbols of a regime under which they or their ancestors suffered.  Wagner’s great-granddaughter Katherina, who presently manages the festival, has recently invited Israeli orchestras to play at the Festspielhaus, but this is probably a situation that only time can cure.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on November 2, 2010.