Scholar asserts Hollywood avidly aided Nazis

'Heil hitler!': Ben Urwand draws on uncited archives to argue Hollywood cooperated with German regime’s global propaganda effort

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: June 27, 2013 5:05 am

The list of institutions and industries that have been accused of whitewashing their links to the Third Reich is long,including various governments,the Vatican,Swiss banks and corporations like IBM,General Motors and DuPont.

In “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler,” Ben Urwand draws on a wealth of previously uncited documents to argue that Hollywood studios,in an effort to protect the German market for their movies,not only acquiesced to Nazi censorship but also actively and enthusiastically cooperated with that regime’s global propaganda effort.

In the 1930s “Hollywood is not just collaborating with Nazi Germany,” Urwand said by telephone from Cambridge,Massachussetts where he is currently at Harvard’s prestigious Society of Fellows,“It’s also collaborating with Adolf Hitler,the person and human being.” Urwand’s book is to be published in October by Harvard University Press but his research,which was summarised this month in the online magazine Tablet,is already creating a stir.

That the German government meddled in the film industry was chronicled in the American press but Urwand,35,offers the most stinging take by far,drawing on material from German and American archives to argue that the relationship between Hollywood and the Third Reich ran much deeper — and went on much longer — than any scholar has so far suggested. On page after page,he shows studio bosses,many of them Jewish immigrants,cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and,according to one document,helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.

Even Jack Warner,comes in for some revisionist whacks. It was Warner who personally ordered that the word “Jew” be removed from all dialogue in the 1937 film “The Life of Emile Zola,” Urwand writes,and his studio was the first to invite Nazi officials to its Los Angeles headquarters to screen films and suggest cuts. “There’s a whole myth that Warner Brothers were crusaders against fascism. But they were the first to try to appease the Nazis in 1933,” he said.

In the German state archives in Berlin,Urwand found a January 1938 letter from the German branch of 20th-Century Fox asking whether Hitler would share his opinions on American movies,and signed “Heil Hitler!”

He also uncovered detailed records of regular studio visits by German officials,including Georg Gyssling,the special consul assigned to monitor Hollywood,who watched films,dictated scene-by-scene requests for cuts. Sometimes entire films were quashed. Urwand said that he found nearly 20 films intended for American audiences that German officials significantly altered or squelched.

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