Hitler’s History Films

David Welch looks at the dramatisation of Führerprinzip in the Nazi cinema, and how history films were used to propagate themes of anti-parliamentarianism and the concept of an individual leader of genius.

During the Third Reich the state commissioned a number of extravagant historical films, intended to strike a chord with German audiences, and to reinforce the notion of Führerprinzip (the leadership principle). The notion of a mystical figure embodying and guiding the nation’s destiny was derived from völkisch thought, and Adolf Hitler was  believed to have the will and power to actualise the Volksstaat (the people’s state).

However, as the embodiment of the people’s will, the God-like status bestowed upon Hitler posed certain problems for Nazi film-makers. Any dramatisation of him on screen would verge on the blasphemous, but there was no limit to the ways in which his capacity could be envisioned. So film-makers chose great figures of German history on whom they could project the Hitler prototype. Between 1937 and 1943 these included a poet (Friedrich Schiller), a sculptor (Andreas Schlüter), a scientist (Paracelsus), an explorer (Carl Peters), a statesman (Bismarck), a successful industrialist, and a king. Simultaneously, Hitler was exalted in Nazi propaganda as an amalgam of such geniuses.

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