Posted Tuesday, December 12, 2000

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December 11, 2000


Nazi hate film maker looks back with some regrets

by Adam Tanner

BERCHTESGADEN, Germany - When the Nazi leadership wanted to prepare the German public for the brutality of the Holocaust, it commissioned the anti-Semitic movie "The Eternal Jew", the most notorious hate film ever made.

The man who made that film, Fritz Hippler, today sits in a hospital room in the Alpine town of Berchtesgaden, his window overlooking the mountain where Adolf Hitler built his Eagle's Nest residence. Saying he may die soon, the 91-year-old agreed to discuss the film and his life in which he served as an ardent Nazi party member and head of Germany's propaganda film department.

"After all the bloodshed took place, I fully believe that the film can be considered a milestone on the road to the Holocaust," he said in slow, measured speech.

"I am ashamed for many things but I cannot be ashamed about this thing," he said. "They were not killed because of my intentions, my will or my order." He took a long pause, and a awkward silence filled his private hospital room. His mind drifted from the reality of his own poor health to the haunting memories of the Third Reich.

Head of Reich's Film Department

During the crucial first part of World War Two from 1939 to 1943, Hippler exercised significant power as head of the Propaganda Ministry's film department, shaping what newsreels and feature films Germans saw. Photos from those years show a dashing, good looking man with neat, slicked-back hair in his 30s, one who by his own description was brash and self-confident.

GoebbelsA month after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Hippler's direct boss, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, (left) asked him to film scenes from the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, that became the core of The Eternal Jew.

In perhaps its most famous scene the film -- which called itself a documentary showing 'Jews as they really are' -- compared the migration of rats with those of Jews, showing close ups of hordes of rats scurrying about.

"I just did what Goebbels told me. I didn't want to debate this topic with Goebbels because it would have been useless," Hippler said. "Of course I didn't feel that one could compare Jews with rats." Another scene, aiming at showing how Jews could easily mask their background in European society, shows Jews wearing traditional dress and curly locks, and then the same people, smiling and clean shaven, dressed in suits and ties.

Smiling Prisoners

"It seems like they are happy, but they are all Nazi prisoners, and their smiling in the pictures does not show inner happiness, but was just a way of saying 'cheese'," Hippler said. The film later includes a segment of a speech in which Hitler warns that war would lead to the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. Hippler's footage also shows Jews slaughtering cattle, scenes that prompted Goebbels to write: "Such brutishness makes you recoil with horror. The Jewish race must be annihilated."

With the Fuehrer's backing, the film was widely shown during the winter of 1940-41. In his private diary, Goebbels praised Hippler for his work. Today Hippler says Goebbels was the real film maker and that the propaganda minister exploited his documentary footage of Jewish life in Poland to his own ends.

"This film from its conception was under Goebbels's hand, and was the most miserable piece in a long string of anti-Semitic mistakes," Hippler told Reuters. "It upsets me greatly that Goebbels used my name for the credits."

Ewige JudeYet Hippler stayed quiet at the time and only complained after the war. Today The Eternal Jew is banned in Germany, although a few stores sell bootleg videos of it.

"Elderly people who lived in those times like to watch these old films," said one such Berlin dealer as he showed off a large collection of Nazi-era videos in the back room of his store.

A True Believer

Hippler makes no bones about his full backing for the Nazi programme. He was an early member of the party, joining in 1926. "For me it was important at that time to realise the pure ideas of National Socialism," said Hippler.

"For me, anti-Semitism was a by-product of National Socialism that one had to accept and could accept because anti-Semitism has a long tradition in Europe.

"Should I ... have fought a useless, senseless struggle against anti-Semitism? Should I have hindered the arrival of new, and clean (Nazi) structures?"

During the war, Hippler said he had heard but did not believe news about the Holocaust. "We heard a lot of news and absolute lies from the Allies. It was really hard to find out the truth in all this mass of information," he said. "We, all Germans, could not believe that these rumours were really true."

"When I filmed the pictures in the ghettos, there was no talk of Auschwitz or other horrible names we know today that we have heard so many times," he added.

But Hippler, like so many Germans from that era, denies personal responsibility on the road to the Holocaust.

"I, like many other people, was helpless to do something decisive to help the Jews," he said. "In many clashes with Jewish people I was standing against the mob when they were plundering.

"I know that probably all Jews have a bad opinion about me," he continued. "But on a personal level I have had no problems especially with my very old friends Goldenberg and Lowenthal and some others who warmly greeted me when they first saw me after the war. "They understood that I did not have any direct initiative in making the movie."

After the collapse of the Third Reich, Hippler was jailed for two years as a war criminal, then moved to idyllic Berchtesgaden in Bavaria where his wife ran a travel agency. The pair lived quietly for decades. Sitting in a chair dressed with a blue robe and covered by a blanket, Hippler is contradictory in assessing his life.

"If it were possible to annul everything (about the film) I would," he said. "Terrible things happened and I had many sleepless nights because of this."

But later, when talking about his life's greatest regret, he gave a surprising answer. "There are many possibilities. Perhaps it's that I could not care for my mother 100 percent as I could have," he said. "If someone asks me if I could go back in time and do something differently, I would say I would do it exactly the same."

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