How Jack Warner Tried to Crush the Postwar German Film Industry (Book Excerpt)
The Warner Bros. founder argued, "He who controls the cinema, controls Germany."
This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
On June 16, 1945, one month after the German surrender, Jack Warner of Warner Bros., Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, Harry Cohn of Columbia, Clifford Work of Universal, Barney Balaban of Paramount and MGM's Eddie Mannix and Francis Harmon, a Hays Office employee, gathered at the Pentagon in Washington in advance of a three-week European tour at the invitation of the Allied forces so they could get a firsthand understanding of the war and of postwar conditions.
The executives were eager to reestablish a market for their films in Germany. On July 1, they visited Hamburg and inspected the incredible damage. "Beneath our plane," they noted, "the whole vast panorama of urban destruction unfolded." On July 3, the executives flew to Munich. They were meant to begin the day with a visit to Berchtesgaden. There was not enough time for this, however, so the executives contented themselves with a tour of the Nazi Party headquarters and the beer hall where Hitler had carried out his putsch. They also made a motor trip to Dachau that day, but they did not leave behind an extensive record of their reaction. "Less than 5,000 of the camp's 38,000 inmates remained at the time of our visit," one noted. Warner took a couple of snapshots, and then they drove back to Munich, where they had "a festive dinner and celebration."
After the trip, Harmon drafted a report to the War Department, which he sent to the executives for approval, expressing gratitude for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and noting that the German film industry would soon be reinstated. Very quickly, Harmon received a series of urgent telegrams from Warner. "We should not advise that the German motion picture industry be reinstated," Warner said. "Am sure we can produce in this country all pictures necessary for Germany." He insisted that Harmon attach the following message to the end of the report: "If it is true that 'He who controls the cinema, controls Germany' and if the Allies will not permit Germans to rebuild the munitions industry, they should not be permitted for any reason, even if temporary, to rebuild a motion picture industry."
The report was sent, but nothing more was said about the European trip. The executives had witnessed the devastation, and toured one of the most notorious concentration camps in Europe. They had seen firsthand one of the sites where the murder of the Jews had taken place. But they did not put it on the screen. Decades would pass before any reference to the Holocaust appeared in American feature films.