Berlin Film Festival Acknowledges Founder's Nazi Past

Alfred Bauer
Courtesy of the Berlin Film Festival

An independent study confirmed media reports that Berlinale founder Alfred Bauer was a key figure in Nazi film propaganda and that, after World War II, he deliberately lied about his involvement with Hitler's regime.

The Berlin Film Festival has come clean about its founder, Alfred Bauer, acknowledging the man who launched Germany's premier cinema event 70 years ago had close ties to the Nazi regime and was a key figure in Joseph Goebbels' propaganda efforts.

The festival on Wednesday announced the findings of an independent study it commissioned with the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History to look into Bauer's past. It found that Bauer's role in the Nazi's propaganda efforts "was more significant than previously known and was systematically covered up by him after 1945."

Bauer, who died in 1986, served as an advisor to the Reichsfilmintendanz, the body set up by Propaganda Minister Goebbels to direct official film policy under the Nazi government and make sure German movies were in accordance with Adolf Hitler's racist and antisemitic ideology. The new study, conducted by Dr. Tobias Hof, revealed that Bauer was a devoted Nazi. He signed up to various National Socialists organizations as early as 1933, the year Hitler took power, and, in 1937, officially joined the Nazi party.

In his work for the Reichsfilmintendanz, Hof concludes, Bauer "contributed to the functioning, stabilization, and legitimation of the Nazi regime." During Bauer's time with the Reichsfilmintendanz, the division authorized such films as Veit Harlan's Kolberg (1945), a war drama meant to encourage the German population to fight the Allies to the last man. A Nazi file on Bauer calls him a "devoted" member of the SA, the Nazi Party's original paramilitary wing.

After the end of World War II, Bauer covered up his involvement, Hof found, "through deliberately false statements, half-truths, and claims and instead constructed an image with which he presented himself as an opponent of the Nazi regime."

It worked. Bauer was able to continue his career in the German film industry and when Oscar Martay, a film officer of the U.S. Army stationed in Berlin, persuaded the American military to fund the first Berlin Film Festival in 1951, he picked Bauer to run it. Bauer remained the Berlin Film Festival director through 1976.

For decades Alfred Bauer was held up as an emblem of the Berlin festival's supposed core values of openness and tolerance. Following his death in 1986, Berlin named a new award, the Alfred Bauer Prize, in his honor, recognizing work that "opens new perspectives on cinematic art."

But new revelations about Bauer's past, first reported in German newspaper Die Zeit in February this year, just ahead of the 70th Berlinale, sparked a reassessment of his legacy. The Alfred Bauer Prize was dropped (it has been replaced with a new, neutrally-named Silver Bear honor) and Berlin commissioned the independent study.

"The new and now scientifically researched findings about Alfred Bauer's responsibilities in the Reichsfilmintendanz and his behavior in the denazification process are startling," said Berlinale executive director Mariette Rissenbeek. "Nevertheless, they constitute an important element in the process of dealing with the Nazi past of cultural institutions which were founded after 1945. The question, therefore, arises as to which personnel-oriented continuities shaped the German cultural scene in the post-war years. The new knowledge also changes the view of the founding years of the Berlinale."