Berlinale award withdrawn over founding director’s Nazi past

Organizers of the Berlinale film festival have withdrawn its prestigious Alfred-Bauer prize after revelations that Bauer, its founding director, was a high-ranking Nazi.

Berlinale award withdrawn over founding director's Nazi past
An Alfred-Bauer prize being presented in 2016. Photo: DPA

An investigation by Die Zeit daily highlighted Bauer's standing in the Nazi party, the organizers said on their Facebook page ahead of the festival, which starts on February 20th.

The organizers referred to a report published Wednesday in Die Zeit newspaper “which cast new light on the role of Alfred Bauer, the first director of the Berlin International Film Festival, in the film politics of
the National Socialists.

“The interpretation of these sources suggests that he had held significant positions during the Nazi era. In view of these new findings, the Berlinale will suspend the 'Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize' with immediate effect,” the organizers said.

They added that “we welcome the research and its publication… and will seize the opportunity to begin a deeper research on the festival history with the support of external experts.”

Die Zeit has carried out painstaking research notably by trawling through national archives. In doing so the publication found that Bauer, who directed the festival from 1951 to 1976, held a high rank in Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Göbbels's powerful Reich Film Directorate.

The weekly also found that, according to Nazi era documentation, Bauer belonged to the Nazi party and was “an avid SA man,” the SA being the Nazi party's Sturmabteilung paramilitary wing.

Bauer, who died in 1986, whereupon the prize in his name was established, also played a key role in the surveillance of actors, producers and other members of the film industry which was in Göbbel's iron grip during the Third Reich.

After World War II Bauer sought to erase all traces of his Nazi past, according to Die Zeit, even putting it about that he had resisted the regime.

Six years after the regime's final demise with the end of the conflict he was named Berlinale director and helped the event become one of the three biggest global filmfests alongside Cannes and Venice.

This year's festival jury will be headed up by British actor Jeremy Irons to select a winning entry that is seen as opening up new perspectives in cinematic art.

Previous winning films include Alain Resnais's “Aimer, boire et chanter” (Life of Riley) (2014) and Zhang Yimou's 2003 film “Hero”.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German justice contaminated by Nazis in post-war years

Germany's justice system was still filled with former Nazis well into the 1970s, as the Cold War coloured efforts to root out fascists, according a damning official inquiry presented Thursday.

Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report
Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report "State Security in the Cold War". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

In the 600-page collection of findings entitled “State Security in the Cold War”, historian Friedrich Kiessling and legal scholar Christoph Safferling focused on the period from the early 1950s until 1974.

Their research found that between 1953 and 1959, around three in four top officials at the federal prosecutor’s office, which commissioned the report, had belonged to the Nazi party.

More than 80 percent had worked in Adolf Hitler’s justice apparatus, and it would take until 1972 before they were no longer in the majority.

“On the face of it they were highly competent lawyers… but that came against the backdrop of the death sentences and race laws in which they were involved,” said Margaretha Sudhof, state secretary at the justice ministry, unveiling the report.

“These are disturbing contradictions to which our country has long remained blind.”

‘Combat mission’

It was not until 1992, two years after Germany’s national reunification, that the last prosecutor with a fascist background left the office.

“There was no break, let alone a conscious break, with the Nazi past” at the federal prosecutor’s office, the authors concluded, stressing “the great and long continuity” of the functions held and “the high number” of officials involved in Hitler’s regime.

Chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank commissioned the study in 2017. The federal prosecutor’s office is one of Germany’s most powerful institutions, handling the most serious national security cases including those involving terrorism and espionage.

With more than 100 prosecutors, it is “the central actor in the fight against terror,” the report authors said, underlining its growing role in the decades since the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States.

The researchers were given unfettered access to hundreds of files labelled classified after the war, and found that rooting out alleged communists was often prioritised over other threats, including from the far right.

“In the 1950s the federal prosecutor’s office had a combat mission – not a legal but a political one: to pursue all the communists in the country,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said in a summary of the report.

‘Recycling’ Nazis

The fact that West Germany widely used former officials from the Nazi regime in its post-war administration had long been known.

For example, Hans Globke served as chief of staff and a trusted confidant to former conservative West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer between 1953 and 1963 and was responsible for recruitment to top posts.

However, Globke had also been a senior civil servant in the Nazi-era interior ministry and was involved in the drafting of the 1935 Nuremberg race laws that imposed the first dramatic restrictions on Jews.

In recent years, systematic digging into the past of key ministries and institutions has unearthed a troubling and previously hidden degree of “recycling” of Third Reich officials in the post-war decades.

A 2016 government report revealed that in 1957, more than a decade after the war ended, around 77 percent of senior officials at the justice ministry had been members of the Nazi party. That study, also carried out by Safferling, revealed that the number of former Nazis at the ministry did not decline after the fall of the regime but actually grew in the 1950s.

Part of the justification was cynical pragmatism: the new republic needed experienced civil servants to establish the West German justice system. Furthermore, the priorities of the Allies who won the war and “liberated” the country from the Nazis were quickly turned upside down in the Cold War context.

After seeking to de-Nazify West Germany after 1945, the aim quickly shifted to building a capitalist bulwark against the communist threat. That approach often meant turning a blind eye to Germans’ previous involvement in the Third Reich.

In recent years, Germany has embarked on a twilight attempt to provide justice for concentration camp victims, placing several former guards in their 90s on trial for wartime crimes.