History of the World According to the Movies: Part 64 – World War II: Nazi Germany

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Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator is a not so thinly veiled satire on Nazi Germany filmed while war was raging in Europe. Here Chaplin plays Adolf Hitler expy Adenoid Hynkel of Tomainia who’s a power hungry totalitarian despot with dreams of world domination. Chaplin hated the Nazis and made this movie specifically to reduce Hitler and his regime down to size. He also played on any similarities he had with Hitler such as the mustache as well as did thorough research for this comedy. For instance, Hitler actually did have a globe in his office and his public speech sequence looks like it was a parodied scene from Triumph of the Will. Though it was banned in Nazi Germany, it’s said that Hitler actually saw it twice. Chaplin would’ve given anything to know what Hitler thought of it. Still, this is truly one of the greats.

World War II is a common topic in a lot of historical films, wait a minute, more like a whole film genre. Not to mention, it’s such a popular history topic that most of what you saw on The History Channel consisted of World War II stuff during its Hitler Channel days, which will be sorely missed. Of course, it is one of those times in history that people most fondly remember. Many of us know and/or related to people who served in it and there are plenty of veterans still alive today though they’re dying off as we speak. Still, unless you live in Germany or Japan it’s a war many people remember fondly since it’s a time when we were fighting countries who either attacked us or that one of our enemies was a truly evil dictator known for committing great crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, many World War II movies usually have themes that pertain to love of country, courage, camaraderie, and all the things of how war can bring the best in us. They also show  awesome weaponry.

Of course, you couldn’t talk about World War II with Nazi Germany which lasted from 1933 to 1945. During this time Germany was ruled by a totalitarian dictator and the closest thing to the Anti-Christ Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party best known for being so fanatically racist that they’d commit genocide for it as well as having ambitions for world domination. Since they started things like World War II and the Holocaust, there could be not doubt that they were the bad guys and have been portrayed as convenient enemies in fiction. They are also known for their stylish uniforms, advanced weaponry, and other things. Yet, much of the bad things that happened in Nazi Germany at the time continue to haunt the German people to this day. Nevertheless, many WWII movies tend to have some misconceptions of Nazi Germany which I shall list accordingly.

Adolf Hitler:

Hitler had very good vision. (He was extremely far sighted that he couldn’t read without his glasses unless the text was very large. Yet, in most movies, he’s not wearing any when he’s in his headquarters.)

Hitler wore civilian clothes during World War II. (He actually didn’t wear civilian clothes during the war unless you count his pajamas. Also, it would’ve been unthinkable for him to receive an officer or approve a military plan while not in uniform.)

Adolf Hitler was an evil genius. (He was kind of an asshole who was kind of shitty at everything yet somehow unbelievably successful kind of like his Charlie Chaplin expy in The Great Dictator or if Forrest Gump was used as a Bond villain. Not to mention, he receives too much credit made by people around him and a lot of his own contributions to the German war effort {besides starting it} were failures. In short, he was an evil bastard with more luck than brains.)

Nazi Party:

All Germans were Nazis. (There were plenty of German civilians and soldiers who didn’t agree with Hitler and his policies, especially if they were Jewish or knew someone who was like Oskar Schindler. Most of the kids in the Hitler Youth had little choice of whether to join or not and much of the military consisted of conscripts as well.)

German aristocrats supported the Nazis. (Some did but a lot of them didn’t. Sure there were German noblemen who supported the Nazis like Herman Goering and there were sympathizers outside the country {like Charles Lindbergh before the war}. Many aristocrats in Germany weren’t too keen on the Nazi equality approach and sometimes saw the Nazis as a bunch of lower-class hicks since Nazism was a populist grassroots movement despite being anti-democratic and racist. Many aristocrats were also officers in the German army and Hitler hated officers. Also, some German nobles were sent to concentration camps themselves, many were involved in Hitler’s assassination plot, and some noble families were even notable for their Nazi opposition like the Hapsburgs. Still, you think noblemen would make ideal Nazi supporters but it really wasn’t the case. In fact, Anti-Nazi noblemen were disproportionately more common than the arrogant Nazi aristocrat you see in films.)

The SS and Gestapo were utterly evil.

The swastika has always been a symbol of racial and ethnic superiority. (This is only because the Nazis made the swastika their logo. It’s actually an ancient symbol from India and has a very different meaning. In Japan, a swastika is used to denote a Buddhist temple.)

Most Nazis had blond hair and blue eyes.

The Nazis had rediscovered the lost city of Tanis in 1936. (It was never lost in the first place and there have been numerous archaeological digs before the Nazis ever took power. Also, it was under British control.)

Nazi Germany had an efficiently run government and had a decent economy. (Actually the Nazi government was as inefficient as you’d expect most governments to be as well as full of internal corruption and egotistical rivalries. Also, prior to the war, the German economy was on the verge of collapse and might have been the reason why the Nazi Germany took Austria and Czechoslovakia before military conquest was the only thing to prevent economic meltdown because there weren’t free targets left to exploit.)

The Knights Cross was a Nazi decoration for actions in the Spanish Civil War. (It’s a World War II decoration.)

Popularity of the Nazi party was driven by racial superiority and the idea of a strong military. (Actually most of the core of the Nazi political machinery was the urban lower class consisting of impoverished skilled workers, intellectuals, and nationalistic military men. Your typical Nazi supporter would’ve been a recent lower class arrival particularly someone who was used to being relatively well-off and respected but had fallen on hard times as a result of the Depression. Mostly these people were angry for being “robbed of their rightful place” in the high status parts of society and wanted to get back up there to form a new ruling elite. Popularity of the Nazi party was driven more or less by envy, resentment, and fears of inferiority. You can see why the Nazis weren’t well liked by the Prussian aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the intellectuals of the Weimar Republic.

On the day of the July 20 plot, Otto Remer arrived at Josef Goebbels place unannounced. Goebbels placed a cyanide capsule in this mouth and handed the phone to Remer hoping he’d speak to Hitler to confirm that his Fuhrer was still alive. (Contrary to Valkyrie, the scene with Remer and Goebbels didn’t happen that way. From Imdb: “Remer issued the orders to secure Berlin as per the implementation of Operation Valkyrie but realized that something was wrong. Remer immediately telephoned Goebbels and discussed the matter with him. He was then invited to visit Goebbels whereupon Goebbels arranged telephone contact with the Wolfs Lair and Remer was allowed to confirm that Hitler was still alive.”)

The Wehrmacht:

The German Wehrmacht was capable of taking over most of Europe despite being rubbish shots.

German soldiers greeted each other by using the Hitler salute. (Actually the Wehrmacht only used the Hitler salute when they were greeted by Der Fuhrer himself. Yet, you see German officers Heil Hitlering each other in World War II movies all the time regardless of whether they’re in the Wehrmacht or the SS.)

The Wehrmacht was a much nobler than the SS. (Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean it was clean because it wasn’t. The rank and file of the German military was just as susceptible of Hitler’s race-hating propaganda as the rest of Germany. It also ran brutal POW camps for Soviet prisoners, enforced illegal Commissar and Commando Orders {instructions to enforce Soviet commissars and British special operations troops out of hand}, and helped the understaffed SS Einsatzgruppen transport and massacre Jews. By 1939, despite that their personnel weren’t technically Nazis {party membership was banned in the German military} the Wehrmacht was basically like any other branch of government in Nazi Germany, highly politicized, and constantly competing for Hitler’s attention and patronage. Besides, the Wehrmacht’s increasing politicization came at the expense of its military professionalism. By 1941, its operational plans had become seriously divorced from the reality as they based more of their planning upon racist assumptions about their enemies, which they didn’t attempt to redress. Still, the deeply perception of a “clean Wehrmacht” was promoted by the self-serving memoirs of the German brass who escaped execution after the war. The truth is that while the Wehrmacht wasn’t as evil as the SS, they still had a deep commitment to Nazism as well as a depressing litany of war crimes.)

The German officers who tried to kill Hitler were liberals who actually cared about the Jewish people as well as wished to close the concentration camps holding them. (While Valkyrie portrays the conspirators as democrats who believed in equality, most of the plotters were aristocrats who were primarily monarchist and extremely conservative with anti-Semitic and classist views. Their objections ranged from Hitler being too murderous toward the “gutter races,” to empowering the lower and middle classes or because he was simply losing the war. Many of them also had every intention of fighting on against the Soviet Union as well. Still, it would’ve been difficult for an audience to get behind protagonists who only disagreed with 40% of Hitler’s ideals.)

The Germans lost the Battle of the Bulge because they were running out of fuel. (They were running out of other supplies. Also, Eisenhower denounced this in a press conference.)

German weaponry was rather high tech. (Most German soldiers were armed with a Mauser bolt-action rifle, the Karabiner 98 Kurz which was a slight modernization of a weapon their grandfathers would’ve been familiar with, later they used any gun they could find. However, the Nazis did create a lot of military technology many armed forces still use today, particularly in the machine gun category. Still, their greatest wartime innovation actually isn’t a weapon at all but a “jerry can” that could be opened and closed without tools, was self-sealing without additional parts, included a spout rather than required a funnel, couldn’t be overfilled as a fail-safe against heat and vapor expansion, and was still cheap to manufacture despite being much more sturdy. It’s been used by both military and civilians to this day {so you’ve probably seen one or even own one} but you wouldn’t see it as part of the best in Nazi military technology. Sure a “jerry can” is just a container you may use to carry gas for your mower but it would something your Allied soldiers would’ve loved to get their hands on.)

German soldiers dropped leaflets to African Free French soldiers that they’d be treated well if they surrendered. (German soldiers may have stuck to the Geneva Convention when they captured British and French soldiers, but they’d occasionally massacre African prisoners of war.)

Germany conquered Turkey and Switzerland by 1942. (Does the person who made Enemy at the Gates know that these countries remained neutral and independent during World War II? Also, if Switzerland was already conquered by Germany at this point in the war, then why would Allied prisoners desperately want to escape there? )

German soldiers were allowed to wear beards. (German regulations prohibited the wearing of beards except in the front lines and in other situations shaving was impossible. Having German soldiers wearing beards in Stalingrad would make sense. Yet, a desk sergeant in Berlin wouldn’t have one.)

German vehicles were emblazoned with Nazi Party swastikas. (They were emblazoned with the Balkenkreuz a straight armed cross which was the emblem of the Wehrmacht.)

All German soldiers had buzz-cuts. (Most Wehrmacht haircuts were about 1-2 inches long.)

The Heer (German Army):

German panzer tanks closely resembled Sherman tanks with the exception of Nazi decoration.

The MP-40 sub-machine gun was a common weapon for the German military. (You see this German gun a lot in movies but it really wasn’t a very common weapon in real life and was only really useful in short range fire fights like in Stalingrad. It was issued to paratroopers, tank crews as well as platoon and squad leaders.)

Halftracks were the primary transport vehicles for the German Army. (Actually these vehicles you usually see in World War II movies only moved the heaviest German artillery pieces. Most German supplies including the majority of light and medium artillery was pulled by horse drawn limbers. Many suggest that the Germans didn’t resort to chemical warfare during World War II was due to their reliance on horse powered transport to support their mobile style of maneuver warfare. Still, if anyone saw a WWII movie in which most of the German Army’s supplies was moved by horses, they would probably complain that the filmmakers didn’t do their research {except maybe WWII veterans}. And yet, the German Army actually did rely on horse transport that many would consider obsolete by the 1940s.)

The Heer was composed mostly of panzer units. (Actually it was mostly composed of infantry units. In the German Army, pure infantry divisions outnumbered panzer divisions by at least 5 to 1.)

Most German Army units had mechanized equipment. (Actually the vast majority of mechanized equipment went to the panzer divisions while infantry divisions marched everywhere on foot relying almost exclusively on horses for logistical support. WWII Heer infantry divisions were almost identical to those in WWI in this respect. Still, even at the height of German motorization, it’s said that only 20% of German Army divisions were fully motorized. Rommel’s Army in North Africa was one of them yet only it was impossible to rely on horses in the desert. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from watching World War II films.)

Panzer tanks were reliable weapons. (I know that German tanks are seen as a marvel in military technology but Nazi tank technology wasn’t very good. Not to mention, German manufacturing wasn’t cranking out as many tanks as the US and Russia were. Until partway to the German campaign in Russia, the Germans were building fast and relatively light tanks, which were good against people but terrible against other tanks. Even Rommel could admit this. A single Russian KV-2 tank held up the elements of the 6th Panzer division for over a day. And in the ambush at Krasnogvardeysk, 5 KV-1 tanks destroyed 43 German tanks with no losses whatsoever. Their most reliable tank was the medium Panzer IV which had an equal armament and armor as a Sherman tank and the Russian T-34, which would soon outnumber the German tanks significantly. Besides, it was an infantry tank designed not to engage in armor but it was easy to accessorize. Then you have the late war heavy Tiger and Panther tanks which were fearsome opponents on paper but they also suffered from rushed development and were never as reliable in service as their American and Russian counterparts. They also couldn’t stay out in the open very long since they made easy targets for Allied planes. So much for German tank technology.)

The Panzerfaust was a rocket launcher. (It was a anti-tank weapon with a huge gun but it didn’t shoot up rockets.)

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt:

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was a good friend to Erwin Rommel and supported the July 20 plot. (Unlike what The Desert Fox implies, Runstedt wasn’t the genial old man the movie makes him to be. In fact, Runstedt and Rommel had a contentious relationship at best. His disagreements with Hitler were purely tactical and he had no sympathy at all for the July 20 plotters in which he called their efforts, “base, bare-faced treachery.”)

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel:

Erwin Rommel was disgusted by Adolf Hitler’s command of the war. (He eventually did but not at first. He disagreed with Hitler’s tactics and brutality but he did fight for Hitler whether you like it or not. Yet, he was never a Nazi and there’s very little evidence he ever personally held any anti-Semitic beliefs. Still, while The Desert Fox doesn’t show it, Rommel sincerely admired Hitler and remained on good terms with him personally at least until the Second Battle of El Alamein when Hitler ordered “victory or death,” after Rommel requested permission to retreat and resupply. It was an order he’d promptly ignore with his faith in Der Fuhrer broken. As for looks, he bores a much closer resemblance to Daniel Craig than James Mason.)

When ordered to commit suicide, Erwin Rommel couldn’t bear to tell his fifteen-year-old son that he was being taken away to die. (Moving scene in The Desert Fox but it’s wrong. As his son Manfred remembers, Rommel just promptly told him, “I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour.”)

Erwin Rommel was involved with Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to assassinate Hitler with a bomb planted in Der Fuhrer’s briefcase. (Well, it’s actually a bit complicated. Rommel did want peaceful negotiations with the Allies as well as Hitler removed and certainly knew about Stauffenberg’s plot as well as lent his support, but most historians doubt that he was involved with the July 20 plot. He just didn’t think assassinating him first was a good idea since he believed it would spark a civil war between Germany and Austria as well as make Hitler a martyr for a lasting cause. Instead, he wanted Hitler arrested and tried for his crimes, then executed like Saddam Hussein was. Still, evidence shows he couldn’t believe that Der Fuhrer was responsible for the Nazi regime’s crimes and ascribed the blame to various subordinates.)

Erwin Rommel had one child. (He actually had two. Aside from his son Manfred, he had a “niece” named Gertrud Stemmer he sired in an illicit affair with a local fruit seller named Wallburga {this happened before Rommel met his wife}. He continued to support her from the time she was 15 and they remained close for the rest of his life. He’d also wear a plaid scarf his daughter made for him during his African campaign. Gertrud was 30 when her “uncle” committed suicide.)

Erwin Rommel was in perfect health during the Normandy breakout. (He had his staff car shot up by R. A. F. fighter bombers over a week before Operation Cobra started that left him badly wounded. At the time of the Normandy breakout, he was in a French hospital.)

Erwin Rommel was a Field Marshal during the North Africa campaign. (He wouldn’t be promoted to Field Marshal until the war shifted to Western Europe. In North Africa, he was still a Lieutenant General.)

Colonel Count von Stauffenberg:

Count von Stauffenberg lost his right eye in North Africa. (He actually lost his left eye as well as his right hand, and two fingers on his left hand. He’d later joke that he never really knew what to do with so many fingers when he still had all of them.  He also had been treated for his wounds without morphine or any other anesthetic. Still, Stauffenberg did look a little bit like Tom Cruise, except that he was almost a head taller than the actor who portrayed him in Valkyrie.)

Count von Stauffenberg approached Erwin Rommel when the Allied armies were sweeping across the Rhine. (The Germans were still containing the Allies at Normandy at this time. The Allies wouldn’t break out until after the assassination attempt.)

Count von Stauffenberg was a fan of Richard Wagner. (He hated Wagner.)

Count von Stauffenberg was a decorated World War I veteran. (He would’ve been too young fight in that war.)

Count von Stauffenberg placed the briefcase bomb on a peg table leg during the July 20 plot. (Contrary to Valkyrie, Stauffenberg placed the bomb on a block table leg, which proved crucial in saving Hitler’s life. This is because a guy named Colonel Brandt moved the briefcase bomb to the other side of the block away from Hitler because he was trying to get a better view of the map. The blast blew away from Hitler and towards Brandt, ironically killing the latter.)

Captain Wilm Hosenfield:

Wilm Hosenfield was a high ranking senior combat officer in the German Army. (Contrary to The Pianist, He was only a captain and served as a “sports and culture officer” {activities director} in Warsaw.)

Wilm Hosenfield rescued Wladyslaw Szpilman on a personal whim. (Though suggested in The Pianist, Szpilman wasn’t the only one he rescued nor was his kindness towards him not on a whim {though the movie was told in his point of view so Hosenfield’s kindness would seem this way}. Hosenfield had used his position to save numerous Jews and Poles from death as far back as September of 1939. He even worshiped in the local Catholic churches as well as made an effort to learn Polish so he could talk to those he befriended. Unfortunately, he’d later die in a Soviet prison camp in 1952.)

General Henning von Tresckow:

During the attempt to blow up Hitler’s plane, General Henning von Tresckow delivered the bomb to Colonel Brandt at the aircraft and later retrieved it from Berlin. (Contrary to Valkyrie, Tresckow’s deputy Fabian von Schlabrendorff did both in real life in March of 1943 before Count von Stauffenberg was crippled in the P-40 attack that April. Oh, and he was still a Colonel at the time and wouldn’t be promoted until June 1944.)

General Karl Matzer:

General Karl Matzer was an impulsive and hardcore Nazi. (Contrary to Massacre in Rome, he was a reserved officer who was cautious in implementing harsh policies.)

General Ludwig Beck:

Ludwig Beck was in his civilian clothes during the July 20 plot and managed to commit suicide afterwards. (The day of the Hitler death attempt with the suitcase bomb was the first time Beck wore his military uniform in 6 years contrary to Valkyrie. Also, he failed to kill himself twice that another officer ended up finishing him off.)

The Kriegsmarine (German Navy):

German U-boats usually shot defenseless young sailors who were stranded from sunken enemy fleets. (Actually, though Hitler ordered them to do so, most German U-boat crews usually assisted the survivors of ships they sunk usually because the captain could be interrogated, used as a bargaining chip, or convinced to switch sides. Some stories have German U-boat crews giving survivors navigation aids and supplies. Most German U-boat captains were also afraid of how their crew would be treated in the event of captured so many conveniently ignored Hitler’s orders. The Allies, on the other hand, would attack German U-boats on sight regardless of whether or not there were rescued merchant men inside.)

In the spring of 1942, the U-571 was captured by an American submarine in which the crew went on board to steal its Enigma machine. (This is part of the plot to the movie U-571, which is seen as one of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time and for good reason. First, the real U-571 was never captured but was actually sunk by an Australian plane off the coast of Ireland in 1944. Second, by 1942 the Allies had several Enigma machines already many of them in England’s Bletchley Park. Not only that, but the Enigma had already been deciphered by this point, like 7 months before the US entered the war. Thus, such mission by an American submarine crew would’ve been an unnecessary waste of tax dollars by this point, just saying. Not to mention, Tony Blair actually condemned U-571 in Parliament as an insult to the Royal Navy {who basically captured the Enigma machines with no help from the US}. Even worse, the U-571’s director managed to dedicate the film to the real sailors who captured the Enigma machines whose memories he just desecrated in the most tasteless gesture a filmmaker could ever make. It would be as if the British made a movie about their soldiers defeating the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. Still, this movie was inspired by a real story of the U-110’s capture by the HMS Bulldog back in 1941. Yet, the Bulldog’s crew was just after the codebooks.)

Schnellboots were referred to as “E-boats” by the Germans. (The Germans referred to them as “S-boats.” “E-boat” is an Allied designation.)

Very few sailors on a German U-boat crew believed in Nazism. (The German Navy may have been the least political of the Wehrmacht services. Yet, the number of true believers among U-boat crews was among the highest at least later on in the war since U-boat crews experienced staggering casualties {30,000-40,000 U-boat sailors died in the war}. Not to mention, most military recruits by then would’ve come straight out of the Hitler Youth either heavily indoctrinated or more entrenched in Nazi ideology. Still, you wouldn’t know it from Das Boot which takes place early in the war.)

Admiral Lutjens was a fanatical Nazi supporter. (He’s depicted this way in Sink the Bismarck!, but his support was far from enthusiastic in real life. He greeted everyone up to and including Hitler himself with the traditional German naval salute instead of “Heil Hitler.” He’d also wear his Imperial navy dagger on his Kriegsmarine uniform. His crew weren’t diehard Nazis either.)

The Luftwaffe (German Air Force):

The Luftwaffe was a formidable foe against Allied planes in World War II. (Yes, they’re seen as a formidable foe in World War II but they mostly were committed to a tactical bombing role and their strength as a fighting force was significantly damaged by the Battle of Britain. Though Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to strategically bomb major cities, it wasn’t equipped to do this. Yet, it was the first Air Force to use paratroopers, which greatly impressed the Allies that they built their own airborne divisions for Normandy.)

Herman Goering was late to the conference with Hitler that took place before the July 20 assassination attempt. (Goering wasn’t at the conference at all that day.)

Messerschmitts had British engines. (They had German engines made by Daimler-Benz unlike in Valkyrie.)

German paratroopers descended with a kit bag attached by a line to one leg. (This is an an American and British technique, not used by the Germans.)

The SS:

The Waffen SS was an elite Special Forces organization. (The only extra training the SS received was purely ideological and functioned more like the Secret Service than the Green Berets and thought of as a little more than thugs, not front line soldiers, at least before they started to push their recruitment as front line units which was in 1943. Not to mention, it was said that some SS divisions received worse combat training and equipment as non-SS divisions. No Waffen-SS unit ever achieved a better kill ratio than the Heer’s best troops.)

The Waffen SS was the unit that massacred Jews during the Holocaust. (It was the Einsatzgruppen-SS that were death squads and they consisted of 15,000 members in 6 groups with 2 never seeing any action. Still, they were responsible for the death of more than 1.3 million people. Their most infamous was the massacre of 33, 771 near Babi Yar, a ditch near the capital of Ukraine.)

The Waffen SS consisted of only German members. (It was a mostly volunteer organization that consisted of many recruits across Europe ranging from Germans, Austrians, White Russians to French, Scandinavians to even Muslim Bosniaks and Indians. It was kind of like a Nazi French Foreign Legion that had around a million personnel at its height. The reason being that while the German Army could only recruit German citizens, the Waffen-SS didn’t have such restriction.)

The SS wore black uniforms. (A common mistake in many World War II movies. From Imdb: “The Black SS uniforms were discontinued at the start of the war in 1939 and replaced by the green/gray uniform. Only Waffen SS tank crews wore black uniforms in combat. This was not, however, the all-black uniform worn by the pre-war SS, but rather a short, black waist-cut coat similar in style to that worn by tank crews in the Wehrmacht. “)

Amon Goeth:

Amon Goeth was a recipient of the 2nd class Iron Cross, the Sudetenland Medal, and the Silesian Eagle. (He never actually won any of these. Also, his importance in the political machinery of the Holocaust is overplayed in Schindler’s List. He was never promoted above the rank of Captain and never had any sort of political or military power.)

Amon Goeth was a very sadistic Nazi commandant who loved murdering people during the Holocaust. (Some people criticized the Spielberg for including such a “blatantly evil” villain like Goeth in Schindler’s List, claiming Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of him was too pointlessly cruel to be believable. However, unbeknownst to many viewers, Spielberg actually toned down the kind of monster Goeth was. Goeth was a guy who regularly tortured people in a special dungeon built under his villa for this specific purpose, fed prisoners alive to his starved dogs, shot playing children with his sniper rifle. He’s also believed to have personally murdered 500 people {amounting for a quarter of deaths that occurred in his camp} and much more. His camp had the highest death rate by far that didn’t include a gas chamber. And, yes, there are tons of evidence and documentation as well as countless witnesses for all of it. Not only that, but in September of 1944, Goeth would be relieved of his position as commandant at Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp as well as charged by the SS for failure to provide adequate food for prisoners under his charge, violation of concentration camp regulations regarding the treatment and punishment of prisoners, and others. However, the SS would commit him to a mental institution but would later be found by Polish and Amercian soldiers and executed not far from the site of his camp. Still, even toned down, he’s considered by AFI as the highest ranked non-fictional villain in movie history.)

The Gestapo:

The Gestapo wore those snazzy black outfits. (First, it was the SS who wore those. Second, since they were the secret police of the Third Reich, the Gestapo would either be wearing gray police uniforms or more often no uniforms at all. Actually, in Nazi Germany, you wouldn’t be able to recognize a member of the Gestapo.)

The Gestapo was ruthlessly efficient political police force in Nazi Germany. (They were also constantly understaffed and overworked and only counted on helpful German citizens or paid informers of occupied countries. Anne Frank and her family were turned in by an informer who worked for the Gestapo. Gestapo officers were selected primarily for their political reliability, rather than their professionalism {though there were effective agents who served there}. Yet, they weren’t as skillful with other espionage agencies as they were with sowing terror. The Third Reich’s truly scary counter-espionage agency had been the SD {security department within the SS} that were always driven to do their best, but even they weren’t that very effective. )

Gestapo Chief Herbert Kappler was a tired worn out man who’s disillusioned by the Nazi cause and thought that the fall of Nazi Germany was imminent. (Contrary to his Richard Burton portrayal in Massacre in Rome he was a zealous Nazi and was sent to Rome exactly for this reason. There, he organized round-ups of thousands of innocent victims, oversaw raids on Jewish homes for looted valuables, and was a key figure for transporting Italian Jews to Nazi death camps. Also, he was 37 years old. Oh, and the massacre was ordered by the SS and his superior was SS Captain Karl Wolff.)

The Hindenburg:

14 year old Werner Franz was doused with water once he escaped from the burning Hindenburg. (According to Wikipedia Franz: “escaped the flames after a water ballast tank overhead burst open and soaked him with water. He then made his way to the hatch and turned around and ran the other way, because the flames were being pushed by the wind towards the starboard side.” As of 2012, he’s still alive along with Werner Doehner who was 8 at the time.)

Circus performer Joseph Späh escaped by grabbing a landing rope from the Hindenburg. (There was no landing rope on the Hindenburg. According to Wikipedia he escaped by “smashing a window with his home movie camera (the film survived the disaster), and held on to the side of the window, jumping to the ground when the ship was low enough, surviving with only a broken ankle.”)
The Blutner baby grand piano was in the Hindenburg during its final season. (It was aboard during its 1936 season but not on its final flight in 1937.)

The Hindenburg’s crew repaired a tear in its cover as it drifted lower and lower in the Atlantic. (This happened but it was on the Great Zeppelin, not the Hindenburg.)

Captain Ernest Lehman and Dr. Hugo Eckener were very wary of the Nazi Party. (Contrary to the 1975 Hindenburg film, these two guys didn’t see eye to eye as far as the Nazis were concerned. Eckener hated the Nazis and made absolutely no secret about it while Lehman was very accommodating to the powers in Berlin to advance his career and the fortunes of the Zeppelin Company. Though the 1975 film has Lehman protesting using a ship to drop propaganda leaflets in 1936, he was perfectly eager to do this to the extent that he launched the ship in a dangerous wind condition, bashing its tail. Eckener actually lashed out against Lehman for endangering the ship to please the Nazis. Because of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels blacklisted Eckener in the press forever after despite him being a national {or international} hero.)

There was a conspiracy to destroy the Hindenburg airship. (Nope, the 1975 film gets this wrong. It was more or less due to a series of preventable events with the ignition coming out of nowhere.)

Miscellaneous:

No male spectator removed his hat and no military personnel saluted while a German national anthem was played by a military band. (This would simply not happen in Nazi Germany.)

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was behind the plot to assassinate Winston Churchill. (This is the plot in The Eagle has Landed but the guy was a member of the German Resistance who was involved in several plots to kill Hitler and shared information with British intelligence. It’s very unlikely that he’d sign off on a plot particularly under orders from Heinrich Himmler and would’ve at least done something to sabotage it. He chose his agents on their Anti-Nazism as much as their competence. Still, there actually was an attempt to kill Churchill {which included assassinating FDR and Stalin as well}. Yet, it was headed by Otto Skorzeny, the man who rescued Mussolini but the plan foiled before they could get anywhere near the leaders. Also, they knew that Churchill was away at Tehran at the time and the assassins were sent there.)

Banners in Nazi Germany had inscriptions in Gothic type during World War II. (Hitler actually banned all Gothic types in 1941, saying that they were of Jewish origin.)

Urban German churches in World War II had stain glass windows in place. (Priests, nuns, and other clergymen had removed the stained glass windows from the churches and buried them outside the cities so they wouldn’t be destroyed if the Allies bombed Germany.)

The SA stormtroopers were around in 1936. (The Brown shirts ceased to exist after The Night of the Long Knives in 1934. Though they lingered, it was significantly weakened, almost pointless since the SS had taken over most of their duties by this point.)

The Germans used Scopolamine during their interrogations. (It wasn’t tested as a truth drug until the 1950s.)

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and Henrich Himmler got a long great with each other. (They detested each other.)

Nazis enjoyed listening to Gustave Mahler. (Mahler’s music was banned in Nazi Germany because he was Jewish.)

Germany stood a chance of winning World War II. (Let’s just say Hitler was never really so close to winning World War II mostly because of his attempt to invade Russia. Let’s just say he should’ve learned from Napoleon that invading that country is never a good idea. Still, this resulted not only in utter disaster but also with Josef Stalin joining the Allies as he was going to be in the winner’s corner of the war no matter what.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 64 – World War II: Nazi Germany

  1. I loved The Great Dictator too. Charlie Chaplin was very brave to make it when he did. I had a lot of misconceptions about the Nazis. I always wondered how they gained so much power but what you wrote puts it in context.

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