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German Film Censorship in Occupied Paris 1942

 

We have acquired the extremely rare July 1942 self–congratulatory 36 page booklet called "Two Years." This was published by the German Propaganda Division in (Occupied) Paris, heralding two hard years of work in overseeing all press, radio, cinema, theatre, book publishing, advertising, posters and publicity for France. We show here the booklet's cover with the Propaganda Abteilung Frankreich's symbol, the Introduction by the Kommandeure, Oberleutnant Heinz Schmidtke; and the double page spread showing work in the "Filmprüfstelle" or Film Censorship Office.

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Lt. Col. Schmidtke was heavily involved with film censorship personally. For instance, he forbad the Wolfgang Lebeneiner film Bismarck in France as the historically–speaking vehemently anti–French stance of Bismarck might be "misinterpreted." He also forbad Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will in these war years; even though the film had won the prestigious cinematic Gold Medal in Paris in 1936. He encouraged the french language version of Hippler's Der ewige Jude (Le peril Juif); and made sure it was in cinemas in conjunction with the 1942 major anti–Jewish exhibition 'Le Juif et la France."  

Regarding Hans Steinhoff's Ohm Krüger film, a French dubbed version was produced, but it was banned in September 1941 on military grounds. But then on 5 October the French dubbed version of the film was premiered at the 'Normandie' cinema in Paris, after being approved by Schimidtke. A bit later the Film Referat in the Propaganda–Abteilung stopped screenings, fearing that the French audiences would find parallels between their fate as an occupied people and that of the Boers under British misrule. After further discussion within the Abteilung, the film was re–approved for further public screenings due to it's obvious  propaganda value. 

Schmidtke was responsible for organising the famous March 1942 visit to Berlin and Munich by leading French movie stars, such as Danielle Darrieux, Albert Prejean, Suse Delair and others; who were greeted in Berlin by the President of the Reichsfilmkammer, Carl Froelich, had a Ufa Babelsberg studio tour (meeting Karl Ritter, Brigette Horney, Max Kimmich and others in the Ufa studio canteen that day); and later a private meeting with Dr. Goebbels, Baldur von Schirach, actor Heinrich George, and others. The French actors attended the German premiere of the Continental Films production of Premier rendez–vous starring Darrieux. Then they were off to Munich, where they toured the Nazi "Brown House" and saw other famous attractions, before heading back to Paris.

 

 Here is a page showing the location of the Propaganda Division in Paris, at the Hotel Majestic:

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The library:

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The main administrative offices:

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Staff on a typical work day:

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The soldiers assigned to the Propaganda Division:

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The men at rest and at various gatherings:

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Other pages of photographic montages show the areas of Radio, Theatre, the French and German press/newspapers; advertising, publications, photographs/illustrations, and other aspects of the Abteilung's HQ, such as motor pool, canteen and commissary, etc. There are 4 pages showing Paris at day and night, sightseeing/tourist attractions, etc -- one wonder's why such Parisian attractions were included in a brochure meant for internal circulation. Might it not have engendered some envy from other branches of the military and/or government either in France or back in the Reich?  Certainly one of our library's most exotic publication holdings.

 Further background to the France Propaganda Division:

 

As was also the case inside the German Reich, the Occupied France propaganda efforts of Nazi Germany were contested by both the von Ribbentrop Foreign Affairs Ministry and that of Dr. Goebbels’.  The new German Ambassador to France, Otto Abetz, was also a man whose love of French culture had prompted him to establish back in the 1930’s the Comité France–Allemagne. Abetz, an ally of von Ribbentrop’s, was determined to play a major role in managing the French propaganda efforts, and to relegate the Goebbels Propaganda–Abteilung to that of just a censorship office for the press, film, radio, theatre, book publishing, and advertising. A bit later, Alfred Rosenberg’s ‘Amt Rosenberg,’ founded back in Germany in 1934, was made responsible for the collecting and confiscation and/or export of artworks from French museum holdings and private homes, with support from both Hitler and Göring personally.  The overlapping duties, internal politics, and strong clashing personalities of these various organisations made smooth control of Occupied France culture both difficult and inefficient. Ultimately such competing institutions undermined the unity of such efforts.

In our Zwei Jahre publication of the Propaganda–Abteilung (from July 1942) the Kommandeur of the Department, a Lt. Col. Heinz Schmidtke, has a Foreword in which he praises the staff for their hard efforts since the establishment of the HQ and branches back in July 1940. He ends his comments with: We have each contributed to the final victory of the German people in the fulfillment of duty, diligence and dedication.

Extracts from the speech he gave the previous year, in July 1941, at the ceremony marking the first anniversary of the Department, are also published in Zwei Jahre. In those remarks, he recalled that he had arrived hurriedly in the just occupied Paris with two other men assigned to create and man a new Propaganda–Abteilung from scratch; and the hard work that had been required, and many long hours needed to be successful at that time. 

There are a handful of academic works devoted to covering the years of German occupation in France 1940–1944, and one of them cites that by the time of our publication, the Abteilung had 1200 employees and 50 branches scattered all over Occupied France.

The Department was divided into six areas, or sections: Press, Cinema, Radio, Culture (which included then fine arts, music, theatre, cabaret) Literature, and what was referred to as ‘Active Propaganda.’ There were 200 experts from the careers in journalism or criticism who were called ‘Sonderführer’ or ‘special leaders.’ This was a rank provided to civilians without military training who were brought into the Wehrmacht to perform special duties across all needed fields from medicine to transport; and who had to be given a rank; in order to function properly inside the military.

Lt. Col. Schmidtke, then, was a powerful man in his own right, reporting directly to Dr. Goebbels in Berlin; but caught up in the intrigue and frustrations of the competing power bases from the German Foreign Office, the Abetz Embassy, and from Amt Rosenberg.  It has been pointed out in academic books on this subject that it was only due to the despondency of the defeated French, the vacillation of the Vichy Government, and the willingness of many French intellectuals and artists to collaborate with National Socialism that allowed German propaganda to be as effective as it actually was.

Who was Heinz Schmidtke? We do not know much about him, but he had been an infantry man, from Prussia, who had earlier served as Liaison Officer with the Domestic Press Office of the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment; then as it’s Speaker of the daily press conference; and then as Chief of the Propaganda–Abteilung, Frankreich from 1940-1944. He must have been sent to the Eastern Front in late 1944, as the last we know of him was that he was listed as a POW in the Soviet Union in 1945.

What did Dr. Goebbels think of him as Kommandeur of the Department? We know what he thought, thanks to the publication of the Goebbels Diaries. For example:

17 July 1940 – (Schmidtke farewelled by Goebbels to take up the Propaganda–Abteilung France.)

8 August – Schmidtke reports to Goebbels at the latter’s country estate, Lanke, north of Berlin ; with many questions about how to handle radio, press, and film.

27 August – ‘The Foreign Ministry makes many problems for Schmidtke. But he’ll soon have a new decree from the Führer.”

28 August – The Foreign Ministry passed on the Führer decree to Abetz and on to Schmidtke, who is “happy.”

4 September – “Schmidtke report for Paris. All good.”

16 September – “Thousands of new problems surface. The returning French intellectuals sour the whole mood. All of them hope for an English victory. We must put in place counter–propaganda.”

19 September – “I order a big propaganda effort, strongly anti–English and against the stinking intellectuals.”

11 October – “Schmidtke reports on France. Our campaign is beginning to work and all are enthusiastic about it.”

20 October – (Dr. Goebbels visits Paris and during this time meets with Schmidtke.)

22 November – “Fight between Schmidtke and Wächter (a senior Goebbels staffer back in Berlin). I once again instill peace.”

7 January 1940 – “New re–organization at the top of the Reich Propaganda leadership. I hand over the major work to Wächter. He will bring momentum to the place. In Paris I will eventually place Knothe [Wilhelm Knother, former diplomat but also a right–hand man to Goebbels in the Propaganda Ministry as an expert in film and other performing arts, mistrusted by Alfred Greven who ran the Continental Films concern in wartime France. Knothe later was made in charge of the French “Wochenschau” newsreel division, France Actualités.] and instead of Grothe, our Paltzo [Joachim Paltzo, hard core Nazi propagandist, who in fact was only sent briefly to Paris, and then was made leader of the Propaganda organisation in the Occupied Ukraine from 1942 to 1944, when he was killed in battle.] They would be useful support for Schmidtke, who is not overly blessed with intellect. But he has an integral character.”

28 January – “New personnel in Paris. Schmidtke does not deliver what he promises. I have to provide a genuine Nazi at his side. Even in the Propaganda leadership the personnel are unclear.”

11 February  – “We have to provide at Schimdtke’s side Nazis, or the situation is tough. He is reluctant, but that does not help him. He must. “

9 April – “Things in France somewhat better. The propaganda from our Embassy has penetrated (through to) the collaborators. “

13 April – “Paris has become such a really bad stage. The biggest loser here is Major Schmidtke – a perfect blank!”

23 May – “Schmidtke reports on the situation in France. Mood has improved a lot. We are now approaching cultural events again…. He realises that I do not trust him anymore. I have had it up to here with him, but then he comes good.”

The Goebbels diary entry of 23 May 1941 was last one mentioning Heinz Schmidtke at all.  As is seen by the earlier entries, from one week to the next Goebbels' opinion of the status of French propaganda see–sawed back and forth and he changed his mind overnight at times. Heinz Schimidtke did manage to stay Head of the Propaganda–Abteilung through to 1944, when German troops evacuated Paris. So he must have done a good enough job often enough to keep Goebbels from sacking him during those long four years of work there.

 

We are indebted to the Kathrin Engel book Deutsche Kulturpolitik im besetzten Paris 1940–1944: Film und Theater; Oldenburg Verlag, 2003, particularly; and to the Saur Verlag volumes of the Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels (1924–1945); both of which editions are found in our library.