Hitler: A Film from Germany

Last updated

Hitler: A Film from Germany
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg
Written byHans-Jürgen Syberberg
Produced by Bernd Eichinger
Starring Heinz Schubert
Narrated byHans-Jürgen Syberberg
Cinematography Dietrich Lohmann
Edited byJutta Brandstaedter
Distributed by Omni Zoetrope (US)
Release dates
  • 5 November 1977 (1977-11-05)(United Kingdom)
  • 7 June 1978 (1978-06-07)(France)
  • 8 July 1978 (1978-07-08)(West Germany)
  • 13 January 1980 (1980-01-13)(United States)
Running time
442 minutes
CountriesWest Germany
United Kingdom

Hitler: A Film from Germany (German : Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland), called Our Hitler in the US, is a 1977 Franco-British-German experimental film directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, produced by Bernd Eichinger, and co-produced by the BBC. It starred Heinz Schubert, who played both Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. Along with Syberberg's characteristic and unusual motifs and style, the film is also notable for its 442-minute running time. [1]



Hitler: A Film from Germany has no clear plot or chronology. Instead, each part explores one particular topic.

Recurring plot devices

One particular plot device, especially for mocking post-war fascination and cliches about Hitler and Nazism, is endless recitals from the non-fictitious autobiographies of people in direct contact with Hitler on his lifestyle, such as by Hitler's personal valet Heinz Linge (played by Hellmut Lange) and his adjutant Otto Günsche (played by Peter Kern), talking to the camera as if the spectator would be a young person who intends to learn about Hitler, while these seemingly endless passages end with original radio broadcasts on German war casualties and lost battles. This plot device thus mocks both Hitler's affiliation with his own personality and his increasingly delusional state that made him more and more unable to accurately lead a war the longer it lasted, as well as it mocks post-war German fascination with every little detail about historical Nazism and its personage, indicating that this post-war fascination might be nothing but subconscious admiration that will once more lead Germany to repeat the same downfall as apparent in the radio broadcasts.

Himmler's personality is sometimes explored in a similar way by reciting the memories of such people as Himmler's personal astrologist (played by Peter Moland), or his masseur Felix Kersten (played by Martin Sperr), though not as extensively as in Hitler's case and not ending in such dramatic radio broadcasts.

Especially unusual is the portrayal of Himmler's personality. While Hitler is always impersonated by Heinz Schubert, Himmler's role is split into several actors, including Schubert among others, each indicating a different purported aspect about Himmler's personality, such as "the esoterical ideologue" (played by Rainer von Artenfels), dressed as an SS member, "the military leader" (leading a war for Nazism and Germany, against the Jews and other degenerated, "un-German" influences; played by Helmut Lange as well), dressed like an ordinary Wehrmacht officer, or "Hitler's ideological adherent and loyal servant" (dressed in an SS uniform, played by Peter Kern as well).


Narration and fictitious characters

Some continuity is given to the film by Syberberg's narration and fictitious characters. Syberberg's offscreen narration partly philosophizes on pre-war and post-war German fascination with Hitler and Nazism, while in the beginning he tells a mythologized tale about the shortcomings of the Weimar Republic and its downfall giving rise to the Third Reich. Later, the narration focuses on comparing Nazism to basically "inhumane" pornography, Stalinism and socialist East Germany. In order to draw parallels between Nazism and pornography, Syberberg also arranges quite graphic scenes, involving a realistic, life-sized reproduction of Joseph Goebbels's carbonized, dead body covered in his burned and melted flesh (as found and photographed by the Red Army), inflatable sex dolls, and dildos.

A mythologized portrayal of Democracy and Germany is impersonated by Syberberg's young daughter, Amelie Syberberg, holding a puppet and walking around in mystical sets to Syberberg's narration, also appearing later in the film. It is not clear which of the two—Syberberg's daughter and her puppet—is Democracy and which of them is Germany.

The film's first part 30-minute intro is separated into two 15-minute acts, the first being Syberberg's mythologized narration of the end of the Weimar Republic, the second half being Schubert impersonating a circus announcer within an actual circus set announcing "the great, magnificent" Hitler ("the German Napoleon") in ad-speech and show-biz jargon, while also outlining that the purpose of the film is not only being "the Big Hitler Show" but also a film on Germany and German mentality in general, about "the Hitler within us all" and "Auschwitz as an ideological battle of racial warfare."

A similar role as the circus announcer is later introduced when a freak show compere (played by Rainer von Artenfels as well) enters the film within a prop set of a cabinet of curiosities, demonstrating various oddity objects and Nazi relics, such as the Spear of Destiny ("as owned by Thomas the Apostle, Saint Maurice, Constantine the Great, Charlemagne, Otto I, Henry IV, Frederick I Barbarossa, the Habsburg dynasty...and then Hitler!") and the philosopher's stone both found by Himmler's SS, Himmler's Germanic Urpferd (purported evolutionary ancestor to the modern horse), and Hitler's semen in a phial. This compere then also introduces the various supporting characters, each introducing themselves in third person after he has announced them.

Among them is also Ellerkamp (played by Harry Baer), a fictitious SS-member, later a post-war projectionist and film producer, and The Cosmologist (played by Peter Lühr). The Cosmologist is partly based on Hanns Hörbiger, creator of the Welteislehre , but the Cosmologist is portrayed as still being alive during Hitler's reign and after World War II, and looks more like Leonardo da Vinci or Socrates than Hörbiger.

Props, set design, and visual style

The film's surreal visual style was developed by Henri Langlois, using props and set designs from the Cinémathèque Française that had originally been used for a film called Der Film - Die Musik der Zukunft ("Film: Music of the future"). It has also been noted that the film's visual style and set design are strongly inspired by Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen , musical excerpts from which are frequently used in the film's soundtrack.


The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. [2]


The film was a considerable influence on, among others, the critic Susan Sontag and the philosopher Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe; Sontag called it "one of the 20th century’s greatest works of art". [3] It provided the underlying metaphor for James Chapman's 1993 novel about AIDS, Our Plague: A Film from New York.

Sequences from Hitler: A Film from Germany are featured in the film The Ister (2004), which includes extensive interview of Syberberg.

English version

As the film was co-produced by the BBC, it was also released in an English version. While all of the monologues spoken by the actors are subtitled in the English version, Heller's translated offstage narration is spoken by a native BBC narrator. Due to the BBC's co-production, the German language used in the film, including the original World War II radio broadcasts and authentic speeches, receives a more sophisticated translation than in many Anglo-American documentaries on Nazi Germany. One advantage of the English version is that every time a new character is introduced or an original recording is heard, it is initiated in the subtitles by the character's name or the speaker's name, while the German version lacks such identifications.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernst Kaltenbrunner</span> Austrian SS and chief of the Reich Security Main Office

Ernst Kaltenbrunner was a high-ranking Austrian SS official during the Nazi era and a major perpetrator of the Holocaust. After the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and a brief period under Heinrich Himmler, Kaltenbrunner was the third Chief of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), which included the offices of Gestapo, Kripo and SD, from January 1943 until the end of World War II in Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heinrich Himmler</span> Nazi Germany high official

Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel, and a leading member of the Nazi Party of Germany. Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and a main architect of the Holocaust.

<i>Schutzstaffel</i> Nazi paramilitary organization

The Schutzstaffel was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II.

<i>Triumph of the Will</i> 1935 Nazi propaganda film

Triumph of the Will is a 1935 German Nazi propaganda film directed, produced, edited and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl. Adolf Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. The film contains excerpts of speeches given by Nazi leaders at the Congress, including Hitler, Rudolf Hess and Julius Streicher, interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung (SA) and Schutzstaffel (SS) troops and public reaction. Its overriding theme is the return of Germany as a great power with Hitler as its leader. The film was produced after the Night of the Long Knives and many formerly prominent SA members are absent.

Sicherheitsdienst, full title Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, or SD, was the intelligence agency of the SS and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany. Established in 1931, the SD was the first Nazi intelligence organization and the Gestapo was considered its sister organization through the integration of SS members and operational procedures. The SD was administered as an independent SS office between 1933 and 1939. That year, the SD was transferred over to the Reich Security Main Office, as one of its seven departments. Its first director, Reinhard Heydrich, intended for the SD to bring every single individual within the Third Reich's reach under "continuous supervision".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gleiwitz incident</span> Staged attack by Nazi forces to begin the invasion of Poland in 1939

The Gleiwitz incident was a false flag attack on the radio station Sender Gleiwitz in Gleiwitz staged by Nazi Germany on the night of 31 August 1939. Along with some two dozen similar incidents, the attack was manufactured by Germany as a casus belli to justify the invasion of Poland. Prior to the invasion, Adolf Hitler gave a radio address condemning the acts and announcing German plans to attack Poland, which began the next morning. Despite the German government using the attack as a justification to go to war with Poland, the Gleiwitz assailants were not Polish but were German SS officers wearing Polish uniforms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ahnenerbe</span> Nazi political and pseudoscientific think tank

The Ahnenerbe operated as a think tank in Nazi Germany between 1935 and 1945. Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, established it as an SS appendage devoted to the task of promoting the racial doctrines espoused by Adolf Hitler and his governing Nazi Party, specifically by supporting the idea that the modern Germans descended from an ancient Aryan race seen as biologically superior to other racial groups. The group comprised scholars and scientists from a broad range of academic disciplines.

The association of Nazism with occultism occurs in a wide range of theories, speculation, and research into the origins of Nazism and into Nazism's possible relationship with various occult traditions. Such ideas have flourished as a part of popular culture since at least the early 1940s, and gained renewed popularity starting in the 1960s. Books on the topic include The Morning of the Magicians (1960) and The Spear of Destiny (1972). Occultism in Nazism has also been featured in numerous documentaries, films, novels, comic books, and other fictional media. Notable examples include the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the Wolfenstein video game series, and the comic-book series Hellboy (1993–present).

<i>Downfall</i> (2004 film) 2004 German-language historical war drama film

Downfall is a 2004 German-Austrian-Italian German-language historical war drama film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by its producer, Bernd Eichinger. It is set during the Battle of Berlin in World War II, when Nazi Germany is on the verge of defeat, and depicts the final days of Adolf Hitler. The cast includes Alexandra Maria Lara, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Köhler, Heino Ferch, Christian Berkel, Alexander Held, Matthias Habich, and Thomas Kretschmann. The film is a German-Austrian-Italian co-production.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adolf Hitler in popular culture</span>

Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany from 1933 to 1945, has been represented in popular culture ever since he became a well-known politician in Germany. His distinctive image was often parodied by his opponents. Parodies became much more prominent outside Germany during his period in power. Since the end of World War II representations of Hitler, both serious and satirical, have continued to be prominent in popular culture, sometimes generating significant controversy. In many periodicals, books, and movies, Hitler and Nazism fulfill the role of archetypal evil. This treatment is not confined to fiction but is widespread amongst nonfiction writers who have discussed him in this vein. Hitler has retained a fascination from other perspectives; among many comparable examples is an exhibition at the German Historical Museum which was widely attended.

<i>Allgemeine SS</i> Main branch of the SS

The Allgemeine SS was a major branch of the Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany; it was managed by the SS Main Office (SS-Hauptamt). The Allgemeine SS was officially established in the autumn of 1934 to distinguish its members from the SS-Verfügungstruppe, which later became the Waffen-SS, and the SS-Totenkopfverbände, which were in charge of the Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps. SS formations committed many war crimes against civilians and allied servicemen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kurt Daluege</span> German SS general and police official

Kurt Max Franz Daluege was chief of the national uniformed Ordnungspolizei of Nazi Germany. Following Reinhard Heydrich's assassination in 1942, he served as Deputy Protector for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Daluege directed the German measures of retribution for the assassination, including the Lidice massacre. After the end of World War II, he was extradited to Czechoslovakia, tried, convicted and executed in 1946.

Felix Kersten Finnish physiotherapist to Nazis (1898–1960)

Eduard Alexander Felix Kersten was the personal physical therapist of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. He also became a confidant and adviser to him and used his contacts with Himmler to help people persecuted by Nazi Germany.

<i>Das Schwarze Korps</i> Official newspaper of the Schutzstaffel (SS) in Nazi Germany

Das Schwarze Korps was the official newspaper of the Schutzstaffel (SS). This newspaper was published on Wednesdays and distributed free of charge. All SS members were encouraged to read it. The chief editor was SS leader Gunter d'Alquen; the publisher was Max Amann of the Franz-Eher-Verlag publishing company. The paper was hostile to many groups, with frequent articles condemning the Catholic Church, Jews, Communism, Freemasonry, and others.

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg German film director

Hans-Jürgen Syberberg is a German film director, whose best known film is his lengthy feature Hitler: A Film from Germany.

Posen speeches 1943 speeches delivered by Himmler and referring to the Holocaust

The Posen speeches were two speeches made by Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS of Nazi Germany, on 4 and 6 October 1943 in the town hall of Posen (Poznań), in German-occupied Poland. The recordings are the first known documents in which a member of the Hitler Cabinet spoke of the ongoing extermination of the Jews in extermination camps. They demonstrate that the German government wanted, planned and carried out the Holocaust.

Edmund Kiss was a German pseudoarchaeologist and author best known for his books about the ancient settlement of Tiwanaku in the Andes mountains of Bolivia.

Historians, political scientists and philosophers have studied Nazism with a specific focus on its religious and pseudo-religious aspects. It has been debated whether Nazism would constitute a political religion, and there has also been research on the millenarian, messianic, and occult or esoteric aspects of Nazism.

Ideology of the SS Various racial, political, and religious views of the Scutzstaffel (SS)

The ideology of the Schutzstaffel, a paramilitary force and an instrument of terror of the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany, emphasized a racist vision of "racial purity", primarily based on antisemitism and loyalty to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Karl May is a 1974 West German biographical drama film directed by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, starring Helmut Käutner as the writer Karl May. It is considered the second part in Syberberg's "German trilogy", preceded by Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King from 1972 and succeeded by Hitler: A Film from Germany from 1977.


  1. "Hitler : A Film from Germany". Cinéma du réel. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  2. "Festival de Cannes: Hitler: A Film from Germany". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  3. Reimer, R.C.; Reimer, C.J. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Holocaust Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. xx. ISBN   978-0810867567.

Further reading