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The post-war years of Karl Ritter, 1945 – 1977.

by William Gillespie.

 

After his daring escape from the Soviet Red Army transport east, Karl Ritter arrived in the Bavarian town of  Oberaudorf  on 8 June 1945. The next three weeks were spent with his wife Erika in the guest house Lambacher.

 

On 21 July, Ritter was arrested in Kiefersfelden by the CIC Third U.S. Army Military Police under “automatic arrest” warrant because he had been a Senator in the Cultural Chamber of the Third Reich[1]; not because of his Ufa films. He was taken to the local prison in Rosenheim until 2 August, and then moved to Internment Camp 8 in Garmisch–Partenkirchen as POW #3483-M-AA. During his imprisonment he managed the camp theater and directed and scripted works.[2]

 

After one year’s time he was released on 22 July 1946 and returned to Oberaudorf, where the family rented a house at Laurentiusgasse 197½ (today Laurentiusstraße 6, at the corner of Lohbachstraße.).

 

Ritter’s villa in Berlin­–Babelsberg was occupied by the Red Army, his bank accounts at the Hypothek Bank in Babelsberg remained unaccessable, and his wealth confiscated by the Soviets.  At the end of May that year his villa’s mortgage stood at some RM121, 746.63 – and the post-war Ufa concern was demanding that he pay it off immediately as the film studio had advanced him considerable credit to finance the house’s construction during his time there as a Head of Production.

 

During these first post­–­war years, he was reduced to a variety of jobs to make ends meet, such as painting rustic Bavarian chests, dealing in antiques and art objects of interest to the America GIs, and occasionally working for magazines and advertising firms as a photographer, using a false name. [3]

 

With his inability to work in the post–war German film industry, due to the Allied ban, the Ritters were ecking out a miserable existence in the small Bavarian village. In a letter written to his long–time film script co–author, Felix Lützkendorf on 29 April 1947, Ritter declared: 

 

 

Felix, we have to get out! You laugh too much when you talk about it! Take it seriously! Let your illustrator Petra paint a sign over the bed: Out! Pay it, whatever it takes! I hope that I can advise you more seriously about the Raus–question with you on your Pentecost holiday stop–over. Think about it day and night: we have to get out![4]

 

 

On 22 April 1948 he was found to be a “Fellow Traveler” (Mitläufer, Stufe 4) by the Rosenheim Spruchkammer and fined RM20-. His wife Erika was found to be not guilty. That same year he wrote under the pseudonym Karl Benditte short stories for the magazine ‘Quick.’ He also tried to work with Leni Riefenstahl in preparing for the completion her long unfinished film Tiefland on the Wendelstein Mountainsbut these negotiations fell through.[5]During this time he tried every effort to re–join the German film industry, but to no avail. He wrote: ‘Inputs to theofficers of thefilmcrewareaswereflatly rejected.’[6]  In 1953 he recalled: A futile attempt at getting a foothold again in German film, thwarted by the allied film officers; therefore the decision to emigrate.’[7]

 

On the first of April 1949 Karl and Erika Ritter found their way across the German border via Lörrach and on to Basel, to the port of Genoa. There they boarded the Dodero Shipping Line’s steamer ‘MS Salta’ bound for Buenos Aires. Their emigration had been financed by their lifelong friend and Erika’s relation, Winifred Wagner.[8]

 

After seven weeks of living on the steamer’s deck, they arrived in Argentina. All three sons followed them that year, and the daughters–in–law and grandchildren arrived the year after.

 

The family lived in the Devoto neighborhood for three months, and then moved to three other apartments over the following three years, until finally settling in the suburb of Vicente Lopez in January 1951.

Ritter wrote Herr Kempter in 1966 that during this time he ‘took a short breather’ from his work.[9]

 

Ritter had emigrated believing that the South American film market was ripe for a post­­–war period of growth, and that international collaborations and co­productions were the approach to take. He found very little distribution of German films in place, and had high hopes. He later recalled: ‘The expectation of meeting an underdeveloped land was a deception. Argentina had numerous production firms and distributors, modern studios and an astounding number of cinemas. In Buenos Aires alone there were 510! In the whole natioon 2200! Modern copy works, 54 production firms! The annual production for 1949/1950 was 52 feature films! 28 film directors!.[10]

 

His first work was that of a film and theater critic for the Argentinischen Tageblatt. His first attempt at a five–year contract with an existing studio, EOS–Film, failed. He then interested a manufacturer with which he co–founded Laurit–Films.[11]  In his letter to Kempter Ritter mentioned having made two ‘industrial films’ in Argentina.[12]

 

His first commissioned film was so successful that he was able to produce his first feature film since Ufa’s Sommernächte in 1944, entitled El paraiso.  The film, a gaucho story on the pampas and in the big city, was produced by Ritter with his three sons, Heinz, Gottfried and Hans, as  Cameramen and Editor respectively in the second half of 1952. The film opened on 3 January 1953 in Buenos Aires. It was the only production where all three sons worked with their father on a motion picture. [13]

 

Back in Germany, the press was interessed in reporting Ritter’s work in exile. The Nürnberger Zeitung of 19 February ran an article entitled ‘Ufa Director wants to conquer South America’ in which he explained that his next project would be an international co–production between Germany and Argentina, in two versions, using appropriate scripting that was universal, like the Americans do with Hemingway.   He stated: ‘The way for German film to again gain an international standing is as much a matter of planning as organization.’[14]

 

A week later, the Haller Kreisblatt ran an article ‘Deutscher Film–Export’ with the tag line “Karl Ritter’s Dream.” He was optimstic about co–production and said that ‘Money for German film is here, in the truest sense of the word, really lying on the road.’ He cautioned however that the world market was a struggle and that active underwriting from Bonn was required. [15]

 

On the 20 March the Lüneberger Landeszeitungran an article reporting that El parasio was running to two large cinemas in Buenos Aires.The journalist explained:     

The Argentine Film, hardly competitive in North America and Europe, is very grateful for the fresh impetus which it received from Ritter’s movie, though he did not spark a revolution. The brief dialogue therefore proves that the southern temperament can get by. Refreshing naturalness replaces the usual campy game of the Argentine performer, and the camera technology clearly shows what most local film has been lacking in cinematic expression. In this sense, the movie of the Ufa professor was highly acknowledged by the critics. If you also do not ignore  that he had seen the Gaucho history with European eyes…..  Some looked really amazing  thanks to this preparation, there a gaucho romance conjured especially in the pampa recordings of the natural talent on the screen.

 

El parasiomay have impressed some critics but it was not a financial success, and proved to be Ritter’s only feature film made in Argentina.  He decided to return to Germany and attempt a come–back in the Bundesrepublik.

 

On 30 May he and Erika set sail on the ‘MS Florentine’ to Genoa and arrived there on 29 June. The German press ran articles with headlines such as ‘Film-Ritter and Film-Generals,’ ‘Nazi-Film Director wants to “save” [the film industry], ‘Brown (ie: Nazi) Film Ritter returns home.’[16]

 

Three weeks before Ritter’s ship landed in Italy, the satirist S.S. von Varady wrote a scathing attack on the idea of his return to the German film industry in a newspaper column in the Berliner Montags–Echo, entitled ‘The Guest from Argentina.”  Varady was the much–loved critic who had defiantly reported on the RIAS radio network in 1948 during the Berlin Airlift; introducing his five–minute spots with the Berlin Philharmonic’s music from ‘Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?’  Varady wrote sarcastically:

 

With deep emotion I have duly read the message. The acknowledged master of all patriotic films, Karl Ritter, forsake Argentina in order to participate ‘in the film industry of the Federal Republic.’   

 

Varady then quoted in full the effusive telegram that Ritter had sent to Adolf Hitler in reply to Hitler’s own telegram after the Führer had been thrilled by the film Pour le Mérite in late December 1938. He continued:

 

…. But I am sorry I have not completely forgotten the servilecollaborator of yesterday.

 

If it is for Mr. Ritter in his artistic work no better incentive than to give praise to Adolf Hitler, then I ask you, what is this gentleman actually searching for in the film studios of the Federal Republic? I can hardly imagine that Theodor Heuss will commend the director of Hitlerjunge Quex for anything in the future…

 

The newspaper column concluded with: 

 

Color and 3D (three dimensions) are apparently not enough for German film. It apparently needs to smell, too.[17]

 

Ritter at this time was in correspondence with the Publisher and Editor of the Berlin Filmblätter, Robert Scheuer. On 26 August Karl Ritter sent a reply to some questions posed by the publisher:

 

Thanks for the description of the  ‘Harlan case’ . I never had points of contact with him. His violent, self-centered nature was not me. In contrast, I had with Harlan's first wife, Hilde Körber many sympathies. Should I come to Berlin, I will immediately contact this great artist. Veit Harlan, however I've always liked to go out of the way to avoid. I had never collaborated with him before his time of prominence.

 

He continued:    

 

No fear of abuse by neo-Nazis truly! I do not think (I think I wrote that already) to deal somehow with "current" politics. My needs are fully covered. I have in this regard also brought such expressions to Dr.R.Vogel in Bonn. If you know me personally, Mr Scheuer, then you will feel this readily from our acquaintance. I have very different ideals! It would do well for many Germans to go abroad a few years. Only then one is a real German, I think. The stubborn nationalism is as incredibly narrow-minded and ridiculous as before. One can understand the attitude of the world and especially our neighbors to our previous super-nationalism and one feels an almost painful shame at the thought of this  arrogance, a kind of "cosmopolitan" shame.

 

And:

No. My ideals go in completely different directions! I want to contribute my part to ensure that the fellows are happy and love each other, and that they are "raised up" in their life through our work. This may sound as arrogant as it is meant. But you will understand me. And then: create International film works! Maybe with one ulterior motive: to rehabilitate the image of the German people a bit. (but without any politics!)[18]

 

The Ritters spent the week of the 7thSeptember in Düsseldorf, then two months in his birthplace Würzburg, from 16 September to 16 November. There, Karl was in communication with the man who had legally assumed, on behalf of the BRD, all the old Ufa stock, Arno Haucke. Haucke had solicited  ‘big project’ ideas from everyone, including the just–arrived Ritter. Ritter proposed a film called Harun al–Rashid, the Islamic ruler whose court was intrigued by The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. The script was written by Thea von Harbou, and Ritter was given two monthly payments of DM1,000 each for his efforts. [19]He confided to Haucke in a letter written from Würzburg in November that he had somewhat ‘painful feelings about the script.’[20]  Soon thereafter he proposed a cast for the film including Hans Albers in the title role, Will Quadflieg as the Prinz Nurredum, Eva Bartok as Prinzessin Kuan Yin, Erich Ponto as Ibrahm ben Abbas; Kurt Meisel, Walter Franck or Siegfried Breuer as Oman der Saadrri, and Andrews Engelmann as Sawabe der Henker.[21]

The film project was abandoned, and Ritter then received an offer to work for Producer Kurt Schulz, the former head of Prag Film for the Third Reich. But Schulz wanted former Reichsfilmintendent Fritz Hippler to write the script, to which Ritter strongly objected. Hippler was dropped and the film project proceeded without him.[22]It was Ritter’s first production in West Germany, called Staatsanwältin Corda (Public Prosecutor Corda). It starred Ingeborg Egholm, Paul Klinger, Gisele von Collande and Eva Probst with a supporting cast of solid supporting actors such as Herbert Hübner and Paul Henckels.

 

The Ritters re–located to Wiesbaden in November 1953 and remained there until the end of April 1956.  The Ritters first stayed at the Hotel Nassauer Hof, then Haus Brendel i.d. Walkmühlenstraße 52, then on Ahornweg 1; then at the Hotel zum Bären, thereafter at Schellingstraße 1/II, and finally at Luisenstraße 6/I.

 

In January the esteemed theater critic Wilhelm Ringelband from Frankfurt wrote a long piece entitled ‘Meeting with Carl Ritter,’ which appeared amongst other papers in the Zürich Die Tat. After summarizing Ritter’s long life in film, Ringelband turned to the question of the new life in Argentina. As to whether the post–war emigration was worthwhile, Ritter stated ‘there were no lost years.’

 

Ringelband observed: 

 

He left to make a new world in itself– you can feel this when the words rush out of him. But not only this has further shaped him, it is the whole upheaval of his life, which shoved the mighty Ufa professor from his Mount Olympus in Babelsberg and who had become a stranger in Argentina. Ritter not only recognizes, but affirms it. He is without old resentments, he did not mourn for the past, and is particularly replete with creative drive. He wants to make films on subjects of their world validity––co–productions seem to him ideal for this; his plans are not considered utopian, but sober.[23]

 

 

In early 1954 the Ritters traveled to divided Berlin where they were excited about the City and its rebuilding. They drove back and forth across the city and along the border of the East Sector, where from the opposite shoreline they safely observed their old villa on Griebnitzsee through binoculars.[24]

 

Staatsanwältin Cordapremiered on 4 March 1954, and was not successful. Soon thereafter, a second feature film by Ritter was produced, called Ball der Nationen(Ball of the Nations)starring Zsa Zsa Gabor and Gustav Fröhlich. It was filmed at the Wiesbaden atelier “Unter den Eichen” (Under the Oaks). The film premiered on Christmas Day, 1954.

 

 

This was Ritter’s final chance to re–establish himself in Germany but the film was a failure as well.

 

Ritter bitterly blamed the production company in correspondence with Peter Hagemann:    

That the two films did not have the expected success was for the most part due to the hardly capable, extremely provincial Panoramic Distrubutor-Göttingen, which had little relationship to the big movie theaters![25]


The chief of Panorama–Verleih–Göttingen, Sewerin, shot back:

For all I care he could have been Gauleiter, but he interferes with my business![26]

 

In July 1955 Ritter made one last attempt at a successful come–back in the German film industry. He founded his own firm, Karl–Ritter–Filmproduktions GmbH in Wiesbaden. [27]

 

 KRFGmbH logo.jpg

 

 

 

For a first collaboration, Lulu, he found a co–partner in the daughter of famous novelist Frank Wedekind, Kadidja, but she let the project fall through.[28]

 

The Ritters moved from Wiesbaden in April 1956 and relocated to Niederwalluf and remained there until 24 August. From there they moved to Gasthaus zum Linde, Hittfeld, between Lüneberg und Hamburg.

 

The Ritters departed Germany for Argentina on 12 September, on the ‘U.S.Parthenon,’ sailing from Hamburg. The voyage took eighteen days and on the 30thof that month they docked in Buenos Aires.

 

According to Peter Hagemann, Karl made one last effort in writing a script between 1956 and 1959 called ‘Carnavalito,’ to realize a possible German–Argentinian co–production. In the Autumn of 1959 he was finally resigned to accept failure in further film work. [29]

 

On 23 July 1958 wife Erika died. Ritter continued to write novels and stories, including his unpublished memoirs of his escape from Soviet captivity, and he visited Germany each year to attend the Bayreuth Festivals,[30]catch up with lifelong friend Winifred Wagner, his ‘Alte Adler’ flying pioneers, and to see other old friends and comrades from his film and Luftwaffe days.

 

On his return visits to Germany, he was on occasion, interviewed by the press. 

The Lippische Landeszeitung ran an article in September 1968 entitled ‘I miss the experience – Prof. Karl Ritter about German Film today.’ The interviewer related his nickname of ‘Don Carlos’ and referred to him as an ‘Oldtimer den deutschen Film.’ Ritter’s loyalty to his old comrades is mentioned – his 1942 collaboration with Luftwaffe officer Fritz Schlichting in Versailles makingBesatzung Dora and the fact that despite ‘war, collapse, and a new start in a faraway land the tight friendship from France 25 years ago cannot be broken.’ [31]

In December 1973 the Düsseldorf Volkshochschule held a Ritter film retrospective, overseen by film historian Hans Peter Kochenrath. Three films were screened: Weiberregiment, Patrioten andUrlaub auf Ehrenwort. In an article which appeared on 1 December in the Rheinische PostKochenrath called Ritter ‘one of the most important NS Directors’ and stated that ‘in the staging of action scenes Ritter developed his true talent that he recently earned the reputation  – certainly exaggerated– as the Howard Hawks of Germany. All the same, his loud Hurrah–propaganda movies are of an artisan perfection and smoothness rarely encountered in Germany that still amaze even today.[32]

 

In the early 1970s film historian and Kinemathek staff member Peter Hagemann undertook a Master’s thesis on Karl Ritter’s film works at the Freie Universität Berlin. From letters received by Hagemann through to the year of Ritter’s death in 1977, the life of this ‘Oldtimer’ became increasingly isolated from German film. 

 

In September 1974 he complained to Hagemann that “in the Cologne and Düsseldorf film seminars I’ve had a hatful of criticism…complete nonsense! Besatzung Dorawas forbidden as un–National Socialist and unartistic! But the critics look for Goebbels’ intentions behind every film!’[33]  The following month, Ritter was hospitalized with glaucoma in his left eye. 

 

He worried about his film scripts and production photo albums and books which were lost at the end of the war;  and he wondered where they were. He gifted Hagemann his own script for Über alles in der Welt. He asked for the addresses for Ilse Werner, Carl Raddatz and Angela Salloker. In January 1975 he asked Hagemann if he thought he should start writing his memoirs, adding that it would be a fearful effort, and that sometimes the idea appealed to him but sometimes it repelled him. Then, he asked himself, ‘who would really be interested?’[34]

 

He asked in July 1975 if the boy actor who had played Hitlerjunge Quex, Jürgen Ohlsen, was still alive. In January 1977 he wrote one of his last letters to Hagemann, asking what the state of German film was? He mentioned that with his poor eyesight, he could no longer risk a trip to Europe. He stated sadly, ‘I almost believe that you have completely forgotten the old man in Rio de la Plata!’[35]

 

In March 1977 he stated to Hagemann: ‘Peter, you are my only confidant and contact person in the place where I once had to produce great work. The world forgets that easier than man himself.’[36]

 

The last Hagemann–Ritter letter in the Deutsche Kinemathek archives is dated 29 März 1977 in which Hagemann is thanked for the ‘thick letter of the 14thof this month!’ and Ritter signs off with ‘Do not overwork yourself! And don’t forget your with hearty greetings, Don Carlos.’

 

Karl Ritter died nine days after penning that letter, on 7 April 1977, aged 88, undoubtedly before it arrived in Hagemann’s home in Berlin.

 

 

Translations and Text ©2014–2019 William A. Gillespie, German Films Dot Net.


[1]Ritter letter to a Herr Kempter, Damm Verlag, München, of 18-11-1966 (courtesy Dr. Michael Ritter)

[2]Hagemann,P; Karl Ritter, Hausarbeit, Freie Universität Berlin,n.d; S.37

  and Author’s correspondence with Dr.Michael Ritter, October, 2014.

[3]  Ibid, S.37 

[4]Letter of 29.4.1947, Oberaudorf, from Karl Ritter to Felix Lützkendorf, in The Gillespie Collection, Sydney.

[5]Ibid, S.37

[6]Ibid, S.37

[7]letter from Ritter to Kempter –see footnote #1.

[8]Hagemann, S.37

[9]letter from Ritter to Kempter – see footnote #1.

[10]‘Der deutsche Film wird ausgelacht,’ Deutsche Wochen­–­Zeitung, Nr.33, 1970, S.13

[11]Hagemann, ibid; S.38

[12]letter from Ritter to Kempter – see footnote #1.

[13]The Argentine original film poster is in The Gillespie Collection, and shown in the Poster Gallery on this website.

[14]‘Ufa-Regisseur will Südamerika erobern,’ Nürnberger Zeitung, 19 Feb. 1953.

[15]‘Deutscher Film–Export,’ Haller Kreisblatt, 26.Feb. 1953

[16]Hagemann, ibid; S.39

[17]‘Der Gast aus Argentinien,’Berliner Montags–Echo, 8 June 1953.

[18]Letter from Ritter to Scheuer, 26 August 1953 

[19]Hagemann, ibid, S. 39–40

[20]Letter from Ritter to Haucke, Hotel Lämmle, Würzburg, 9 Nov.1953. Barch R109/I 1868

[21]Barch R109/ I 869.

[22]Hagemann, ibid, S. 40

[23]‘Begegnung mit Carl Ritter,’ Die Tat, Zürich10 Jan. 1954

[24]Letter from Karl Ritter to Scheuer, 1 Feb. 1954, Deutsche Kinemathek.

[25]ibid, S.40

[26]ibid, S.40

[27]  The logo of his new film production company from his letter dated 27 December 1955 to Felix Lützkendorf in The Gillespie Collection, Sydney.

[28]Hagemann, ibid, S. 41

[29]ibid, S.41

[30]Hamann, B, Winifred Wagner – A Life at the Heart of Hitler’s Bayreuth,   Harcourt, Orlando, 2005, p.467.

[31]‘Ich vermisse das Erlebnis,’ Lippische Landeszeitung, 25 Sept. 1968. Also see Gillepsie, William; The Making of The Crew of the Dora, GFDN, Potts Point, 2016.

[32]  ‘Lautstarke Hurrah-Filme,’ Rheinische Post, Düsseldorf, 1 Jan. 1973

[33]  Letter to Hagemann from Ritter, 18 Sept. 1974, Kinemathek

[34]  Letters to Hagemann from Ritter, 2 Okt. 1974, 4 Feb.1973, 6 Jan.1975 respectively, Kinemathek

[35]  Letters to Hagemann from Ritter, 26 Juli 1975 and 7 Jan. 1977 respectively, Kinemathek

[36]  Letter to Hagemann from Ritter, 21 März 1977, Kinemathek.