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Chapter 24  --  by Ralf Forster

German Film Politics in the Occupied Eastern Territories, 1941–45


On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany broke the Nazi–Soviet Pact of 1939 and invaded the USSR. Adolf Hitler divided the newly conquered eastern territories into two new zones, called Reichskommissariate (Reich Commissariats). The Reich Commissariat Ostland consisted of regions that had been incorporated into the USSR in September 1939: parts of Belorussia, part of eastern Poland and the former Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Reich Commissariat Ukraine encompassed the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine, which was only entirely occupied in the summer of 1942. Two more commissariats were planned (for Caucasia and for Moscow), but never realised, as the German armies failed to conquer the entire USSR. Officially, both commissariats were governed by Alfred Rosenberg, who was made head of the new Reich Ministry of Eastern Occupied Territories (Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete, hereafter: Ostministerium). In reality, his powers were constantly challenged by competitors like Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels. The latter tried to monopolise propaganda activities in the eastern territories and this, of course, included film matters too. To coordinate German film activities in the eastern territories, a new firm was created: the ZentralFilmgesellschaft Ost (Central Film Company East, hereafter: ZFO). This company is a largely unknown part of German and international film history.1

The following study focuses on the structure, staffing and business development of the ZFO, whilst also examining in detail selected films. The study is based on documents and film material kept in the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) in Berlin. The results could in the course of future research be checked against findings in Russian, Ukrainian and Baltic archives. The reliability of the written sources available in the Bundesarchiv is, however, questionable, especially in ZFO reports to the capital regarding the public mood in a particular place, or when film projects were listed. This is partly because it was not unusual for written documents to be used to obtain more money or more staff, by exaggerating the achievements of the writer’s own area, or for them to be used to give a picture of a well regulated and successful ‘film stewardship’ in the East, even when the proximity of the Front or the activities of partisans meant this could no longer be the case.


The Creation of the ZFO  

The ZFO was founded in Berlin on 10 November 1941. As an enterprise indirectly state-owned (reichsmittelbar), funded by capital from the Ostministerium (Ministry of the East) and the Propaganda Ministry, as well as by Max Winkler’s Cautio, it was meant to shape a film industry which had formerly been centrally administered, but which was now completely in German hands, into a ‘hard-hitting propaganda machine’ in those areas of the USSR occupied by Germany which were no longer under military administration.2 From December 1943 it was answerable exclusively to the Propaganda Ministry, and no longer partly to the Ministry of the East.3 The firm had as its base the nationalised, well organised film industry of the Soviet Union, and at first this gave it a positive advantage over its Western European counterpart, which, although indeed highly developed, was in private hands. Therefore, while in the West the influence of Germany on film production and distribution occurred mainly through secretly buying up shares and through legal involvement, or through expropriation of individuals or the regulation of distribution (cf. the practices of the company Continental under Alfred Greven), in the East the National Socialists could build upon a monopolistic and hierarchically structured film system, in other words the system in operation in the Stalin era. The defining principle was: one Reichskommissariat – one state-owned film company with a parent institution, the ZFO. Its work encompassed film distribution to cinemas as well as the production of agitation films and newsreel topics for the Russian,
Ukrainian and Baltic populations.

Subtitling of feature films was also part of its work. In this they were continuing what had been started, in those areas of Poland militarily occupied by Germany (Generalgouvernement), by the Film- und Propagandamittel-Vertriebsgesellschaft Krakau (Film and Propaganda Marketing Company of Krakow – FIP). On 22 October 1942 the Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP (Propaganda Leadership of the NSDAP – RPL) clearly set out the ZFO’s function in the following way. The films distributed by them should: 1) Enlighten, i.e. make Bolshevism impossible as a doctrine and make it out to be responsible for the lowly position of the peoples of the East because of its war industries. 2) Entertain, in order to maintain and heighten pleasure in working. 3) Teach skills, so that what is produced in the country conforms to German norms and requirements. 4) Intimidate, in order to limit unrest to a minimum, and to bring Germany’s industrial and military predominance to people’s attention in an ever more awe-inspiring way. 5) Prevent individual ethnic groups from having autonomy in the area of culture or suchlike, and therefore from wanting freedom to administer their own affairs.4 Erich Müller-Beckedorff, who had previously been deputy chairman of the board of directors of Tobis, was entrusted with the business leadership of ZFO. This staffing decision also envisaged the ZFO as part and parcel of the National Socialist media (in the case of a German final victory). The headquarters were installed in the Tobis building at 23 Budapester Strasse, Berlin. The ZFO was quick to create subsidiary companies.

The production firm Riga-Film and the distribution companies Ukraine-Film GmbH and Ostlandfilm GmbH were active between the beginning of 1942 and the middle of 1944. Ukraine-Film GmbH, set up in December 1941 with headquarters in Kiev, was to administer film and cinema matters in the Reichskommissariat Ukraine and had branches in Riwne, Dnepropetrowsk, Nikolajew, Shitomir, Tschernigow, Melitopol (Crimea) and Lusk. The Ostlandfilm GmbH, founded in mid March 1942 with its headquarters in Riga, was responsible for film and cinema in the Reichskommissariat Ostland and had branch offices in Reval, Kaunas and Minsk. Also located in Riga were two foreign subsidiaries of the German Newsreels (Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH). Both were officially set up on 1 June 1942, but may have been active before. The subsidiary in Kiev was moved to Lvov in September 1943.5 It is worth mentioning that some other ZFO firms were set up without ever becoming active. The Deutsche Kaukasus Film GmbH (German Caucasus Film Company) was founded on the 12 September1942, following the German summer offensive of 1942 up to Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus, and it was



Staffing structure

Although at first only German nationals were employed at the Berlin head office of the ZFO, in the company structure overall the staff were a mixture of nationalities, especially in the eastern areas, if only for the practical consideration that this made it easier to make films or write subtitles in the local language. In Riga, at Ostlandfilm and Riga-Film, there seems to have been a completely local workforce, with the exception of the highest management level. However the Latvians were valued as friends of Germany and, (especially after the Red Army’s invasion in September 1939) were seen as outspoken enemies of the Soviets. Installed as heads of production were the cameraman Janis Silis, and, along with Eduard Zuburs, the former ‘first head of production of the Latvian Propaganda Ministry’, there were also the experienced directors Voldemars Puuze and Vilis Lapenieks. Puuze had begun his artistic career at the Riga Municipal Theatre and since 1933 he had been ‘film director in the service of the Latvian Propaganda Ministry’.6 Lapenieks was treated as the great hope for a national Latvian film culture. Shortly before the Soviet occupation, he finished his first long feature film The Fisherman’s Son (Zvejnieka Dels, 1939), which today enjoys cult status in the Baltic States.7 At Ukraine-Film little responsibility was bestowed on the local film professionals, so these were largely prepared to work with the Germans. In Kiev, alongside Siegfried Kyser (the son of the Ufa scriptwriter Hans Kyser), and George Dahlström, previously production manager at Ufa, two ‘tried and tested highly rated professionals’ worked in production, and these brought the additional benefit of a good command of Russian. To these were added in 1943 the head of production at Tobis and sound technician Walter Tjaden, as well as a Dr Herzog, posted from the Waffen-SS as head literary manager (Chefdramaturg).8 From among the Russian-Ukrainian staff the ‘defected’ dramaturg Stephanow (Stepanoff), a Mr Goldmann and a Mrs Medinsky were entrusted with production work. Whenever the press reported on ‘Building the Film Industry in the occupied Eastern areas’,9 they always stressed the involvement of the local workers. In that way they could encourage the population to accept occupation and link it with a normalisation of life. Also, they could counteract the opinion that as Germany expanded its territory, more and more specialists from the German heartland (the ‘Kernreich’) were being used. And yet in reality the occupying power gave as little thought to the
wound up on 21 January 1943, while the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Prometheus GmbH (Prometheus Association) was set up on 18 September 1942. The latter eventually operated under the name of Elbrus Film-Arbeitsgemeinschaft GmbH and was supposed to administer film business in the future Reich Commissariat of Caucasia. It was dissolved on 21 January 1943.

The possibility of Ukrainians or Baltic nationals administering their own media sectors as they did to a re-privatisation of the film and cinema industries, although this was in fact envisaged for the Baltic States in September 1942.10 Essentially, this two-edged process coincided with what was happening in other economic areas, for example agriculture, where re-collectivisation was announced (among other places in ZFO films), but never extensively put into action. Furthermore those Germans who expressed interest in taking over cinemas in the eastern territories were put off until after the end of the war. Especially at first ZFO production was reliant on the support of Ufa, and its first three films were in fact completely made in the Ufa studios, between November 1941 and February 1942. Politically dependable Ufa employees with Russian or Baltic backgrounds like Johannes Guter (born in Riga) or Eugen York (born in Rybinsk), as well as Alfred Stöger, took charge of directorial work. Eugen York, who had distinguished himself prior to 1940 with National Socialist election propaganda and educational films for the army film office,11 was eventually permanently employed at ZFO. >From the middle of 1942 the firm tried to use local manpower more effectively, to save money. From time to time forecasts were rather over-optimistic: an auditor at Ukraine-Film described the climatic and technical conditions at Yalta as ‘more favourable than in Hollywood’ and recommended that production of German films should start immediately in the studios there.12 Despite this, numerous sub-contracts were issued to small Berlin film producers, such as the cartoon studio of Paul N. Peroff (for political satire cartoons), Rex-Film (for informative and educational films about agriculture) and Walter Schneider-Film (for a cultural film about Estonia), as well as Boehner-Film, localised in Dresden (for an educational film about tobacco). For subtitling they fell back on the translation headquarters in Warsaw (FIP). From 1944 they used the former Bata publicity film studio in the Czech town Zlin. In November 1942 the ZFO was classified as being ‘of crucial importance for the war’.13

Exemption from being drafted into the military followed, at first mainly for management, administration and the departments of direction, production and camera. Ukrainian, Latvian and Lithuanian employees were also granted this privilege of being withdrawn from the front, some up to well into 1945, after the ZFO had had to leave its original area of operation in March/April 1944 (see below). Even in January 1945 ZFO, by now part of Tobis, wrote to Ufa seeking employment for the trusted and valued colleagues from Riga-Film GmbH, Voldemars Puuze, Vilis Lapenieks and Eduard Zuburs, who had been taken along to Germany, and whom they were reluctant to have sent to the front.14 On 31 August 1943 ZFO had 121 employees, of whom 52 were working in the production department. In addition Ukraine-Film consisted of 141 staff and Ostlandfilm had 33.



On 4 October 1944, when ZFO took stock at its last board meeting, they had produced two feature films and 24 short agitation films and ‘documentaries’. They did not count newsreel subjects for the Auslandstonwoche, nor for the Deutsche Wochenschau. There were at least 17 productions in the pipeline. As far as content was concerned, the films could be divided into four groups: anti-Soviet or anti-Semitic propaganda films, positive portrayals of Germany, manpower recruitment films and agricultural information films. Also included in their stock-taking were film plots and the compilation of ‘foreign material’ (e.g. compilations from Soviet or German newsreels). In addition to these subjects there were documentary-style reports and two purely animation films. In the category of anti-Soviet propaganda films Red Mist (Roter Nebel, 1942) stands out, in terms of its content and its distribution.15 Forty minutes long and made in Riga in August 1942, this ‘anti-Bolshevik documentarystyle report on current happenings’16 was first shown in cinemas in the Baltic States. Red Mist put together sequences of captured enemy newsreels and photographs to show a horrific picture of the Soviet occupation, with GPU cellars (prisons, often in cellars, where the Soviet secret police held and interrogated prisoners) and deportations. Shots added afterwards by the Germans gave a positive counter-image to this, as they showed the Latvians greeting the incoming German army as liberators. To heighten the symbolic content, Red Mist used a stereotypical depiction of the Jewish murderer: a masculine face photographed in half light, smirking and with a walrus moustache, big teeth, a hook nose, dark-circled eyes, greasy, shiny skin with warts on his chin. This image had also appeared in other ZFO productions. The film derived its effectiveness as a propaganda weapon from its use of documentary material and from the fact that the Latvians had bad memories of the Stalin period, and hoped for an improvement of their situation under the Germans. All this was strengthened by the fact that the shots appeared to depict the truth. Through equating Soviet acts of brutality with the disgraceful deeds of the Jewish race, which supposedly sprang from their innate mentality, they were able further to stir up hatred of the enemy in the East, to justify National Socialist crimes, or detract attention from them. Therefore Red Mist was regarded as suitable for Europe-wide circulation and up to 1944 there were short versions in more than 20 languages. It ran as a purely Latvian documentary film, to give further support to the ‘fight against Jewish-Bolshevism’, and thus to maximise its effectiveness abroad.

Other anti-Soviet films, such as The Forestry Workers’ Camp (Das Waldarbeiterlager, 1942) and Comrade Edelstein (Genosse Edelstein, 1942) sought to address specifically the Ukrainian-Russian mentality. Using local actors they depicted scenes in which the powerful Jewish-Bolshevist Commissar forces the workers to do more and more, finally torturing them
in punishment camps. In October 1942 the Berlin cartoon studio Paul N. Peroff contributed to this theme with the cartoon film Dubinuschka,17 which railed against the collective farm system. The department responsible for the eastern territories at the Propaganda Ministry described the plot thus: ‘the film must begin with the Jewish-Bolshevist commissioner persuading the Russian or Ukrainian peasants to go into the collective farm system. As the plot progresses the Jew must be shown getting fatter and fatter while the peasants grow thinner and poorer. At the end the film brings the prospect of a better future, through getting rid of the collective farms and bringing in the new agricultural reforms.’18 The many workforce recruitment films also made false promises of better living conditions. We are creating great things in Germany (Wir schaffen in Deutschland, 1943),19 summons up the atrocities depicted in Red Mist – the GPU-Jew in his commissioner’s uniform, a train full of exiles in a Siberian snowstorm, Riga burning – before turning to the swearing in of Estonian volunteers into the SS, which is meant to herald better ‘new times’. The film then quickly moves to a clean German arms factory, and shows volunteers from the East using modern machinery and learning electric welding. Leisure activities, humane camp life and holidays in the homeland are reported on in detail. Parallels with Soviet workers’ camps were to be avoided at all costs. At the end of the film a female domestic servant meets her Estonian friends in the ‘Killbrich’ café on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin for an afternoon chat – so freedom in a highly developed society has been achieved.

Similarly mendacious plots are to be found in the recruitment films We’re going to Germany (Wir fahren nach Deutschland, 1943), Your Hands (Deine Hände, 1943), The 22nd June (Der 22. Juni, 1942) and Letter Home (Brief in die Heimat, 1943). Highlighted in all of these films are correct human behaviour, perfect organisation, a sufficiency of food, a variety of leisure activities and hygienic living conditions. The labour recruits are never worn out by hard physical toil, the barracks are never reminiscent of concentration camps, and there is always contact with home, and the option of going back whenever they want. In ZFO propaganda films, the way Hitler was presented was quite an important means of illustrating the freedom of life in Germany. They counted on the eastern populations, well used to Stalin’s cult of personality, being easily won over by an image of a leader who was close to his people. The Führer and his People (Der Führer und sein Volk, 1942)20 depicted Hitler without body guards, surrounded by his supporters. The film spread the myth that you could meet him any day in the street and get into conversation with him. A random patchwork of shots of Hitler is woven into the background plot, which is set in a camp for labour volunteers. Peasants from the Baltic chat with friendly German soldiers about the ‘Führer’ – when he just happens to pass by. At the end of this naïve portrait of Hitler the locals get an extra tobacco ration from their guards.



In 1944, the situation in Germany for the workers from the East had become critical. ZFO film projects were passed on from Ufa’s Special Production department (Ufa-Sonderproduktion) to small film producers, and this is how Berlin’s Döring-Film got the contract for the propaganda film We live in Germany (Wir leben in Deutschland, 1944).21 In it, a journalist looks round a ‘workers’ town’, which has become home for workers of 18 nations. He finds himself back in a wholesome world, which seems a virtual idyll compared with the German towns, heavily bombed by the allies. Everyone lives perfectly well together, in the residential or hospital barracks, at the make-shift town hall, and indeed in cultural matters they all get on and cooperate. The closing words correct the main title to the expression ‘We are working for Europe’, thus suggesting that the National Socialist forced labour camps should be seen as model communities of foreigners in the ‘Thousand Year Reich’. After a private screening for Goebbels on 28 August 1944, We live in Germany was turned down, since the ‘toned-down depiction in no way corresponded to the reality of life for the foreign worker in Germany   . and at the very most it could well provoke ironic smiles’.22

Cinema network, conditions at the ‘outposts of the Reich’ Basically in June 1942 the ZFO in the Reich Commissariats of Ukraine and the East screened the following films: 1) dubbed newsreels, 2) special propaganda films made by the organisation in the local language, 3) dubbed documentary films, 4) subtitled German feature films.23 This composition is to be seen as the optimal programme model for cinemas in these areas. Of course the war had rendered lots of cinemas unusable. It is however unlikely that the Soviets ‘had nearly always destroyed cinemas on their retreat’, as the ZFO reported in June 1942 to the Propaganda Ministry for the region of Weißruthenien (White Ruthenia). Such a claim must be taken in the context of the strategy of artificially increasing quotas and talking up the need for staff or finances. Looked at today, however, the problems of obtaining spare parts for projectors and other equipment do seem plausible; after all the ‘whole basic structure of the former Soviet Russian cinematic technology, i.e. the film technology works in Moscow, Leningrad, Odessa, and Kasan was not in German hands’.24 At the start of 1942 it was reported to Goebbels that ‘in the areas already taken over by the civilian administration there were a good 250 cinemas functioning for the population. A further 138 would follow in the next 8 weeks.’25 By August 1943 numbers had gone up only slightly to 173 cinemas in the Baltic States and 298 in Ukraine.26 Likewise the building of makeshift cinemas in culturally poorly provided areas proceeded sluggishly. Up to July 1943 there were only eight such wooden buildings available, of which three were in Kaunas and Minsk.27 Therefore cinemas were scarce in the occupied part of the USSR; the number of ZFO cinemas operating was hardly more than in Berlin. As such the apparently long queues in front of the few cinemas were not due to the popularity of German films, but to the general lack of leisure activities. Special cinemas for the German administration existed, for example in Minsk, and the ZFO also had to retain considerable resources for the troops’ benefit. According to a ZFO report of 8 September 1942 feature films, especially musicals, were particularly well received ‘as long as their content was easy to understand’.28 The Film-Kurier of 5 August 1943 cited as examples Operetta (Operette, 1940), The Great Love (Die Große Liebe, 1942), Quax the Crash Pilot (Quax der Bruchpilot, 1941), and the inflammatory anti-Semitic film Jew Süss (Jud Süss, 1940). Nevertheless, by the beginning of 1943 the queues outside of Ukrainian cinemas were drying up. Public life was almost at a standstill, as the population saw through the tissue of lies used in the labour recruitment campaign (and also in ZFO films) and kept themselves well out of sight for fear of the occupying power’s fiercely coercive methods of ‘levying manpower for the Reich’.29 All the while anti-German feeling was growing. To be able to show films in some sort of orderly way the ZFO management had already approached the Propaganda Ministry in March 1942, asking if the cinema employees at Ukraine-Film could be kitted out with uniforms. ‘It would however not make much sense to send lower-rank uniforms.’30

The ZFO also distributed newsreel prints. In the first half of 1944, when the Germans were already retreating from the East, 6 prints of the Deutsche Wochenschau and 20 prints of the Auslandstonwoche (5 Latvian, 5 Lithuanian, 4 Estonian, 3 Russian and 3 White-Russian) were distributed to an estimated number of 200 cinemas (some of them travelling cinemas).31 As regards its ideological influence over the local populations, the ZFO was never under any illusion. Urban groups, especially workers, were seen as ‘ruined by Bolshevism’ with anti-German views. Propaganda films were mainly deployed for the rural population.32 The occupying power hoped to be successful with these people, largely through the announcement of the ‘New agrarian order’ (a reversal of collective farming).33 In 1943 the already rather limited trust in the Germans sank even lower, and in July anticommunist films were encountering ‘clearly expressed rejection’. New episodes of the series Looking towards Germany (Blick nach Deutschland) were meant to counteract such feelings. At the same time ZFO announced as its most important work the big anti-partisan film Wolves Project (WölfeProjekt).34 Even the NSDAP propaganda leadership was becoming muted over prospects of success for agitation films. They discouraged the satirical series Sergeant Butylkin, which was an attack on Stalin, on the grounds that ‘it is without a doubt a fact that the Russian has always in an almost mythical way believed in the Tsar as a father figure, and today their military commitment shows how Stalin plays an absolutely similar role.’35 At the end of 1942
the occupying authorities no longer believed film to be enough to fight the battle against the dogged Soviet underground forces, so at Christmas 1942 Goebbels' Ministey delivered to the 'most endangered areas of Smolensk and White Ruthenia'  50,000 liters of schnapps, 5 million cigarettes 'of poor quality' , 2 wagons of machorka tobacco and 3 wagons on salt.' 36


The ZFO in the whole of Europe?

As far as local issues were concerned, ZFO saw itself to be a European firm, which wanted to make money through its own productions, and at the same time support the ‘enlightenment’ of the people against Bolshevism. They hoped to increase the number of anti-Soviet and anti-Jewish films shown in the occupied and neutral states and thereby achieve a good income. The Propaganda Ministry was to pay for copies – a process which functioned smoothly until the beginning of 1944. The ZFO set this strategy in motion for the first time in 1942, the films Comrade Edelstein (Genosse Edelstein, 1942) and The Last Blow of the Hammer (Der letzte Hammerschlag, 1942) were shown to the Finnish embassy. The Finns registered much interest, which was not surprising given their partial occupation in 1939/40 by the Russians. The sum of 60,000 RM from the ‘Eastern Propaganda Fund’ covered the cost of dubbing by Suomi-Film in Helsinki.37 In Croatia too the anti-Bolshevik films met with approval. Alongside the 35mm cine versions of Forestry workers’ camp, Comrade Edelstein and The Last Blow of the Hammer, the ZFO also delivered eight 16mm film copies for ‘Uberlandpropaganda’ (propaganda for rural areas spread by mobile equipment like cars or trains).38 In 1943/4439 the agitation film Red Mist was also very successful. In order to fit the 40 minute long piece into a regular cinema programme it was reduced to 17 minutes. Copies of this in some 20 languages were planned,40 with finally a French and a German version being made.41 In Germany Bundesfilm AG was contracted to adapt the short version of Red Mist, retitled Oppressed People (Geknechtetes Volk, 1944).42 At the beginning of 1944 ZFO opened an outpost in Paris for more dubbing work, through one of its directors Vahagen Badal. This clever step was meant to make it easier to move staff away from the increasingly insecure East towards ‘civilised areas’. At the same time the head of production at ZFO Siegfried Kyser and his deputy Kretzschmar travelled through Europe, to judge what the chances were of Red Mist being shown. Their reports must have been disappointing: in Denmark Kyser estimated that its persuasive effect would be minimal, since because of the strong anti-German feelings there, the scenes where the Baltic peoples greet the German troops were inappropriate and would be seen as propaganda tricks. A cinema launch here was ruled out, and a Danish version given over for the local Anti-Komintern Organisation to use. Kretzschmar thought that in Spain the horrific images of Soviet crimes
would fall flat, given that the Civil War had accustomed them to worse. He also foresaw that the Spanish distributor would not be keen, since they traditionally looked more towards Hollywood.43 The ZFO could do nothing when their lawyer Gerhardt was refused an entry visa by Switzerland. This threw up the question of how anti-Bolshevik films could be successfully shown in neutral countries. Finally they relied on Kyser’s skilfulness: he was to continue his work ‘without fuss’, and alongside his own films he was to get the Ufa-special productions into foreign countries.44

ZFO in crisis

From 1944 things were getting increasingly worse for ZFO. Soviet troops were relentlessly pushing westwards, and attacks by partisans and the ruthlessness with which the occupying power clamped down on the local people made civilian life in the ‘Eastern Territories’ impossible. With calculated optimism and pragmatism the ZFO attempted to save what was saveable – above all the exemption from military service of some of its staff. The firm therefore came to the attention of the Propaganda Ministry, as it was asking for more and more cash injections, but returns from film shows were drying up.45 At the beginning of 1944 its film production department had to be wound up and absorbed into the Ufa-special productions unit. It was feared that Alfred Rosenberg would object,46 however what was happening overall in the war meant that the influence of his Ministry (for eastern occupied territories) was diminishing, and in August 1944 a more stringent plan was made, as part of the ‘total war effort’. After the Ufa-special productions unit was shut down the Ufa-documentary film department continued with a few more film projects,47 for instance with Eugen York, who had been exempted from military service for Ufa. The remains of ZFO came under the management of Tobis in October 1944.48 Assistant Secretary Dr Eberhard Taubert from the Propaganda Ministry had meanwhile collected on the spot information about ZFO, the verdict of which was damning: ‘the company was a bloated business, completely incapable of providing for the film needs of the Eastern Territories.    In contrast, Ufa film distribution was prompt and quick.’49 A telephone conversation with the Landespropagandaamt Ostland (propaganda service for the countries of the East) shed more light on how things worked. The ZFO was a mere conduit for relaying orders from Ostlandfilm to Ufa. Films they had produced had never been seen. Staff numbers were estimated as ‘disproportionately high’: in Riga the ZFO was maintaining departments with basically nothing to do, departments ‘for administration, legal matters, film theatres, production, technical affairs, distribution, purchasing, staffing, dispatch etc.’.50 Finally the blame was laid on Max Winkler, but this did him no harm personally, for the position of the Bürgermeister (mayor) was too strong in the National Socialist propaganda machine.51


The successes of the Red Army had some significant consequences: the 26 ZFO productions and at least 69 subtitled feature films had become basically worthless. In the National Socialists’ positivist logic they would be ‘put to a new use’. At this time there were in Germany some 2.8 million ‘workers from the East’ (both voluntary and forced labour), in addition to the roughly 600,000 Soviet prisoners of war – and numbers were growing. In March/April 1944 workers and equipment of Ukraine-Film and Ostlandfilm were moved into the Gemeinschaftsbetriebe Königshütte, a joint venture in the little town of Königshütte in the Harz Mountains, which was safe from bombing. From here they organised ‘propaganda for volunteer groups from the East, workers from the East, and Soviet prisoners of war’52 as well as ‘the provision of film technology to German areas in danger of air raids’.53 Once again ZFO hoped business would be good. However the Propaganda Ministry rejected what they saw as an exaggerated and opaque price list for subtitled films, on the grounds that they would be giving a business in deficit ‘indirect subsidies from Reich funds’.54 Finally in July 1944 Goebbels did agree to grant the princely sum of 531.700 RM retrospectively for the first half year. Over half of the money was swallowed up by subtitled foreign newsreels.55 For the second time the Russian population was exposed to recruitment appeals. Compelled to do degrading forced labour, they now had to join Hitler’s latest contingent – ‘the Russian Liberation Army’ (under Andrej Vlasov) or the Weißruthenisches Schutzkorps (White Ruthenian Home Guard). The films The Free Young Eagles (Wolnie Orliata/Die jungen freien Adler, 1944) and The Way of the Russian Soldier (Der Weg des russischen Soldaten, 1944), were meant to support recruitment, but they were probably not being screened any more. Cannon fodder and second-class people – right to the end the Nazis held on to their racial ideology. In the middle of August 1944 the department for the East at the Propaganda Ministry proposed a ‘reform’. In order to increase the will to work, rows of seats at normal cinema performances could be reserved for ‘vermin-free workers from the East’. The Reich deputy director of film Kurt Parbel turned this down, however, as Germans on the ‘home front’ should not be asked to put up with this.56 In the end the ZFO itself used forced labour, at any rate documents about forced labour camps in Berlin indicate ZFO staff barracks in Berlin, on the corner of Stüler- and Tiergartenstraße. This camp had been in existence since December 1942 and burnt down in a bomb attack between the 22 and 23 November 1943. The fate of the inmates is unknown.57 As far as we know the management and the directors of ZFO did not have to answer for their film propaganda after 1945. Indeed, some CVs went missing after 1945 (the Latvian director Volemar Puuze’s among them). However a not insignificant number of people in charge at ZFO went on to have successful careers in the film industry, mainly in light entertainment films.


1. This article is a revised shortened version of R. Forster, ‘Deutsche Filmpropaganda im “Ostraum” – die Zentral-Filmgesellschaft Ost (ZFO) 1941–45’, in J. Roschlau (ed.) Träume in Trümmern. Film-Produktion und Propaganda in Europa 1940–1950 (München: Edition text + kritik, 2009), pp. 46–64. Notable exceptions are J. Spiker, Film und Kapital (Berlin: Volker Spiess, 1975), p. 191; B. Drewniak, Der deutsche Film 1938–1945 (Düsseldorf: Droste, 1987), p. 353 and p. 772.
2. Bundesarchiv (hereafter: Barch), R 55/506, Fiche 1, p. 37. Draft for the founding of the ZFO, submitted to Georg von Engelhardt, Propagandaministerium, Berlin 3 November 1941.
3. Between 16 and 23 December 1943, in accordance with a ‘decree from the Führer’ of 15 August 1943, the Propaganda Departments of the Ostministerium (Ministry for the East) were taken over by the Propagandaministerium (Propaganda Ministry). This set Joseph Goebbels in dispute with Alfred Rosenberg over their respective areas of competence.
4. Barch, NS 18/346, RPL der NSDAP: Filme für das Ostgebiet. Notiz für Pg. Walter Tießler, München 22 October 1942.
5. R. Vande Winkel, ‘Nazi Newsreels in Europe, 1939–1945: The Many Faces of Ufa’s Foreign Weekly Newsreel (Auslandstonwoche) versus the German Weekly Newsreel (Deutsche Wochenschau)’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 24:1 (2004), p. 32.
6. Barch, R 109 III/45, ZFO (Tobis) to Ufa-Film GmbH, regarding: the possibility of re-deployment for reliable employees of Riga-Film GmbH, Berlin 19 January 1945.
7. K. O’Connor, Culture and Customs of the Baltic States (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006), p. 159.
8. Barch, R 109 III/27, Inventory of staff at the Production Department (ZFO, UkraineFilm) of 25 January 1944.
9. ‘Der Filmaufbau in den besetzten Ostgebieten’ in: Film-Kurier, No. 208 (1942), 5 September 1942.
10. ‘In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania preliminary work has already begun on the reprivatisation of film firms taken over by the Soviets. Basically it is intended to give the cinemas back to their former owners, as long as they are not Jewish.’ (Film-Kurier, No. 208/1942, 5 September 1942).
11. Barch, RKK 2500 Box 0237 File 25, Curriculum Vitae of Eugen York, about 1943.
12. Barch, R 109 I/1662, Auditors’ report on Ukraine-Filmgesellschaft GmbH 30 June 1942.
13. Barch, R 55/506, Fiche 5–6, Information from Erich Müller-Beckedorff on the report of the ZFO Supervisory Board meeting, Berlin 11 November 1942.
14. Barch, R 109 III/45, ZFO (Tobis) to Ufa-Film GmbH, Berlin 19 January 1945.
15. Ostlandfilm GmbH/Riga-Film production, director Voldemars Puuze, head of production Janis Silis, Versions: for the moment Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, ca. 40 .
16. Barch, R 55/506, Fiche 6, p. 244. Report on the work of Zentralfilmgesellschaft Ost GmbH and its subsidiaries Ostlandfilm GmbH and Ukraine-Film GmbH, Berlin 8 September 1942.
17. Ostlandfilm GmbH production, completed October 1942, direction Paul N. Peroff (Berlin), Voldemars Puuze (Riga), head of Production Paul N. Peroff, versions: Russian, Ukrainian, 4 30  . No copies have so far been discovered.

18. Barch, R 55/1289, Fiche 1, p. 3, Generalreferat Ostraum im Propagandaministerium (Department for the Eastern Territories in the Propaganda Ministry), Eberhard Taubert, to Goebbels, 6 May 1942.
19. ZFO production, 1943, director Goldmann, versions: Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, ca. 37 . Records in Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv (hereafter: Barch-Farch).
20. Ufa/ZFO production, completed February 1942, director: Alfred Stöger, head of production: Otto Nay, with Eduard von Winterstein as a Baltic farmer; versions: Russian, Ukrainian, White Russian, 13 30  . Records in Barch-Farch.
21. Döring-Film production for Ufa-special productions, completed 28 August 1944, script and direction Eberhard Jösser, camera Friedrich Jurda, music Walter Schütze, 20 . Held in Barch-Farch.
22. J. Roschlau and O. Brill (eds), Alles in Scherben!    ? Film-Produktion und Propaganda in Europa 1940–1950 [Catalogue of the 5th International Festival of German Film Legacy Hamburg] (München: Edition text + kritik, 2008), p. 96.
23. Barch, R 55/1289, Fiche 3, Propaganda Ministry, Dept. Ostraum, group leader of F (film), Georg von Engelhardt to Goebbels re film propaganda in the new eastern regions, Berlin, 2 June 1942.
24. Barch, R 55/506, Fiche 6, p. 244. Report on the work of Zentralfilmgesellschaft Ost GmbH and its subsidiaries Ostlandfilm GmbH and Ukraine-Film GmbH, Berlin 8 September 1942.
25. Barch, R 55/1289, Fiche 3. Propaganda Ministry, Dept. Ostraum, group leader of F (film), Georg von Engelhardt to Goebbels re film propaganda in the new eastern regions, Berlin 2 June 1942.
26. ‘Der deutsche Film im besetzten Gebiet’, in Film-Kurier, No. 113 (1943), 5 August 1943.
27. Barch, R 109 I/1934. Minutes of ZFO Supervisory Board meeting, Berlin 21 July 1943.
28. Barch, R 55/506, Fiche 6, p. 245. Report on the work of Zentralfilmgesellschaft Ost GmbH and its subsidiaries Ostlandfilm GmbH and Ukraine-Film GmbH, Berlin 8 September 1942.
29. The War Criminals’ Trial at the International Military Court, Nuremberg, 14 November 1945 to I October 1946. Nuremberg: Selbstverlag (published by the authorities themselves) 1947, Band XXV, Dokument 018-PS.
30. Barch, R 109 I/1934. ZFO Business management to the Propaganda Ministry, secretary of state Leopold Gutterer.
31. Vande Winkel (2004), p. 33.
32. ‘Our propaganda among the rural Russian population has turned out to be productive in that this section of the population, deprived of their rights under the soviet system and now sunk to the level of a rural proletariat, has shown itself to be more open than the urban population to our propaganda efforts and our attempts to re-shape life in this area. […] The politically aware and stirred up urban population was sceptical towards our propaganda from the start and always gave the impression that they had no way of checking if what was presented to them in newspapers, posters, leaflets, brochures, on the radio or in films was not just empty promises or a mere sham.’ (SS-Sonderführer Hans Meyer, Smolensk, to Eberhard Taubert, Leiter Abteilung Ost im Propagandaministerium, 1 July 1942. Barch, R 55/1288, Fiche 1, p. 33/34).
33. The ‘New Agricultural Order’ of course proved a sham. The communal economy and the farming cooperatives were, furthermore, subject to German supervision and German tax. A system of private individual farms needed stronger support,
German Film Politics in the Occupied Eastern Territories, 1941–45 and this was hardly ever given. In practice the ‘New Agricultural Order’, because of economic necessity, was an attempted compromise between political propaganda considerations and the actual retention of large scale farming. (Timm C. Richter, Herrenmensch und Bandit. Deutsche Kriegsführung und Besatzungspolitik als Kontext des sowjetischen Partisanenkrieges 1941–44 (Berlin, Hamburg und Münster: LIT (1998), p. 96)).
34. Barch, R 109 I/1934. Minutes of the ZFO Supervisory Board meeting, Berlin 21 July 1943.
35. Barch, R 55/567, Fiche 3, p. 116. Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP (Propaganda leadership) to Propagandaministerium, Staatssekretär (secretary of state at the Propaganda Ministry) Leopold Gutterer, Berlin 18 December 1943.
36.Barch, R 55/1366, Fiche 6. Ministervorlage (Briefing notes) from the head of Eastern Territories Eberhard Taubert for Goebbels, Berlin 15 December 1942.
37. Barch, R 55/1366, Fiche 4–5. Propaganda Ministry, Dept. Eastern Territories, group leader of F (Film), Georg von Engelhardt to Goebbels, Berlin 27 August 1942.
38. Barch, R 55/1366, Fiche 6. Dubbing cost 80.000 RM. Cf. Ministerial presentation for Goebbels 9 October 1942. 39. Barch, R 55/798, Fiche 1. The first written account of a short version of Red Mist, which was meant to run as a ‘supplement to the main programme’ abroad, can be dated to September 1943. Cf. Ministerial presentation for Goebbels, Berlin 20 September 1943.
40. The Propaganda Ministry granted 50.000 RM on 24 March 1944 – for versions in Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Italian, Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Dutch, Polish and Turkish. Cf. Barch, R 55/798, Fiche 1 and Drewniak (1987), p. 356.
41. Barch, R 55/798, Fiche 1. ZFO to Goebbels, Berlin 24 February 1944.
42. Barch, R 55/904, Fiche 3. Invoice of Bundesfilm AG for Geknechtetes Volk, Berlin 10 October 1944. ZFO to Max Winkler, Berlin 4 February 1944.
43. Barch, R 109 III/27. Cf. also the differing version given by Drewniak (1987), p. 876.
44. Barch, R 109 III/27. Erich Müller-Beckedorff to Max Winkler, Berlin 30 March 1944.
45. Ukraine-Film GmbH’s distribution takings for four ‘Russian Films’ (Bauernfilm, Der Führer und sein Volk, Das Waldarbeiterlager and Genosse Edelstein) only amounted to some 950 RM for 1942.
46. Barch, R 55/564, Fiche 2, p. 68/69. Eberhard Taubert, Leiter Abteilung Ost (head of the department of the East), to Secretary of State Leopold Gutterer in the Propagandaministerium re production of films for the East, Berlin 28 January 1944. Initially it was planned to give ‘a certain organisational independence’ to the section within Ufa special productions that had previously been ZFO (minutes of a discussion with Max Winkler, Berlin 21 March 1944. Barch, R 55/564, Fiche 2, p. 76).
47. Barch, R 55/656, p. 23. Maßnahmen zur Durchführung des totalen Krieges auf dem Gebiet des Filmschaffens, Anweisung von Exekutivstab O im Propagandaministerium, Kurt Parbel, Berlin 4 August 1944.
48. Barch, R 55/564, Fiche 2, p. 91. Ministerialrat (assistant secretary) Friess to Eberhard Taubert, Leiter Hauptreferat Ost im Propagandaministerium, Berlin 21 October 1944.
49. Barch, R 55/564, Fiche 2. Report for the assistant secretary in the Propaganda Ministry Eberhard Taubert about ZFO, Berlin 24 April 1944.

50. Barch, R 55/564, Fiche 2, p. 86. FS-Bericht (telegraphic report) from the Landespropagandaamt (National Propaganda Service) Ostland Riga, Schierholz, to Eberhard Taubert, Berlin 25 April 1944.
51. ‘We brought the ZFO into being. Bürgermeister Dr. Winkler however made a claim to absorb it completely into the firm. He did not drop this claim even after the Führer-level decision about propaganda for the East [from 15 August 1943 sole responsibility lay with the Propaganda Ministry], but instead he pressed his claim more strongly. He even got the minister to agree to it.’ (Report from Min.-Dir. Berndt about ZFO to Staatssekretär Leopold Gutterer in the Propagandaministerium (L. Gutterer, Secretary of State at the Propaganda Ministry), Berlin 27 April 1944. Barch, R 55/564, Fiche 2).
52. Barch, R 55/506, Fiche 9, p. 402. Leiter Hauptreferat Ost im Propagandaministerium (Head of the main Department for the East at the Propaganda Ministry), Eberhard Taubert, to Goebbels, Berlin 28 August 1944.
53. Barch, R 55/220, Fiche 3. Ministerialrat (assistant secretary) Friess at the Propaganda Ministry to Max Winkler, Berlin 12 July 1944.
54. Barch, R 55/Filmsign. 17004. Leiter Hauptreferat Ost im Propagandaministerium, Eberhard Taubert, to Goebbels, Berlin 17 April 1944.
55. Barch, R 55/506, Fiche 9, p. 402/403. Leiter Hauptreferat Ost im Propagandaministerium, Eberhard Taubert, to Goebbels, Berlin 28 August 1944.
56. Barch, R 55/1295, Fiche 5, p. 237. Rundbrief von Kurt Parbel betr. Zulassung der Ostarbeiter in Filmtheatern, Berlin 16 August 1944.
57. Rainer Kubatzki, Standorte und Topographie der Kriegsgefangenen- und Zwangsarbeiterlager in Berlin und Umland 1939–1945 (Berlin: Berlin-Verlag 2001) p. 51 and pp. 191–2.


Thanks to Anne Welch for translating this article from German into English.