This is one of the most repellent propaganda films of the Third Reich, which depicts the Poles and the Jews in Poland before the outbreak of war in September 1939 as racial enemies of the hard–working German population who were for centuries citizens and residents in the East and found themselves in an imposed post-WWI Poland after the defeat of Germany. The film depicts Jewish children burning down a "Volksschule" and attacking the German students who try to save their school; the hatred of the Germans by the Polish city bureaucrats; the unprovoked attack of a German couple in a movie theatre by Polish audience members leading to the man's death; and a German farm woman being stoned to death by an angry mob. When war breaks out the German civilians –men, women and children – are herded by the Polish Army into a prison, and await their massacre by machine–gun. The German Wehrmacht comes to their rescue just in time, and the Germans then return to the Reich and its safety. As a film historian in the 2014 documentary Verbotene Filme (Blueprint Film, Germany) states, projected onto the Poles were all the characteristics and activities which during the invasion and conquering of Poland after September 1939 were visited upon them by the Germans.
The William Gillespie collection does not have an original poster for this film. The poster looks like this:
The Kleinplakat (not from our Collection) looks like this:
In February 2015 we acquired a well–preserved rare Occupied Belgian advertisement for the film.
The Collection has 23 original lobby cards and press photos for the film, the Ufa film studio pressbook for the film (despite it being a "Wien Film" production) and the world premiere opening night program booklet– a slick, glossy publication with gold cord and glossy Kromekote type paper, with an introductory message from Reichsminister Dr. Goebbels, and a message also from the Reichsstatthalter of Vienna, Baldur von Schirach; a film synopsis, credits, and a number of film stills reproduced inside. The opening night program cover is shown here:
The Collection also has four rare behind–the–scenes press photos of the building of the sets in Occupied Poland and interior shots of the director and his camera crew at work:
Finally, the Collection has a school classroom filmstrip for Heimkehr. The film was shown to students across the Reich, and was voted in a 1943 national survey of students as the fifth (5th) most popular film amongst students out of hundreds of feature films ranked. (JUGEND UND FILM, A.U.Sander, Das Junge Deutschland, Zentralverlag der NSDAP; Franz Eher Verlag, 1944 Berlin.) The filmstrip and some infamous scenes from the film are shown here, copied off of the filmstrip:
The film was an official (prize winning) German entry into the 1941 Venice Film Festival, which Dr. Goebbels attended – shown here in the Agenzia Fotografica Internazionale press photo taken on 31 August 1941 - in the company of Italian Propaganda Minister Pavolini:
BELOW the Lido in Venice during the 1941 Film Festival, showing the Heimkehr poster, along with those for Ohm Krüger and Komödianten, the German film entries in that year's Festival.
The post–war fate of the Polish actors
who appeared in Heimkehr
Twenty-three Polish actors appeared in the film, ranging from the important roles of the City Mayor (Boguslav Samborski) and the Polish Foreign Minister Beck (Tadeusz Zelski) to, amongst others, the movie theatre box office matron, a policeman, a NCO soldier, or a hospital ward attendant, to the prison guard who killed the wounded German Karl in his cell. The actor who played the Jewish merchant Solomonson was not himself Polish, but an Austrian (Eugen Preiss) who contracted typhus during the film-shoot in Chorzelach and who was nursed back to health by none other that Paula Wessely. Preiss, who played the role fearing deportation otherwise, survived the war and died in Vienna in 1961. He never appeared in another film after Heimkehr.
The post-war Communist regime took an energetic interest in investigating Polish actors who appeared in the film. They had been recruited by Austrian actor Igo Sym, who had served in the Polish military prior to the war, and whom appeared in many German films and on the Polish stage leading up to Germany’s occupation in 1939. By then Sym had returned to Warsaw, was a representative of Wien-Film, and also a Gestapo agent. Part of the film script had been obtained by the Union of Polish Actors and the Resistance was aware of the true nature of the film.
Although Sym’s recruitment has been ultimately successful, despite many actors having refused to sign contracts, the Resistance decided to target him to warn others from cooperating with the Germans. He was assassinated on 7 March 1941 in his Warsaw apartment, aged 44.
The German authorities reacted brutally to Sym’s murder by closing all theaters and arresting about 120 teachers, lawyers, physicians and actors. The population of Warsaw was given three days to find Sym’s murderers. As nobody was found, on 11 March 1941, twenty-one hostages were executed. Several prominent actors were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. At least one of them testified at the 1948 Heimkehr trial.
It was obligatory for Polish actors and artists tor register for employment through the German Propaganda office and the Union of Polish Actors made it known to its members that they should refuse to work in German theatres, and only as singers or entertainers in cafés and restaurants. As there was no Polish film industry at the time, film roles were not expressly forbidden but obviously under the circumstances must have been known by actors to also be completely off-limits.
The investigation by the Warsaw War Court of Polish actors’ involvement with Heimkehr led to eight actors being named in November 1948. Others who participated were unknown to the Court and could not be identified at that time. When the first day of proceedings commenced on 16 November, six of the eight had been brought to trial. The missing two actors were the ones who played the named roles of the Bürgermeister (Samborski) and the Polish Foreign Minister, a real Doppelgänger for Beck (Zelski.) The Court heard that Samborski’s wife was Jewish and therefore he felt obligated to appear in the film to keep her safe. He had been a stage actor in Poland and a film actor, mostly in secondary roles in Germany, and after Sym’s liquidation he fled to the Reich and in 1948 to South America with his wife. Zelski had subsequent to his role in the film taken part in the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans, and had died in the battle.
The six actors present had played the movie theatre Director who refuses to help the wounded Fritz after his savage beating by Polish patrons; the man in the cinema who agitates the crowd against the Germans; a policeman in the cinema, the woman who was the ticket-seller in the cinema entrance, one who appeared as an NCO, and the prison guard who killed the wounded German in his cell.
The film was screened on the first day of the trial in the court room. All six defendants pleaded Not Guilty, arguing that they had been under pressure from Sym who threatened them with “drastic consequences” if they refused. They feared retaliation. The actress who played the ticket-seller had no real film role and thus was not indicted for playing a role in the film, but because she had been the translator for Wien-Film and had helped oversee the smooth participation of the actors and their transport to Vienna to continue filming scenes in the Wien-Film studios. She pleaded that she was in fact a ‘victim of Nazi terror’ and had participated to ‘save her life.’
The Court heard from many actors who testified that they had not in fact been threatened if they did not agree to sign a contract, and that by the start of 1941 everyone was fully aware of the anti-Polish nature to the film.
On the second day of the trial, witnesses called the absent Samborski a “coward,” “a drinker,” an “egotist” and a “lecher.” Actors testified that they were able to refuse to sign a contract and that the atmosphere with Sym was ‘genial.’ Others swore that after they were made aware of the true propaganda intent of the film, they were able to get Sym to agree to withdraw their contracts even though they had already been signed. The Union of Polish Actors representative stated that after Sym’s execution, it was well-known what it meant for Polish actors to travel to Vienna to film there.
On the third and last day of the trial, the Court found that ‘the guilt of the actors was not due to either the scope nor character of the role performed. What was important was only the fact that they, as Poles, had participated in the film.’
In absentia, Samborski was sentenced to life imprisonment. Plucinski, who played the policeman in the cinema, was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Lusczewski, who played the agitator in the cinema, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, as was Golczewski, whose role was not determined. The only female indicted, Szczepanka, who was the Wien-Film translator and arranged travel for the actors to Vienna; and appeared behind the glass of the movie theatre box office window, was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment. The actor Grolicky who played the cinema Director, may well not have been sentenced; as his name does not appear in references to the summary of the proceedings. In the end, only four actors were imprisoned out of the 23 who mostly remained unidentified to the authorities.