The Z.F.O. and it's subsidiary film production
companies operating in the Occupied USSR.
The Zentralfilmgesellschaft Ost mbH was a German film production company based in Berlin. It was founded after the German invasion of the USSR on November 10, 1941, in order to make the film studios and cinemas in the occupied territories usable for the purposes of German film propaganda. The stolen production facilities in Riga, Reval and Kiev were transferred to subsidiaries: Ostland-Film-Gesellschaft mbH was established in Riga and Ukraine-Film-Gesellschaft mbH in Kiev. These companies set up traveling cinemas, opened fixed cinemas and repaired damaged cinemas. Among other things, they ensured that each time a ghetto was liquidated, i.e. the evacuation of the residents to extermination camps, among which the anti-Semitic mood among the non-Jewish population was fueled by the screening of the film Jud Süß. The Zentralfilmgesellschaft Ost also produced a number of its own films. [ Note: this paragraph was translated from the German Wikipedia entry.]
Ostland Film GmbH and sister film companies in the Occupied Eastern Territories 1941–1944.
BELOW: Three envelopes from 1941–1942 with FILMBETRIEBE OSTLAND's return address of Adolf-Hitler–Straße 15, Riga and from RIGA FILM GmbH. FURTHER BELOW, a view of that street at the time, in daytime and BELOW, on a rainy night. All materials shown are from our Collection.
A fourth letter envelope. this one for sister firm UKRAINE FILM GmbH
from the Capitol cinema in Kostopol, Ukraine.
BELOW: A wartime look at Adolf Hitler Straße, Riga with the building which housed the Ostland Film GmbH HQ at the time, (Left), a 2017 photo of the building, which survived the war and is now where the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway is located, taken by German Films Dot Net (Right), and a wartime postcard of the Adolf Hitler Straße taken on a rainy night in Riga.
A contemporary Wehrmacht street map showing Adolf-Hitler–Str. as the main avenue.
Today, the Riga Film Museum has a display about the Riga Film GmbH production company during the German Occupation in WWII. We highly recommend a visit to this very interesting and important Baltic film museum:
An Ostland–Film G.m.b.H. full–page advertisement in the September 1942 issue (#3) of the Ostland – Monatschrift des Reichkommissars für das Ostland, published in Riga.
The German soldiers' cinema in Riga (below).
More photographs and information on the "Splendid-Palast" cinema in Riga, and the actual super–rare original poster for a German propaganda film being screened there in 1943 can be found here. The cinema survived both WWII and Soviet Occupation and is one of Riga's cherished Art Noveau Rococo style architectural gems. The building was opened in 1923.
The German newspaper Deutsche Zeitung im Ostland, published in wartime Riga, in its 23 December 1943 issue, advertised no fewer than sixteen (!) German feature films showing across greater Riga that day, including the Agfacolor smash hit MÜNCHHAUSEN, amongst others. Note the advertisement for Ostland Film GmbH in the panel under the daily movie screening schedule, promoting it's propaganda short films.
Below, the hugely popular Gustav Ucicky film Der Postmeister starring Hilde Krahl and Heinrich George being advertised in Kiev, capital of the Occupied Ukraine. Photo courtesy of the Film–Kurier Tageszeitung #272, 19 November 1942. Hilde Krahl's image is the same one used on our German poster of the film.
Ostland Film G.m.b.H; Riga
During the campaign against the Soviet Union, propaganda film entities overseen by the Ministry of Propaganda and Alfred Rosenberg's Ministry of the Eastern Occupied Territories in Berlin were established under the control of "Zentralfilmgesellschaft Ost" (ZFO). ZFO was founded on 10 November 1941 and the Ufa film studio oversaw film production. Later in the war, well after the tide turned, in October 1944, Tobis Filmkunst assumed management of the film companies.
The Ukraine in 1943 as depicted in the Das kleine Ukraine Buch (Berlin, 1943):
Eventually, five companies were established: Riga-Film (film production) and two film distribution entities: Ostlandfilm GmbH (also written as Ostland Film GmbH in places) in Riga, and Ukraine–Film GmbH in Kiev, as well as Deutsche Kaukasus–Film GmbH and "Elbrus" Film–Arbeitsgemeinschaft GmbH. The latter two companies apparently never actually produced any films and were dissolved by mid–1942 due to military reversals on the Eastern Front. Author Babette Quinkert, in her book Propaganda und Terror in Weißrussland 1941–1945 (Ferdinand Schönlingh Verlag, Padeborn, 2009) states that Ostland Film GmbH in 1942 employed 1,400 locals with 25 Germans supervising them in film production. (Ukraine Filmgesellschaft clipping from the Film–Kurier Tageszeitung, #67, 20 März 1942.)
Ostland Film GmbH was managing the cinemas, film distribution, and propaganda film production in the Reichskommissariat Ostland, and the Ukraine Film GmbH was managing the cinemas and film distribution and propaganda film production in the Reichskommissirat Ukraine.
Note the " Z F O " logo in the middle of the Ukraine Film GmbH rubber stamp on the envelope below on the LEFT; making up part of the Russian imperial eagle styled graphic design.....which was also used at the beginning of the propaganda films as the film studio logo, below RIGHT:
The Ostland Film GmbH also developed its own logo, which can be seen here as the opening credit on its Latvian language version of Roter Nebel :
The 5 September 1942 film newspaper Film Kurier Tageszeitung reported that Ukraine Film gmbH had branches in Kiev, Dnepropetrowsk, Nikolajew, Shitomir, Tschernigow, and in Melitopol in the Crimea. On 30 November 1942 the same film newspaper reported that Ukraine Film GmbH also had branch offices in Luzk, Saporoskje, Kirwoj Rog, Kirowograd, Potawa, Winniza and Prokurow. Ostlandfilm GmbH also had branches in Reval, Kaunas , Wilna, Dorport, and Minsk. The Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH also had a subsidiary in Riga. Note that Ostlandfilm is spelled Ostland Film on one of the posters below. As of 31 August, 1943, the ZFO had 121 employees, Ukraine–Film had 141 employees, and Ostland Film had 33 employees. At the beginning of 1944, the ZFO set up a dubbing lab in Paris for the films produced for the East. In October 1944 due to the German retreat, the ZFO was put under the aegis of Tobis Filmkunst in Berlin.
The main function of these motion picture distribution companies was to 'enlighten, ie: 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,‘ to 'entertain, in order to maintain and heighten pleasure in working,', to 'intimidate, in order to limit unrest to a minimum, and to bring Germany's industrial and military predominance to peoples' attention in an ever more awe-inspiring way,' and finally, to 'prevent individual ethnic groups from having autonomy in the area of culture or suchlike, and therefore from wanting freedom to administer their own affairs.' (Vande Winkel, Roel & Welch David, Editors; Cinema & The Swastika, 2nd edition 2011, palgrave, p.120, from Chapter 24, by Ralf Forster, German Film Politics in the Occupied Eastern Territories 1941–1945. )
Auf Deutsch finden Sie alles unter: ‘ Deutsche Filmpropaganda im “Ostraum” – Die Zentral - Filmgesellschaft Ost (ZFO) 1941-1945,‘ Ralf Forster, Kapitel 4, S.46–64; Träume in Trümmern, CineGraph, 2009 München.)
In a review of its full year of operations, the Film Kurier Tageszeitung on 9 January 1943 reported that Ostland Film GmbH, which oversaw some 175 cinemas presented to a reported 19 million audience members in 1942/43 such German productions as the Veit Harlan Agfacolor film Die goldene Stadt, Steinhoff's Rembrandt, Carl Peters, Andreas Schlüter, Dr.Crippen an Bord, Zarah Leander in Die große Liebe, Fronttheater, Wiener Blut, U-Boote-Westwärts, Nacht in Venedig, and Wiener Blut.
On the front page of the FilmKurier Tageszeitung of 3 May 1943, the ZFO announced that in addition to distributing German films with Estonian, Lithuanian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian subtitles, in future the Deutsche Wochenschau newsreels would be screened in both Russian and Ukrainian dubbed versions.
In the book Das kleine Ukraine Buch, (Fritz Wimschneider, F.Bruckmann Verlag, München, n.d.) it is stated:
" The Ukraine Film Company ZFO has taken over the huge Kiev studios and the effort is so far expanded that in their own film copying laboratory German films can be subtitled in Ukrainian, and already the production of cultural films could be tackled. The ZFO today supplies the entire occupied territory with movies, in charge of the theaters and has already won the German films millions of friends." Although the book has no publication date, the book's Introduction is dated “Herbst 1943.”
In the 24 May 1943 issue of Film Kurier Tageszeitung, it was reported that Ukraine Film GmbH had produced a series of documentary films for the local populations, such as the farmer and worker film Wir schaffen in Deutschland (shown below) , as well as Der Weg ins Reich, and Brief in die Heimat, about the life of foreign workers living in the Reich. A film entitled Mit eigenen Augen (With their own eyes) showed the impressions of Russian workers and farmers on a tour of Germany. A cultural film Der Spiegel der Zeit told of the support for an illustrated newspaper in a community. Two cultural films being planned were Das schöne Ostland and Am Land der schwarzen Erde. Other films to be produced included two on the return of russian farmers from Soviet imprisonment, Der Rückkehrer and Das neue Leben. A further cultural film was to show the city of Kiev destroyed by the Soviets and being rebuilt by the Germans.
[ ABOVE: Scenes from Wir schaffen in Deutschland, ZFO / Ukraine Film GmbH co–production, 1942, Director: Goldmann. The film was about Eastern workers volunteering to work in Germany, and included anti-Bolschevik footage from the ZFO / Riga Film GmbH sister production, Roter Nebel /Red Mist, also 1942. The Collection has copies of the four films Wir fahren nach Deutschland, Wir leben in Deutschland, Wir schaffen in Deutschland, Der Führer und sein Volk, as well as Roter Nebel. We cannot make copies of these films available, it must be noted. ]
The opening title card for Roter Nebel (Red Mist), the anti–Communist film produced by ZFO in many languages, and distributed across territories liberated from the Soviet Union in the period 1941-1944.
Latvian versions of Ostland Films/ZFO...... being added to our film library as at April 2020 include:
- Deine Hände (1942/43)- 17 min.
- Teilnahme des Lettischen Volkes im Grossen Kampf gegen den Bolschewismus (1942)– 18 min.
- Fahrschule des Zentralverbandes der Berufverbaende beim Generalkommissar in Riga (1942)- 13 min.
- Roter Nebel (1942) - 18 min.
- Arbeiterinnen in Riga (1942) - 7 min.
- some Ostland Woche newsreels (tba)
- and a Latvian Luftwaffenhelfer short from 1944.
BELOW, some scenes from the Teilnahme des Lettischen Volkes im Grossen Kampf gegen den Bolschewismus (1942)......
The 5 August 1943 issue of the Film Kurier Tageszeitung reported that the five most popular German feature films in the Ostland were Operette, Die große Liebe, Quax der Bruchpilot, Jud Süß, and Ich klage an. The five most popular films in Ukraine were Kora Terry, Operette, Stern von Rio, Opernball and Der Postmeister.
That front-page article from the newspaper is shown here, for our Collection:
On the front page of the 25 February 1944 issue of the Film–Kurier Tageszeitung an article entitled 'Letter from Estonia' reported that 'in the two and one half years since the freeing of Estonians from the Bolshevik yoke, some 7.7 million cinema–goers have visited 49 movie theaters. It noted the popularity of German films distributed by Ostland Film GmbH, such as the Agfacolor films Die goldene Stadt, Immensee, Opfergang, and films such as Diesel, Maske im Blau, Germanin, Damals, and Kora Terry. Finally, the article noted that many cinemas as well as the projection equipment were destroyed or taken away by the retreating Red Army, and that the Bolsheviks had also taken away the trained projectionists. Many Estonian females were now graduating from a two and one half month training course as projectionists to fill this void.'
The national Film–Kurier Tageszeitung published five issues between November 1942 and February 1944 with front-page reports on the ZFO and Ostland Film and/or its subsidiaries Riga Film GmbH and Ukraine Film GmbH; and the William Gillespie Collection has all five original issues, shown below:
In the U.S. War Department "Civil Affairs Guide" published in July 1944, on how the Allies were to deal with German propaganda after the Third Reich was defeated, a list of Nazi officials who were to be arrested and detained included those of the "ZFO."
Needless to say it is almost impossible to find original posters or material on these wartime efforts, which disappeared by about April 1944. We have in March 2020 acquired the Estate of a ZFO cameraman working in the Ukraine in 1942-1944. SEE our web page "What's new in 2020?" for details!
TWO ORIGINAL OSTLAND FILM GMBH cinema posters from Riga!
We have obtained two original Riga posters (note Ostland Film G.m.b.H. on the top of the poster for Das sündige Dorf, as well as the Riga cinema at the top of the Carl Peters poster, as well as the Wochenschau listings. These two posters are extraordinarily rare -- no other original copies are known to exist in national archives of any of the respective countries concerned, as at late 2014. In 2014 photos of our two posters were used by a German film historian at a seminar on German film production in the Occupied Soviet Union that was held in Moscow, at the Sergey Eisenstein Film School. [ In his film Old and New, a/k/a The General Line, Eisenstein implicitedly endorsed Trotsky's planned extermination of the Ukrainian Kulaks – the killing off anti–Semitic and class opponents of the new Soviet regime. This Holodomor was carried out by GPU Chief Yenokh Gershevich Iyeguda (Jehuda) and Lazar Kaganovitch and 9-10 million, or 25% of the Ukrainian population was exterminated. ]
Larger images of these two posters can be found by clicking here: "Ostland Film" –– the posters are in the main Poster Gallery.