In January 2020, in the weeks leading up to the 70th Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale), reports began to circulate in the German press suggesting that the role of Alfred Bauer, the festival’s first director from 1951-1976, in the Reichsfilmintendanz, the central institution coordinating film production in the Nazi regime, had been more significant than previously understood to be the case.
The Berlinale management immediately cancelled the Silver Bear - Alfred Bauer Prize and commissioned the independent Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (lfZ) to undertake a closer investigation of Bauer’s position in the Nazi film bureaucracy.
A preliminary study by Dr. Tobias Hof was published by the lfZ in September 2020 and this was then followed two years later by a more extensive investigation, entitled “Showcase in the Cold War. New research on the history of the Berlinale in the Alfred Bauer era (1951-1976)”, by Dr. Wolf-Rüdiger Knoll and Dr. Andreas Malycha.
The researchers’ focus on Alfred Bauer’s activities in the German film industry before 1945 inevitably also then cast a spotlight on the roles played by other industry figures with whom he had been in close contact during the “Third Reich”.
One of these people was Dr. Günter Schwarz, the first managing director of the Export-Union des deutschen Films GmbH.
In order to achieve the greatest possible transparency about Schwarz’s professional background before 1945, German Films Service + Marketing GmbH entered into a cooperation agreement with the lfZ for the preparation of a biographical study authored by Malycha and Knoll.
Drawing upon documents from various archives and studies on the German film industry during the “Third Reich” and the immediate post-war period, they chart Schwarz’s career as well as highlighting apparent inconsistencies and contradictions between those still existing historical records and Schwarz’s own account of his actions as presented during his denazification process.
A career in film
Born in Heddesdorf near the town of Neuwied on the River Rhine in 1902, Schwarz had entered the film industry in 1927 as an assistant at the German film industry’s “umbrella” organisation SPIO which was subsumed into the Reich Film Chamber (Reichsfilmkammer, RFK) in 1933.
Malycha and Knoll point out that the seizure of power by the Nazis in 1933 apparently led Schwarz to adapt to the new political reality: in May 1933, he applied for membership in the NSDAP, although this was not formally granted until July 1937 under the membership number 2894404.
During his denazification process after the war, Schwarz declared that he had joined the NSDAP because he and his staff had been afraid of losing their jobs in the RFK if they didn’t become members. Moreover, he claimed to have ceased paying membership fees in summer 1944 and left the party in July 1944, although a formal resignation does not appear on his membership card.
From 1935, Schwarz quickly climbed up the career ladder as a functionary in the cultural apparatus of the “Third Reich”: in 1936, he became managing director of the General Association of Film Producers and Distribution in which production, distribution and export areas as well as studios were combined.
Two years later, he was appointed managing director of Deutsche Film-Export GmbH and made the equivalent of a departmental head responsible for film export at the RFK.
At the Film Chamber, he was charged, among other things,, “with clarifying which and how many films from abroad could be shown in Germany within the framework of binational agreements and how much raw film stock could be made available to friendly or allied countries.”
Schwarz gave a completely different spin on the raison d’etre for his business trips to friendly or occupied countries such as Italy, Poland, Denmark, or Hungary when he spoke in October 1945 during the denazification proceedings about the selection of German films destined for export.
“I have always been opposed to political films being exported abroad and spoke in favour of only apolitical films and those interesting in terms of acting and music being produced for export,” Schwarz declared. “This rejection of a Nazi export monopoly and the demand for the separation of politics and export largely had the effect of me being sidelined at the Chamber [RFK] and the Ministry of Propaganda, but abroad it resulted in the film industry figures and film organisations maintaining export links with Germany.“
In an attempt to present himself in the role of a victim, Schwarz moreover claimed that the Ministry of Propaganda had received complaints from the heads of certain foreign organisations “that I am proceeding in strictly business terms in my export activities and do not uphold National Socialist interests. This even led to an open battle lasting many years with the A.O. [foreign organisation of the NSDAP] in Berlin.“
In 1942, Schwarz moved to work in the foreign department of UFA-Film GmbH (Ufi), a super-corporation which had been created consisting of UFA and its competitors such as Tobis, Terra, Bavaria Film and Wien-Film along with Nazi-controlled foreign production companies.
Whilst here, Schwarz also sat on the so-called “International Advisory Board of the German Film Industry” which gathered “all leading personalities interested in German film export” including high-ranking representatives of the Ministry of Propaganda, Ufi, and the Foreign Ministry.
According to this board’s minutes, Schwarz attended every meeting – save for when he was on a business trip abroad – until its penultimate session in December 1944.
However, Schwarz claimed during his denazification proceedings in autumn 1945 that he had left his post at the RFK in summer 1944 “as the orders and measures in film export became more and more nonsensical, [with] the Ministry of Propaganda assuming a purely dictating position.”
This was also the point when he resigned from the NSDAP due, in his own words, to “[the] repeated difficulties I have had abroad and the need to maintain a completely neutral position in film deals for the Deutsche Filmexportges.[ellschaft], particularly in neutral foreign countries.”
The study’s authors suggest that Schwarz‘s argument that he was now concentrating on working in the private film industry however remains “doubtful from a historical perspective” since they could point to the International Advisory Board receiving reports from Schwarz about official trips to Paris, Stockholm in Vienna in the summer and autumn of 1944.
Once the war was over, Schwarz endeavoured to present himself as a supposedly apolitical official who had been working in the field of film exports when he appeared at denazification tribunals in Berlin, Göttingen, Hanover and Wiesbaden.
Based on a selection cited in the study of character references aimed at giving credibility and substantiation to Schwarz’s accounts, one could have the impression that he had made critical comments about the Nazi apparatus to numerous neighbours, was basically an anti-fascist and had offered support to the politically persecuted.
“But how can such statements be interpreted? Did these reports largely correspond to the truth or were they just statements made as a favour?,” are questions that authors Malycha and Knoll pose.
“A conclusive judgement on the truthfulness of these statements cannot be made without corresponding personal correspondence between those involved, although the available material from the time before 1945 speaks a different language,” they suggest.
Even before the denazification tribunals assigned him with the Category V (“Persons Exonerated”), Schwarz was already looking to re-enter the film industry, moving to Wiesbaden in 1948 where the SPIO and Freiwillge Selbstkontrolle (FSK) organisations were being relaunched.
With his background in the business of film export, he took over the management of Deutsche Film-Export and became the “permanent officer of the producers association for export matters” before then being appointed as the first managing director of the Export-Union der Deutschen Filmindustrie e.V in November 1953.
As Knoll and Malycha’s extended study on Alfred Bauer notes, Schwarz also successfully cam–paigned as the German delegate to the international interest group for film producers FIAPF for the Berlinale to be recognised and establish–ed as a top-tier film festival with the so-called A-festival status which was subsequently granted at FIAPF’s conference in Washington in 1955.
The two researchers point out that Schwarz’s networking activities were “of enormous importance” for the festival and his contribution to Berlin then being seen de facto on a par with the festivals in Cannes and Venice “can hardly be overestimated.” (2)
Summarising the findings of their research, Malycha and Knoll suggest that the sources analysed relating to Schwarz’s biography “do not paint the picture of a convinced or even fanatical National Socialist, but rather that of a career-minded and thus opportunistic technocrat and multi-functionalist in the Nazi cultural apparatus.”
While the available documents do not show “that Schwarz ever attempted to undermine the cultural policy agenda of the Nazi regime as he repeatedly stressed in his denazification proceedings”, he was nevertheless not alone in moves to conceal his role in the Nazi cultural apparatus and present himself as an apolitical film functionary and anti-fascist – as shown, for example, by the two recent studies on Alfred Bauer.
The study’s authors conclude that, “although Schwarz only rarely appeared personally as a propagandist of the National Socialist ideology of rulership, he made his contribution to the propagandistic – and in this case cultural-political –expansion of the Nazi regime in Europe through the medium of film whilst always regarding himself as being apolitical – and continued to do this after 1945.” (1)
Martin Blaney1/ Quotations in this report come from the biographical study by Andreas Malycha and Wolf-Rüdiger Knoll – Multifunktionär im NS-Filmexportwesen – Biographische Studie über Dr. Günter Schwarz (1902–1966) – which has been published in Andreas Wirsching (Ed.): Kino im Zwielicht. Alfred Bauer, der Nationalsozialismus und die Berlinale. Metropol Verlag, Berlin 2024