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Nazi Film Melodrama$

Laura Heins

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037740

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037740.001.0001

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Reprivatization after Nazi Cinema: Postwar German Melodrama

(p.193) Epilogue
Nazi Film Melodrama

Laura Heins

University of Illinois Press

Abstract and Keywords

This concluding chapter reflects on the development of German melodrama in the aftermath of World War II. It traces a sense of disillusionment with the Nazi “deployment of sexuality” in films and how it had prepared the ground for the renewed postwar cultivation of domesticity and feminine nurturance in West Germany. The return to private life and to puritanical mores in the postwar era was partly a response to the attack on “bourgeois” sexual morality that had been carried out by the mass culture of the Third Reich. Turning against nudity and licentiousness in the early 1950s could be represented and understood as a turn against Nazism. Thus, this “reprivatization” and newly conservative culture left its mark on West German melodramas of the 1950s.

Keywords:   postwar German melodrama, domesticity, feminine nurturance, postwar conservatism, reprivatization

In spring 1944, as the Reich was preparing for total war and nervously anticipating the Allied invasion, stories of Wehrmacht officers’ lavish lifestyles in occupied territories circulated among the German home front populace, disillusioning many who believed in the mythic power of an ordered and unified Volksgemeinschaft. The Nazi “deployment of sexuality” was backfiring on several fronts, and the libidinal, cinematic weapon of war was faulted as a failed technology. In Security Service reports the regime’s spies shifted responsibility for military defeat away from the Nazi leadership’s imperialist fantasies of mass destruction and toward the supposed destruction caused by excessive sexuality, which the Nazi cinema itself had seemingly produced. Not surprisingly, it was female sexuality that received the brunt of the blame for what was perceived as an abrupt decay in moral standards—defined exclusively in terms of sexual behaviors rather than militarist violence and genocide.

The Security Service raised an urgent alarm in April 1944 about a general outbreak of what it termed the widespread “tendencies toward excessive sexual behavior without responsibility to the community.”1 Wartime conditions had facilitated a complete breakdown in the restraint of German women, the SD agents claimed:

To a much larger extent than during the First World War, women in the present war have been released from their peacetime life order … there are coinciding reports from all areas of the Reich that confirm that it is no longer a matter of isolated phenomena, but rather that a large proportion of women and girls are inclined to live it up sexually to an ever stronger degree. This is primarily noticeably with soldiers’ wives. There are reportedly widely known locations in many cities where soldiers’ wives go to meet men and to accompany them (p.194) home. While their mothers carry on in this way, the children are often left on their own and at the risk of utter neglect.2

The message that Nazi militarist culture promoted and facilitated the satisfaction of desires unavailable in peacetime bourgeois society had apparently been received by the female audiences of Nazi films. The SD, overlooking the instrumentality of such messages, directly blamed the Nazi cinema along with other forms of mass culture for what it called the “eroticization of public life” in the Third Reich, an eroticization that had given way to what the Security Service depicted as a widespread and detrimental license that was undermining wartime unity.

As a remedy the SD recommended a complete departure from Nazi cinema’s previous gender representations:

The original values of the German woman should be discussed and emphasized much more in the press, radio and film than they have been up until now. It is not sufficient that books—which are not read by the majority of the population and can no longer be purchased even by those interested—speak of the woman as the “defender of morality,” “guardian of life,” etc., while films, pop songs, short stories and the illustrated press (joke sections of newspapers, fashion magazines) cultivate the type of the erotic woman who enchants all men.3

Apparently this advice was not heeded at the Propaganda Ministry. As we have seen throughout this book, the “erotic woman” was an indispensable element of Nazi cinema’s attractions, the basic tool of its ideological and financial goals, and the primary interest of Nazi melodramas. Nazi revue films may have offered the most concentrated provocations of desire with their physical displays and fetishism of the exposed female body, but melodrama transformed these erotic provocations into models for living, moving from iconic image to narrative. And Nazi melodramas, far from offering narratives championing housewives as revered family nurturers and guardians of private life in the manner of classical Hollywood melodrama, continued instead to cultivate the eroticization of the Third Reich public sphere even as it was collapsing.

A few months after the SD circulated its warning, prints of Veit Harlan’s domestic melodrama Opfergang were delivered to cinemas in the Reich and abroad. The film was enthusiastically received by spectators, and due to its enticing thematization of extramarital relations and its exploration of “natural” eroticism in luxurious settings, it achieved a box office triumph over Hollywood films in some foreign markets.4 As the Reich general film director noted in a memo to Goebbels on the foreign reception of the film, Opfergang was derisively called a “carnival orgy” by a leading film critic in Switzerland, but the melodrama was nonetheless received with enormous popular success (p.195) in that country.5 Opfergang, perhaps the most paradigmatic Nazi melodrama, narratively dissolved bourgeois domesticity by throwing open the confining windows of tradition, reveling in a sexual masquerade, and ending in hallucinatory eroticized death. The eruptions of stylistic and erotic excess in the film reached a climax in Opfergang’s masked ball sequence. Here, as chaotic groups of masquerading women reverse the conventional order of sexual aggression, suggestions of lesbianism are phantasmagorically multiplied. Control over vision and narrative logic threatens to break apart completely under the riot of garish colored lighting, a mise-en-scène dominated by a slide in the shape of a giant clown’s tongue, a sound track with dizzying music and the delighted shrieks of female revelry, along with highly disorienting editing. The two blondes in riding gear who wordlessly follow the romantic hero Albrecht at the bar stare at him intensely out of masked blue eyes, move in a synchronized and mechanical manner, and thus seem to be the extreme incarnation of Nazi melodrama’s fantasy women. This vision is interrupted by a shot of text dissolving over Albrecht’s masked face as his mistress Aels’s voice is heard on the sound track: “In the night, the souls are more connected than during the day. Or is it only my desire that is lying to me?” This sequence, ambiguously marked as a possible subjective vision of either the hero or the heroine of the romance, is never securely fixed as the vision of either, and the question of exactly whose fantasy this filmic text may be remains indeterminate. It was a threatening scene, one that another Swiss critic described as being “quoted straight from hell.”6

The hellishness of the melodrama for the male viewer, we can be sure, arose from the collapse of narrative certainty under the image of female desire. Melodramatic excess was an unintentional by-product of Nazi cinema’s attempts to create a uniquely successful German film art and of the inability to completely manage the representation of sexuality and spectator desire within classical cinematic conventions. The occasional failure of this management was evidenced by dissenting viewers and their objections to the sexual morality of Nazi films. Toward the end of the war the Security Service took up this dissent and applied it to an explanation of why the Nazis were losing the war. Much like at the end of the First World War, excessive female sexuality was finally blamed for undermining morale and destroying the unity of the Volksgemeinschaft. This time, however, the production of sexuality could no longer be attributed to imaginary enemies of a true German culture. The Nazis had fulfilled their own desires in their cinema and their mass destructions.

The late conviction that the “true nature” of the German woman had not been sufficiently realized in Nazi culture prepared the ground for the renewed (p.196) postwar cultivation of domesticity and feminine nurturance in West Germany. The return to private life and to puritanical mores in the Adenauer era was partly a response to the attack on “bourgeois” sexual morality that had been carried out by the mass culture of the Third Reich. According to Dagmar Herzog, many historians since the 1960s have inaccurately described the Third Reich as prudish and preoccupied with petty bourgeois family values; thus they have failed to fully grasp the extent to which the sexually repressive climate of the 1950s was not a continuation of Nazi culture but rather an attempt to master the fascist past. As Herzog has commented: “One powerful initial impetus for sexual conservatism in postwar Germany lay in the fact that incitement to sexual activity and pleasure had been a major feature of National Socialism. Turning against nudity and licentiousness in the early 1950s, especially in the name of Christianity, could, quite legitimately and fairly, be represented and understood as a turn against Nazism.”7 Although they may have implicitly understood that the promise of new freedoms and pleasures had provided the Nazis with popular support and an incentive for German men and women to participate in the regime’s imperialist and genocidal missions, Adenauer-era conservatives also insisted on a reinstatement of Christian sexual morality as a means of repressing the past. Instead of investing most of their energies in pursuing Nazi war criminals and probing the German conscience about its responsibility for the Holocaust, postwar Christians battled against pornography, homosexuality, and extramarital heterosexuality, thereby displacing efforts to “clean up” German culture from the political to the private sphere.

This “reprivatization” and newly conservative culture left its mark on West German melodramas of the 1950s.8 The objections of pre-1945 spectators to the Nazi cinema’s apparent distaste for domestic and rural settings cleared the way for a postwar retreat into the mountains of the Heimatfilm, the most characteristic Adenauer-era melodramatic genre. Here, in Agfacolor daydreams of rural German landscapes untouched by the destruction of carpet-bombing, conventional gender roles and repressive sexual norms were visibly reinstated. As Johannes von Moltke has asserted, the prevalence of the Heimatfilm in the 1950s is indicative of “the decade’s obsession with domesticity,” according to which the image of “home” received new value as a “place of retreat, the realm of privacy, and a key site for the enforcement of outdated gender norms.”9 The popular authority of the church, previously embattled by Nazi secularism, was also reinforced after the war and reappeared on the cinema screen in the 1950s Heimatfilm in the form of venerated village priests and copious religious symbols. Accordingly, monogamous marriage once again became the normative ideal and preferred resolution of postwar (p.197) melodrama’s narrative trajectories. As von Moltke has further noted, the “trope of marriage” was central to the 1950s Heimatfilm and functioned as the prime figure of “harmony and compromise.”10 West German filmmakers who worked in other postwar melodramatic genres were similarly interested in rebuilding the image of the harmonious German home, though nuclear family unity was to be achieved more through repressive means than through compromise.

Opfergang’s director, Veit Harlan, like most Third Reich filmmakers, survived both the war and the halfhearted American de-Nazification measures and continued to make melodramas throughout the 1950s. His postwar films, although produced with the same personnel as his Nazi features, also evidenced some cultural shifts from the Third Reich to the Adenauer-era cinema. After being accused and subsequently acquitted of crimes against humanity for making the notorious anti-Semitic melodrama Jud Süss, Harlan redirected his defamatory attacks from Jews to homosexuals in his 1957 film Anders als du und ich/Das dritte Geschlecht (Different from Me and You/The Third Sex). Harlan’s postwar filmmaking and the public response to it were both paradigmatic for the Adenauer-era tendency to displace guilt for Germany’s anti-Semitic genocide onto an obsession with sexual “decency.” While the public disapproval of his Nazi past was relatively limited, Harlan did encounter opposition to the sexual content of his early postwar films. Harlan’s 1951 melodrama, Hanna Amon, was originally scripted as the story of an incestuous love affair between a brother and a sister, thus replaying one of Harlan’s favorite Nazi-era themes, but this narrative did not conform to the new climate of conservative sexual morality in the early years of the Federal Republic. As Harlan’s wife and lead actress, Kristina Söderbaum, related in her memoir, Harlan’s distributor demanded changes to the content of Hanna Amon’s script following the hostile reactions to Hildegard Knef’s nude scene in Die Sünderin (The Sinner, 1951) earlier that year: “There were riots in all German cities about this film. The Catholic Church denounced it and the activist group ‘Clean Screen’ called for a boycott … [Our] script had to be rewritten and the material toned down … All allusions to a possible brother-sister love were eliminated, and all that remained was the act of Hanna Amon, who killed a woman because she considered her incapable of managing the farm according to the wishes of her parents.”11 Incestuous desire and Opfergang-style eroticized death had become unacceptable content for early Adenauer-era melodramas. Murder for the sake of private property and family legacy, on the other hand, was apparently more comprehensible for conservative postwar audiences.

With the return to influence of the Catholic Church came a reinstatement (p.198) of domesticity, a revaluation of the nuclear family as normative, and a newly puritanical concept of sexual decency. Harlan followed the spirit of the times with his 1958 family melodrama, Ich werde dich auf Händen tragen (I’ll Carry You On My Hands). Starring Kristina Söderbaum once again, the film moves in exactly the opposite direction as Opfergang: from a beach to a bourgeois interior. The 1958 film thus reversed the Third Reich melodrama’s effort to flee the domestic sphere in favor of the fantasized spaces of overseas empires. In the postwar melodrama, Söderbaum plays a single woman who has been disappointed by her past temporary lovers and the lies born of male passion and consents to marry a Tyrolean widower and antiques dealer (thus a man who represents exactly the sort of tradition-bound lifestyle that so many Third Reich films denounced as “philistine”). The heroine then leaves the north German coast (the scene of Opfergang’s finale) and spends most of the rest of the film indoors, very much unlike Söderbaum’s militaristically horse-riding character in her 1944 melodrama. When she arrives in her new home, the heroine finds her new husband’s daughter, a boyish child with an angry spirit, and a portrait of the child’s dead mother above the fireplace. The ensuing family tensions are subsequently resolved by the husband in a different manner than in most Third Reich melodramas: instead of smashing the antiques, slashing the maternal portrait, and divorcing the child like the industrial dictator hero of Harlan’s 1937 (anti-)family melodrama, Der Herrscher, the male protagonist of this postwar Harlan melodrama works on pacifying and unifying the family. Characteristically, however, the reconstitution of the nuclear family is achieved with the help of a Catholic priest who preaches a repressive ethic of female masochism. After the widower’s daughter runs away from home, the priest escorts the masculine girl back to the house and tells her (as if conveying a programmatic message to all German women in the audience): “With every blow, guilt will be removed from you … If you get beaten now, then you just clench your teeth and you take it.” By the end of the film, the daughter has finally been chastised and the wife entirely de-eroticized.

The stylistic excesses of the Nazi melodrama Opfergang give way here to a more domesticated sentimentality. In the final scene of Ich werde dich auf Händen tragen, Söderbaum’s character is once again shown lying in bed with the same weak pallor as at the end of her 1944 melodrama, but instead of an orgasmic death, a shot of two newborn babies in a crib follows the close-up of the heroine in bed. Her now conventionally feminine stepdaughter then begs for forgiveness, trumpets on the sound track proclaim the restoration of a peaceful order, and a gate opens to reveal an exterior shot of a carefully tended garden outside the secure home—in direct opposition to the ocean of (p.199) eros and thanatos onto which Opfergang’s final gates opened. The bourgeois domesticity and nuclear family conventions that had been assaulted twenty years earlier by the Nazi melodrama Der Herrscher were now reborn in the Adenauer-era cinema, reproduced by the very same fascist filmmaker.

The conservative restoration characteristic of the West German melodrama of the 1950s applied to some extent to the cinema of East Germany as well, in accordance with a similar return to conventional sexual morality in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). As Dagmar Herzog has argued, there was a “turn toward a socialist variant of sexual conservatism” in the 1950s and 1960s in East Germany, with repressive tendencies that had “part Stalinist, part ex-Nazi, part petty bourgeois” origins.12 However, the prudish culture of the first fifteen to twenty years of the GDR did not accompany the same overvaluation of traditional nuclear family domesticity in East German cinema as in West German cinema of the same era. In many respects, East German filmmakers responded to the legacy of Nazi cinema in a different manner than West German filmmakers, most obviously through the overt antifascist rhetoric of East German films. In opposition to the popularity of the Heimatfilm and other melodramatic genres in the West in the 1950s, the East German state-owned film industry Deutsche Film AG (DEFA) did not find melodrama to be as amenable to the socialist project. Although nationalistic pathos was certainly a characteristic feature of Stalinist cinema, the socialist master narrative of rational progress through the historical dialectic did not conform easily with melodrama’s fatalism and circularity, and the positive hero mandated by socialist realism was most often embodied by male characters.13 Melodramatic women’s pictures were not common among DEFA films of the 1940s to 1950s,14 and the few melodramas approximating this genre showed that the tension between the public and private spheres was reconciled differently in the East German cinema than in both Third Reich and Adenauer-era melodramas.

The first DEFA production, Die Mörder sind unter uns (The Murderers Are Among Us, 1946), could be considered a domestic melodrama, though the main question posed by the film concerns the postwar treatment of Nazi war criminals. Directed by another former employee of the Nazi film industry, Wolfgang Staudte, Die Mörder sind unter uns did suggest—somewhat like Harlan’s Ich werde dich auf Händen tragen—that German guilt could be redeemed through feminine nurturance, and it also reveals the initial postwar longing for a return to a harmonious domestic sphere. Starring Hildegard Knef as a former concentration camp inmate who returns to Berlin in 1945, falls in love with a former Wehrmacht soldier, and heals him of his posttraumatic stress disorder by reestablishing an orderly domesticity, Staudte’s film hints at a restoration of traditional gender roles. Ultimately, (p.200) however, this film does not endorse the same reprivatization as West German melodramas. Rather than ending in an idealized image of a reconstituted nuclear family, the final sequence of the film calls on spectators to recognize the victims of war crimes and to bring the guilty to justice. As Hester Baer has argued, the gender politics in Die Mörder sind unter uns are not entirely conventional, since the film posits an active and productive female gaze, even while demonstrating in conservative fashion how nurturing women could help restore the damaged postwar male subjectivity. At the end of the film the female protagonist does not surrender entirely to domesticity, but retains her work as a graphic designer of political posters, and thus the film, in Baer’s estimation, “fails to attain the kind of closure that would ensure the restoration of traditional gender ideology.”15 In its optimistic (though admittedly problematic) vision of a realigned gender dynamic in the Soviet sector, Die Mörder sind unter uns appears to be a response to Nazi melodramas like Die vier Gesellen (see chapter 2), which cynically demonstrated the necessary capitulation of women to marriage as a primarily economic institution. Bearing a strong resemblance to Ingrid Bergman’s graphic designer character in Die vier Gesellen, Hildegard Knef’s character seems to overcome (or repress) the Third Reich woman’s forced subjection to gender inequality as she speaks with glowing eyes about returning to the socially useful work of reconstruction. Die Mörder sind unter uns thus corresponds to the utopian, future-directed orientation of socialism and its stress on female participation in the labor force.

A few other DEFA melodramas of the immediate postwar period demonstrate the difficulty in reconciling the private realm of emotion with the project of building a postwar public sphere in a Marxist country. Joshua Feinstein has noted that the topics of love and sexuality presented continual challenges for film directors of the East German film industry; at the same time that DEFA films were often faulted by critics and officials for lacking in emotion, the leaders of the regime discouraged scenes that might arouse erotic feelings. As Feinstein asserts in reference to the censoring of nude bathing and carnival scenes in Slatan Dudow’s 1959 film Verwirrung der Liebe (Love’s Confusion), “Above all, officials objected to the film’s sensuality, which they perceived to be a threat to socialist morality.”16 The fear of sensuality among the GDR leadership, as Dagmar Herzog has argued, arose from the suspicion that indulgence in private pleasures might depoliticize the populace and turn it away from socialism.17 Even marriages were often depicted as relatively chaste in DEFA films of the 1950s, and romantic relations sometimes appear as an impediment to the construction of a collectivist society. In Roman einer jungen Ehe (Story of a Young Couple, 1952), a troubled (p.201) marriage serves as a metaphor for Cold War ideological divisions, with the female partner representing socialist virtue and the male partner the moral decay of the West (also embodied by the character of an ex-Nazi West German film director, a thinly veiled representation of Veit Harlan). Dudow’s Frauenschicksale (Destinies of Women, 1952), in which a West Berlin playboy seduces a series of young women and drives one to commit murder, equates erotic desire to capitalistic materialism and aggression, and all of these are coded as manifestations of Western degeneracy. By the end of the film each of the female protagonists has managed to extricate herself from her affective snare by relocating to the more “rational” East and by becoming a productive worker in the new, forward-looking socialist society.18 In such films the East German cinema’s rhetoric of reconstruction and progress echoes some aspects of the fascist modernization project, and its problematization of the private sphere may also recall some aspects of Nazi melodrama. But DEFA differed fundamentally from Nazi cinema in its refusal to eroticize violence, and it differed from Adenauer-era cinema in its refusal to relegate women to a subordinate and predominantly familial role.


Film melodramas of the Third Reich, as I have argued throughout this book, reflect the generally embattled status of domesticity under German fascism. Unlike classical Hollywood melodramas, which aimed to bolster the ideological norms of the middle-class nuclear family and Christian sexual morality, Nazi melodramas appealed to viewers with deceptive discourses of liberation from conventional sexual morals and familial structures. Instead of engaging the rhetoric of a return to tradition, Nazi cinema promoted images of a fascist cultural modernity, a nonetheless reactionary modernization that aimed to advance the militarist and genocidal goals of the Third Reich rather than the emancipation of its citizens. Repeatedly invoking images of a repressive nineteenth- and early twentieth-century past, Third Reich melodramas not only described bourgeois morality as antithetical to a wartime fascist order and to Germany’s planned colonialist future but also presented Nazism as a youthful rebellion against philistinism. Film melodrama thus constituted a key battleground in German fascism’s multiple projects of modernization, militarization, and the dissolution of the private sphere.

As an imperialist regime, the leaders of the Nazi state intended to push beyond the walls of the home, to expand the borders of the Reich abroad, and to induct German citizens into a greater servitude to the fascist nation. Romance melodramas, as we have seen, supported this goal by training (p.202) audiences in lifestyle choices and character traits that corresponded to Nazism’s colonialist aspirations. These included seemingly modernized gender roles, even extending to heroines who strive for higher education and work in traditionally male-dominated professions. Yet the goal of such narratives was not to achieve greater gender equality and genuinely liberatory modernization, but to serve the pragmatic needs of an imperialist economy by increasing the wartime labor pool and redefining the feminine role as a subordinate and self-sacrificial one within the workplace, as much as it had been previously in the home. Similarly, Nazi cinema’s ostensibly progressive defense of single motherhood disguised a much more regressive goal: to shift the responsibility for reproduction to women alone. Since familial demands stood in conflict with industrial productivity in the fascist imagination and women were viewed as holding too much authority in the bourgeois home, many Third Reich domestic melodramas called the legitimacy of monogamous marriage into question and argued for a departure from conventional family structures. Breaking with genre conventions as well, the stability of the family was not equated with the stability of the nation in most Nazi melodramas. In contrast to the claim of Hollywood’s wartime melodramas that the war was being fought in defense of middle-class domesticity, Christianity, and nuclear family values, Nazi home front films suggested that greater pleasures were to be found in a more risk-filled life beyond quotidian, civilian existence.

Outside the home and in conquered territories, Nazi films promised, lay the possibility of intensified erotic experience. With conscious calculation, Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry planned for eroticized imagery and narratives to fulfill a political function, both by inciting spectators to militarist action and by distracting them from the destructive consequences of fascist rule. Film melodrama, as a mode concerned primarily with the realm of emotion and sexual relations, played a key role in this incitement by affectively binding spectators to the Reich. Since Nazi films offered sexual content that exceeded the more restrictive codes of Hollywood films, spectators were invited to view German fascism as a system that allowed for the expression of elemental drives. Violent feelings in particular were elicited from viewers, as Nazi melodramas were structured to appeal to a more intense form of sadistic voyeurism than comparable Hollywood melodramas. Lacking a firm concept of genres as gendered, Third Reich filmmakers oriented melodramas, conventionally considered “women’s pictures” within Hollywood cinema, toward male spectators as well. Nazism’s perverse imagination, as it was reflected in the melodramas of the Third Reich, thus centered on male-oriented fantasies of polygamy, incest, and sexual power over colonized peoples and coerced partners.

(p.203) Although Nazi melodramas were highly popular with both foreign and domestic audiences, the evidence of spectator response presented in this book proves that some viewers reacted negatively to such appeals. As much as Goebbels endeavored to engineer uniform spectatorship through vigilant control over each film’s relative dosage of melodramatic affect while attempting to contain the threat inherent in stylistic excess, absolute control over spectator response was never entirely achieved, and the goals of the Ministry of Propaganda often stood in conflict with the interests of female, rural, and Catholic viewers in particular. Security Service reports demonstrate that the domestic realm proved to be a continual source of problems for a regime fixated on homogeneity: the disinclination of many German women to support the war in the expected manner or to conform to the Third Reich’s population policies, the resistance of conservative and rural populations to cultural products that reflected urban and secular attitudes, and the bitterness of the lower classes about their own exploitation in wartime work and military service all gave the Nazi authorities cause for concern. The pseudo-emancipatory appeals of Nazi culture, which promised liberation from the strictures of (petit) bourgeois morality, were intended primarily for the upper strata of male members of the Reich; all others in the supposedly unified Volksgemeinschaft were to serve the interests of the political, military, and corporate leadership. But the desires of many segments of the population did not entirely conform to the regime’s narratives of liberation through servitude outside of the home.

After the defeat of the Third Reich many Germans wished to retreat to a more orderly private sphere. In the East this desire was quickly subsumed under the ideological imperative to focus on the building of a socialist society, and private pleasures were generally neglected in the DEFA cinema until the 1970s. In the West, Nazi cinema’s incitements to colonialist fantasies gave way to the more domesticated consumerist and touristic attractions of Adenauer-era cinema. A decade later the reprivatization of the immediate postwar period in West Germany was in turn viewed as problematic by many members of the younger generation. The restitution of domesticity in the West German culture of the 1950s was followed by a renewed rejection of bourgeois morality in the critical theory and protest movements of the late 1960s, as the sexual revolution in West Germany gave rise to a process of liberalization or “sexual evolution” in the East as well.19 Younger West Germans who had grown up in the repressive environment of the Adenauer era and later began to excavate the guilt of their parents’ generation for the crimes of the Third Reich often misrecognized the connection between bourgeois morality and Nazism, aided by Freudian interpretations of the fascist persona. Assuming that the 1950s obsession with sexual propriety was simply (p.204) an unbroken continuation of Nazi culture and that petty bourgeois family values underpinned Nazi convictions, many leftist West Germans of the 1960s and ’70s equated an anti-puritanical stance with an antifascist position.20 Yet, as this investigation of film melodrama under German fascism has demonstrated, the attack on puritanical sexual morality was very much at the core of Nazi culture’s appeals. Genuine sexual equality within both the private and public spheres and the decolonization of the erotic imagination, on the other hand, may legitimately be considered antifascist values.


(2.) Ibid., 16:6481–82.

(3.) Ibid., 16:6488.

(4.) Memo from Reichsfilmintendant Bacmeister to Reichsminister Goebbels dated January 13, 1945, re: “Auslandspresseecho zu dem Film Opfergang,” BArch R 109 II/15.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) A further Swiss reviewer cited in the same document criticized Opfergang’s ambiguities and excesses and compared it unfavorably to the film’s more orderly literary source: “The characteristic elements of Binding’s work, of his people, figures, moods and actions—namely the measured quality, the clarity and unambiguousness—have been turned into the opposite, into a bombast of feelings.” BArch R 109 II/15.

(8.) I have borrowed the term “reprivatization” from Herzog. See ibid., 104.

(10.) Ibid., 128.

(13.) Joshua Feinstein argues that the type of the “resolute male comrade” typifies the DEFA film of the 1950s, when female protagonists were more marginal. Feinstein, Triumph of the Ordinary, 132.

(14.) According to Marc Silberman’s historiography, the first true DEFA “woman’s film,” Lots Weib (Lot’s Woman), was not released until 1965. Silberman, German Cinema: Texts in Context, 164.

(18.) For a more extended discussion of Roman einer jungen Ehe and Frauenschicksale, see Pinkert, Film and Memory in East Germany, 106–27.

(20.) Ibid., 156–60.