The Collaboration – Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler

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The Collaboration – Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler
By Ben Urwand
Harvard University Press – $26.95

”Full of startling and surprising revelations, presented in exemplary fashion, without any moralizing or sensationalism. The Collaboration shows how Hollywood and especially the big studios went along with German demands to censor movies not only before but especially after the Nazi seizure of power.”

Richard J. Evans

If ever there was a book that made one realise just how complicit and in cahoots America was with Nazi Germany during the 1930s, then this is it. From the very first chapter, ‘Hitler’s Obsession With Film, there’s a prime substantiation of the degree to which not only Hollywood, but numerous American companies – the car company Ford in particular – went out of their way to not only support Adolf Hitler’s vile regime, but actively finance it.

And if you think I’m making this up, either think again or READ THIS BOOK.

It’s startling. It’s revealing. It’s the sort of read that could well have your hair stand on end. Such is the relentless amount of disturbing unearthing on display throughout the six chapters of The Collaboration – Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand.

As the highly regarded and altogether prestigious writer, Greil Marcus, is quoted as saying on the back cover: ”A tremendous piece of work, fully sustained, building momentum charged by thrillingly detailed storytelling, increasing suspense, and a consistent movement from outrages to atrocities, with a stunning conclusion of heroism and tragedy – and it is as well a devastating RIP to what we’ve been told, all down these years, about ‘the genius of the system.”’

From the very first instance that we learn of Hitler’s nigh obsession with film (””The Significance of the Spokenword,” was a kind of meditation on his own oratorical abilities. He started out with a simple claim: books […] were worthless. A writer could never change the views of an ordinary man on the street. There was only one way to inspire change […] and that was through the spoken word […]. Hitler adopted an unusual approach to the movies. First, he consumed them; indeed, he watched so many that his adjutants were worried he would exhaust the entire holdings of the Propaganda Ministry”); this is a fraught read that invariably takes one on a journey of both frightening revelation and political darkness.

Suffice to say, at the centre of Urwand’s writing is the former German dictator himself, who, so very obviously obsessed with film in general, recognised their power to influence public opinion. So much so that in December 1930, the Nazi Party rioted against the Berlin screening of All Quiet on the Western Front, which ultimately culminated in a trajectory of catastrophic events and decisions. As ”fearful of losing access to the German market, all of the Hollywood studios started making concessions to the German government, and when Hitler came to power in January 1933, the studios – many of whom were headed by Jews – began dealing with his representatives directly […].”

As the author writes in the book’s Prologue: ”This book reveals for the first time the compex web of interactions between the American studios and the German government in the 1930s. It unearths a series of secret documents from archives in the United States and Germany to show that the studios came to a definite arrangement with the Nazis in this period […]. Over the course of the investigation, one word kept reappearing in both the German and American records:”collaboration” (Zusammenarbeit). And gradually it became clear that this word accurately described the particular arrangement between the Hollywood studios and the German government in the 1930s. Like other American companies such as IBM and General Motors, the Hollywood studios put profit above principle in their decision to do business with the Nazis. They funneled money into the German economy in a variety of disturbing ways. But, as the United States Department of Commerce recognised, the Hollywood studios were not simply distributors of goods; they were purveyors of ideas and culture. They had the chance to show the world what was really happening in Germany. Here was where the term ‘collaboration” took on its full meaning. The studio heads, who were mostly immigrant Jews, went to dramatic lengths to hold on to their investment in Germany. Although few remarked on it at the time, these men followed the instructions of the German consul in Los Angeles, abandoning or changing a whole series of pictures that would have exposed the brutality of the Nazi regime […].”

Having just finished reading Simon Schama’s sublime The Story of the Jews – Finding The Words, I find it both heart-breaking and harrowing to learn that American Jews were perhaps unknowingly, conspirational in the immense suffering of their European brethren.

For this one reason alone (and there are many), The Collaboration needs to be read from cover to cover. For ”if this is a dark chapter in Hollywood history, then it is also a dark chapter in American history […]. It is time to remove the layers that have hidden the collaboration for so long and to reveal the historical connection between the most important individual of the twentieth century and the movie capital of the world.”

David Marx

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