This September, a series was broadcast on Channel 4 entitled ‘Hitler’s Rise: The Colour Films’. Unlike any previous series or documentary following the rise of Hitler throughout history, this series uses digitally enhanced colour footage and photographs to document Hitler’s life and surroundings from as early as World War I. The result is one of absolute awe and fascination, but ultimately one of fear; these colour recordings invite Hitler into the 20th Century. Black and white images created a sense of technological distance – an alternate reality is created: you know it’s real, but it is a completely different world from the one you have experienced. Therefore, by introducing colour into the life of Hitler, it coerced an unwelcome conclusion – that he was human.
Unlike many other documentaries or series that examine the life of Hitler, this series seeks to provide new perspectives through the use of colour footage. For example, it is widely known that Hitler did not get into art school, however this series reveals his failure was due to a lack of courage, having hardly prepared for the entrance exam. This attribute, one of little courage, is drawn upon time and time again: Hitler twice threatened to kill himself, firstly due to the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and secondly, after the discovery of Hitler’s involvement with his half-niece Geli Raubal, the newspapers accused him of sexual perversion. Another example adding to Hitler’s cowardice, was a picture used to show him on the front lines of the putsch in a white coat, while all others were in black. It was in fact a fake and created as part of the Hitler Myth – in reality, he was said to be cowering behind a bodyguard who was killed in the failed uprising.
As the putsch was very early on in Hitler’s rise to power, it became clear whilst watching the first episode, that it was considered revolutionary. Hitler used the putsch as ammunition against the political powers, fuelling hatred, and according to Hitler, hatred was the key to winning over an audience. Goebbels drew on this in the second episode that showed him trying to emulate Hitler’s skills as an orator by rousing hatred when referring to the Jews. Another key factor for Hitler’s rise to power, involved the Allied forces that redistributed 1/10 of Germany’s territory. The French proceeded to occupy the Ruhr, Germany’s leading coal and steel region. While in Germany, a French officer was assassinated and returned to France by an army of French soldiers. They marched through Germany and slapped members of the public if they did not remove their hats out of respect. This was later exploited by Hitler, and used to fuel hatred for the French. Many acts committed against Germany were exploited in order to create hatred and to rile the crowds. Horst Wessel, for instance, was supposedly assassinated by a Communist, and was used as the inspiration for the Nazi and later German, National Anthem.
When researching the atrocities committed in the name of Hitler, the recurring question is ‘Why?’ What possessed German people to blindly follow one man into war. There are many different reasons; they wanted to restore Germany to her former glory, the political system was corrupt, the reparations set by the November Criminals needed to be repealed, Jews were to blame for the failing economy, Hitler was the only man who could save Germany – all of the above reasons were supported and endorsed by the Nazi Party. They offered the change that no one else was even considering. These reasons were all included in the series written by Daniel Costelle, a French documentary filmmaker. Costelle focused on the attributes that Hitler either did or did not possess, which then lead him to the conclusions made throughout. An interesting point made, was the discovery of Hitler’s political debut at the Bürgerbräukeller in August 1920, with a lecture entitled ‘Why are we anti-Semitic?’ The answer according to Hitler ‘beyond his intense hatred for the Jews, since the German defeat, is that anti-Semitism was the best strategy for attracting Nationalist militance.’ This implies that the hatred for the Jews was prevalent elsewhere – Russia was used as the example. Jews all over the world have been persecuted for thousands of years. The most recent Pogrom’s included those committed by Russia in the Ukraine and Poland shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. Hatred of the Jews did not begin in Nazi Germany, it did however, mark the catalyst for change.
Another fascinating point raised by Costelle, was the unoriginality of Hitler and the Nazi’s. The swastika was taken from a monastery Hitler visited as a child; the salute was stolen from Mussolini, as well as the phrase stated immediately after (Mussolini raised his hand in the Romanesque salute and shouted ‘Viva il Duce’ whereas Hitler shouted ‘Heil Hitler’). The whole concept of forcing the current government out and taking power had been carried out fifteen years before Hitler by Russia, and in so many other countries and kingdoms before. The world was full of enigmatic leaders, ones who coerced and captured an audience, telling them exactly what they wanted to hear to ensure they followed their country into battle. The only original concept of the Nazi’s was scale.
Hitler gathered 100,000 Berliners a week before the elections to rally support. In the second episode, there were so many more videos of the crowds in Germany, visually showing the difference from the beginning of his campaign, to him becoming Fuhrer after the death of Hindenberg in 1934. The crowds look impressive, the job of Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister; he was to create the image of the Hitler Myth, of endless support for the savior of Germany. On a march in 1933, Goebbels claimed the number of participants was close to one million, whereas in reality, British reports estimate the numbers were closer to 15,000, the marchers having been told to walk in circles to exaggerate numbers.
One of the only criticisms I have to make of this series is the incoherence at times. It was hard to follow and know when the narration had moved onto the next topic and when an event was occurring in the same or the following year. There was a general chronological order to proceedings from the First World War to his rise to power as Fuhrer, however clarity was needed for certain events; the newspaper campaign of sexual perversion involving Geli Raubal, the beginning of the transportation of Jews to the eastern concentration camps and ‘The Fuhrer Above Germany’ propaganda campaign.
Overall, it was remarkable to see never-before-seen colour footage of the events of Hitler’s rise to power. It managed to combine information that is widely known about Hitler, and interpretations that I had never before heard, ensuring for an utterly fascinating watch.