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Imaginary reality: Ireland and the Irish in German Nazi film.

This article examines the image and purpose of the representation of Ireland and the Irish in the film production of the Third Reich during the early 1940s. It analyzes The Fox of Glenarvon (1940) and My Life for Ireland (1941) in relation to the imminent transfer of propaganda and national or cultural stereotyping. Though both are fiction films rather than documentaries, the cinematic imagination of Ireland and the Irish connotes historiographic and cultural realism. The films present a highly subjective and ideological (Nazi) view of an assumed "reality." The article explores the often distorted realities, largely derived from historical German-Irish cultural contacts, and their impact on the German perception of "Irishness" and its cinematic representations.


While not as highly regarded as the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) films, the films of the Third Reich (1933-1945) hold a fascination for many, both as historical documents of one of the most important and disturbing periods of twentieth-century history and also for their own artistic merit. Particularly since the 1980s, the cinema of the Third Reich has risen to the center of academic research, mainly within the subjects of Film and Media Studies, Cultural Studies, and, of course, German Studies. Groundbreaking research on the subject has been done in Germany in the late 1960s and 1980s (e.g. Leiser, Albrecht, and Drewniak), with relevant studies in English on specific angles being published in the 1990s and more recently (e.g. Rentschler). However, the main focus of this research has been on the transmission of fascist propaganda--in particular with reference to anti-Semitic representations of Jews--and on cinematic issues, such as the artistic means of manipulation and idolization of Nazi power, filmic representations of the alleged supremacy of the German people--most infamously displayed in Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1938) and Triumph of the Will (1935)--as well as critical reflections on the peculiar esthetics of Nazi film.

This article sets out to examine the image and purpose of the representation of Ireland (neutral in WWII) and the Irish in the Ufa (Universe Film) production of the Third Reich during the early 1940s. It concentrates on the transmission of national and cultural stereotyping predominant in two Irish subject films produced in the Third Reich: The Fox of Glenarvon (1940) and My Life for Ireland (1941), with specific consideration of the context of Irish-German (intercultural) relations and by employing the discourse of cross-culturalism to describe imagined and real cultural interactivity displayed within the aforementioned films.

Having emerged in the Social Sciences in the 1930s, cross-culturalism initially referred to comparative studies based on statistical compilations of cultural data. However, it has increasingly acquired an additional sense of cultural interactivity with a focus on interdisciplinary discussions of the effects of cultural likeness and/or differences. Cross-culturalism is predominantly concerned with cultural exchange beyond the boundaries of the national or cultural group, and, despite some disagreement over what exactly constitutes (significant) cultural divergence (1) and how to categorize it, the concept has become a useful framework for the examination of cultural expressions that may not fit within a single cultural tradition (see Grossberg et al.) In this context, the film medium in effect puts a frame around a particular culture, or aspect of culture, and, in doing so, calls attention to what is included and/or excluded. In other words, "films are mirrors through which we can explore culture" (Street xv). Though fiction feature films seldom present a fully developed portrait, they often provide insight and, as cultural artifacts, can invite cultural comparison and evoke or provoke valuable discussion.

Nazi Film Production

The term "Nazi Cinema" is contested by some commentators (see, for instance, Grunberger and Kreimeier, Die Ufa Story) arguing that not all German films made during the Third Reich warrant this appellation, as some of them would conform to an estheticism prominent in Weimar Cinema and bearing testimony to the continuity of certain genres such as musicals, homeland films, period dramas, or adaptations of literature. However, this study adopts the position proposed by film sociologists Albrecht and Leiser who argued in the late 1960s that, unlike the cinema of the Weimar era, there was no such thing as a "non-political" movie under Hitler: Film served as a mass mobilizer and an ideological weapon for the fascist regime. According to this view, Nazi (fictional and non-fictional) films were all produced during the Third Reich era, films made between 1933--when Hitler came to power--and 1945--when German military leadership surrendered to the allies. Film was essential to the Nazi era in the creation of myth and overpowering illusions and a collective memory. Therefore, any "artistic autonomy" in the film productions of the Third Reich would have been subjected to an overall objective, which is to contribute to the consolidation of national socialist order (Rentschler 11).

The majority of the films were products of the state-run film production company Ufa, with Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, in overall charge of the production process: He commissioned films, selected directors and scriptwriters, evaluated film scripts, got involved in the editing of films and the casting of actors (particularly female), and approved each finished production. Film was considered one of the key "educators" to promote and spread the fascist gospel. Hence, it was given high-priority status by the political leadership who went to great lengths to make funds, technology, and manpower available for what they considered a role-model German cinema: a cinema which appears national and international, open and esthetically regulated, modern and eternal:

Film under Goebbels was to become a Volkskunst [folk art] that would foster an imagined community, a Volksgemeinschaft [folk community]. A popular medium and a vehicle of mass culture, film preserved old forms of identity while offering a new (and powerful) instrument of consensus-building. (Rentschler 11)

During the Nazi reign, 1,086 fiction films successfully passed the censor in Germany. This figure does not include, however, international joint-productions or films solely produced for foreign markets and not distributed to a German audience. Examples of the latter would be the films Grosse Freiheit Nr 7 (Port of Freedom; 1944), about a love triangle within Hamburg's red-light district, and Titanic (1943), which was banned from being distributed in Germany due to the general war-time frustration of the German population, going through almost nightly bombing raids and not exactly keen to witness more mass casualties on the screen. However, in order to pass the censor, filmmakers had to address at least one of the three core principles promoted by Nazi politics: superior leader personality; superior race or ethnic community; and national solidarity across social classes. Every film produced in the Third Reich, every director and scriptwriter who was engaged in a new film project, had to address these basic principles of Nazi ideology in order to be given permission to continue work. Every film project was subject to an application procedure, and came sooner or later to the attention of the Minister for Propaganda. This process, again, displays the importance given by the authorities to even the lightest production of family entertainment as it was seen as a subtle way to disguise and transmit fascist ideology. Thus, film became an industrialized means of behavior modification.

Based on their subject matter, the two so-called "Irish films" examined here are big fiction film productions which feature top-ranking contemporary German stars. This serves as another indicator of the status of these films within Nazi film production: The bigger the stars, the more valued and promoted was the film and its message. A distinction between political and (allegedly) apolitical films was implemented by the Nazis, which post-war commentators continued to employ. As early as 1933, Hitler's film authorities had put up a significant promotion system which worked with an overall ranking of eight film labels (originally three only between 1933 and 1939), indicating a film's value: a- basic labels such as "politically worthwhile to the nation," "artistically worthwhile," "culturally worthwhile," and, since 1939, "folkloristic worthwhile," "highly regarded," and "educational" and b- top labels such as "highly politically worthwhile," "highly artistically worthwhile," and the ultimate "Film of the Nation" (Hoffmann qtd. in Vaupel 11). Depending on their ranking, films were either exempted from film tax altogether or awarded tax reductions, which, in turn, served as an incentive to produce films promoting the regime's ideology. In fact, both "Irish films" were awarded film labels: The Fox of Glenarvon was considered "artistically worthwhile" and My Life for Ireland was even triple labeled as "politically worthwhile," "artistically worthwhile," and as "educational," i.e., recommended for the youth (Albrecht 545-47). The fact that both films were directed by Max W. Kimmich--who was appreciated by Goebbels as both his brother-in-law and a specialist in anti-British propaganda films (also evident in Kimmich's double-labeled Africa film Germanin, 1942/1943)--points to the significance of both films for the regime.

There are two other NS (National Socialist)-feature film productions with titles relating to Irish subject matter: Herbert Selpin/Werner Klinger's Titanic (1943) and Heinz Helbig's Leinen aus Irland (Linen from Ireland; 1939). While both films were officially classified as propaganda films, they contained only superficial or no references at all to representations of Ireland or "the Irish": Titanic was intended as a disaster movie with an anti-British slant, while Linen from Ireland contained an aggressive anti-Semitic message serving as a contribution to the psychological preparation of German audiences for the mass murder to come. (2)

Irish Subject Films and German-Irish Relations

The "Irish films" of the Third Reich are widely considered pro-Irish propaganda films, which automatically makes them anti-British. This status was due to the "Irish Question" being only of a particular interest to German politics when mirroring British imperialism, oppression, and wrong-doing, which in turn was usually on the German political agenda at times of extreme competition with Great Britain--which was of course the case since the Great War:

1914 saw the outbreak of open hostility between Britain and Germany. The anti-English attitudes that had built up in the previous 25 years were now all-pervading in Germany, and unlikely alliances were formed that were based not on real common interests but on the existence of common enemies. (O Dochartaigh 62)

Without doubt, My Life for Ireland and The Fox of Glenarvon are classic NS-propaganda films: The very fact that they were produced within the film production system of the Third Reich makes them a vehicle for transmitting Nazi ideology. However, there is more to these films than mere and obvious anti-British propaganda at a time when Great Britain had entered the war as Germany's enemy--and not as the "Anglo-Saxon brother tribe" originally wooed by Hitler as a natural ally.

The German perception of Ireland and the Irish, Irish politics and culture, have to be taken into consideration when discussing the possibility of any cross-/intercultural exchange evident in these films. Generally, relations between the Celtic countries and the German-speaking countries have a long tradition: Irish and Scottish monks became the founders and patron saints of cities such as Wurzburg (Germany), Salzburg (Austria), and St. Gallen (Switzerland). Research suggests that those monks were returning to the European continent which their ancestors had left a thousand years earlier. Throughout the centuries, Celtic-German contacts have continued and "have been cultivated anew in literary, military and political life since the 16th or 17th century at least" (Fischer et al. 7).

With regards to cultural exchange, Ireland and Scotland are the main contributors to a German Romantic reception of Celtic culture: Beethoven's musical inspiration from traditional Gaelic tunes (e.g. "Nora Creine") even led to the musical leitmotif of the last movement of his Seventh Symphony (A Major, op. 92). Goethe's Ossianic poetry (inspired by Scottish poet Macpherson's collection of tales and poetry about Oisin, son of Fionn mac Cumhaill, a heroic character from Irish mythology) has influenced German thinkers such as Herder, painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, as well as a whole generation of German poets (the Sturm und Drang movement) and composers (e.g. Franz Schubert's Romantic Lieder) in their imagination of the mythical Emerald Isle. Culturally, Ireland was largely perceived as a magical place of unspoiled wilderness with a people still in close touch with their ancient Celtic heritage; an untamed people similar to the noble native American and equally oppressed by a dominant foreign imperialistic power.

Within the realms of politics, a dominating factor in the relations between Ireland and Germany is that they are impossible to conceive without reference to England. In particular the 19th-century English Victorian stereotype of the "inferior Irish peasant"--as opposed to the "superior" civilized English--was predominant in German political circles, which were largely informed by British sources and 19th-century travel reports by German historians. Only a few of these visitors to Ireland (particularly Hermann von Puckler-Muskau) saw the Irish as a dignified people, brutally oppressed and exploited by an Anglo-Irish ruling class. In addition, the works and teachings of nationalist German Celticists of the twentieth century (such as Julius Pokorny, Rudolf Thurneysen, Kuno Meyer, and Ludwig Muhlhausen) brought about a fundamental change in German (political) perceptions of the Irish, and played a prominent part in influencing German conservative and National Socialist views of the Irish as related to the "German race." (3) Indeed, the Nazis took a great academic interest in all matters Celtic--promoted, funded, and evaluated by the Office for Ancestral Heritage (the SS [Protection Squadron]-Wissenschaftsamt Ahnenerbe), which was set up and run by SS-leader Heinrich Himmler as early as 1935. Furthermore, with good relations to Irish officials in Berlin (e.g. ambassadorial personnel McCauley, Bewley, and Warnock) and German nationals living and working in Ireland as either postgraduate students of the Irish (Gaelic) language or academics in fairly high-profile jobs--and who provided an input to German propaganda activity, it can be assumed that at least the Nazi officials for cultural affairs had a fair knowledge of Irish issues. (4) In his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler himself referred to the Irish as a role model people devoted to "faith and the fatherland," with Catholicism not in opposition to but as part and parcel of Irish nationalism (qtd. in Wolf 81). In this context, it is also worth noting that the (in)famous case of Sir Roger Casement and his attempts at securing German aid for the Dublin Easter Rising in 1916 became a prominent propaganda tale under the Nazis, who in times of crisis exploited Casement's subsequent trial and execution as a principal example of Irish-German historical alliance against the British.

The commission of a series of German radio broadcasts in Irish (see O'Donoghue) underpins the argument of a positive and "official" German awareness of Ireland's place in the Nazis' Weltanschauung: From December 1939 to May 1945, with substantial financial funding from the German Foreign Office, German Radio broadcast Nazi propaganda to neutral Ireland. From small beginnings, featuring a weekly talk in the Gaelic language, the broadcasts from Berlin grew into a nightly bi-lingual service in Irish and English. The man behind the plan to target Irish listeners who would be receptive to the "German cause" due to their own conservative interpretation of nationalism--so it was assumed--was Dr. Adolf Mahr, the Austrian-born director of the National Museum in Dublin and a committed member of the German Nazi Party. Mahr left Dublin in 1939, and, officially on leave of absence from his job with the Irish Civil Service, he returned to wartime Berlin working for the German Foreign Office as well as establishing and directing German Radio's nightly Irish Service known as the "Irland-Redaktion."

Bearing in mind the several historical cultural-religious, scholarly, and military contacts and connections between the two countries and the contemporary friendly Irish-German relations during the World War II, the question whether the largely positive German perception of "the Irish" has been reflected in the presentation of Ireland and the Irish within Nazi popular culture inevitably arises.

The Irish Subject Films and Cross-Culturalism

As outlined earlier, the concept of cross-culturalism refers to the portrayal of other cultures or the process of cultural exchange, and is concerned with intercultural discourse beyond the boundaries of the nation or cultural group. The term "cross-cultural" is not usually applied in cases involving cultural crossing between European social groups, or between Europe and the United States. However, there is, in my opinion, no clear reason why, for example, the two Ufa films discussed in this study could not be considered "cross-cultural" films, for cross-cultural narratives tend to incorporate elements such as culture shock, acculturation or resistance to it, social obstacles (like discrimination, racism, prejudice, stereotypes, linguism, the return home)--some of which are prominent themes in the Third Reich's "Irish movies," albeit presented from a slightly distorted perspective. Extending this notion further, I will now show how the two following films' thematic focus lay on the colonial--colonialism being by definition a form of cross-culturalism.

The Fox of Glenarvon

The very first scene of this movie, which is by and large about Irish civil unrest and sabotage acts of the rebellious "Ribbonmen" against English rule in rural Ireland, displays a traditional and highly cliched visual presentation of Ireland: Mist hangs low over wild waters, the camera zooms in on a headline that reads "Ireland, the Green Island ... is one of the oldest victims of English repression." The mystical feel to the rise of the Irish landmass out of mist and rough waters is supported by an off-screen sound hymn about the Irish people's longing for freedom. A prologue provides further information on the tragic Irish history of famine and emigration, implying that these were direct results of British terror.

This introductory scene sets the tone and the style for the whole film, which is a collection of visually repeated stereotypes of external images of Irish landscape and its population: the "wee" thatched cottage in mist and rain surrounded by bleak bog land or peat fields; utterly determined male "freedom fighters" meeting secretly in the pub's back room or in the church's sacristy. The modest women of the village are all dressed in dark colors, wearing cloaks or shawls wrapped around their heads and shoulders. Their pale, natural-styled faces are the only light spots in their humble appearances. Their look is in stark contrast to Ufa star and Hitler's favorite actress Olga Tschechowa in her leading role as Gloria, Irish wife to the local English Justice of Peace, and visually presented as a Catholic Queen--like stepping out of Franco's propagandist Castilian historical cinema--elegantly dressed in long, black velvet robes of a design strongly reminiscent of a nun's habit, with no jewelry but a heavy golden cross on a long golden chain. Her face is of classic beauty, no need for glossy make-up; her hair is dark and it shimmers like a halo. In correspondence with her visual stylization, she acts like a saint, with her Irish compatriots' interests at heart, and there is no confusion about her role-model function. Her English husband is equally drawn as the stereotypical English gentleman--ever so polite and elegant in his tweed blazer, cool but charming, with gambling being his only weakness. With female audiences' favorite male Ufa star Ferdinand Marian in the role of the English enemy, additional suspense is added to the narrative in the form of the clashing combination of an attractive, erotic charisma and a dishonest character (similar to Marian's most famous act as the "seductive Jew" in Veit Harlan's notorious anti-Semitic film Jud Suss [Jew Suess]).

On a superficial level, The Fox of Glenarvon plays fight into the image of the Irish as a colonized and victimized people, who are forced to make a choice between assimilating to an alien materialistic culture or the heartfelt duty to defend their Celtic way of life by fighting the battle of (Irish) David against (English) Goliath, which will ultimately bring national liberation on top of moral superiority. This image corresponds to similar external images of "Irishness" displayed in popular narratives by German writers successfully published in the Third Reich (see selection of titles listed in O Dochartaigh 63). Indeed, The Fox of Glenarvon is the film adaptation of a contemporary popular--rather trivial--novel of the same title authored by Nicola Rhon in 1936. However, on a deeper level, one can find distinctive references to Irish history and culture with parallels to Germany. For instance, British General Tetbury's reputation strongly refers to Oliver Cromwell's terror regime in seventeenth-century Ireland. Although surely not intended by the filmmakers, Tetbury's troops ransacking a Catholic church could easily be mistaken for SA (Storm Troopers) commandos torching a synagogue. (5) The secret society of the Ribbonmen (most active from 1835 to 1855 and during the Tithe War and whose members would leave green ribbons behind) at first glance spells IRA (Irish Republican Army) but in fact refers to nineteenth-century rural nationalist Catholic secret societies. These secret societies stood in opposition to Orangeism and admitted responsibility for acts of sabotage and violent riots with the Orange Order in the North, or organized resistance to paying tithes to the Protestant Church of Ireland.

Furthermore, here English rule compares to the Treaty of Versailles with its "War Guilt Clause" denounced by many contemporary Germans as a violation of honor. The film's references to political exile and Irish aristocrat Lord Ennis's return to Ireland symbolize a Utopian return of the Irish gentry, stressing the desire to put Irish affairs back into Irish hands. Gloria is, of course, the perfect and idealized woman, pure and patriotic, a Mother Ireland who is prepared to even sacrifice her marriage and personal happiness for the sake of the nation. The dominant role of the Catholic Church in the process of Irish nation-building and in the development of Irish nationalism has been acknowledged by the progressive depiction of the priest who lends moral and practical support to the rebels. The film attempts to portray aspects of authentic Irish custom and folklore but often fails to achieve this and, as a consequence, contributes to an assumed cultural realism: We see Ribbonmen avoiding arrest by escaping into a pub where they mingle with dancers and musicians. Only the dance is neither Ceili (figure dance) nor Irish Dance (tap dance) but vaguely resembles Bavarian folk dance. Also, the music has nothing in common with traditional Irish tunes (no reel, jig, hornpipe, or slide) but orchestral instruments play symphonic music reminiscent of Grieg's Nordic melodies. When Gloria sings at a wake, it is no Irish lament or "keening" but closer to Ufa's leading lady Zarah Leander's famous melancholic songs, which became instant hits with the German public. Herewith, authentic Gaelic cultural expressions are turned into "Germanized" surrogates less alien and easier to recognize for an audience not familiar with Ireland and her cultures.

Yet the film also addresses specific Irish cultural contents--for example, by referring to a book of poetry by Irish rebel Patrick Pearse or by mentioning the legendary Banshees (bean sidhe), female ghost messengers who predict the death of a loved one. In addition, the reference to historically plausible events related to the Irish struggle with British colonial forces, such as the burning of a County Roscommon village and the execution of rebel prisoners held in Belfast, add a sense of authenticity. As the film adaptation follows the literary original quite closely, it can be assumed that these historical references and examples of cultural realism are the novelist's achievement rather than resulting from the filmmakers' conscious intention. However, it makes The Fox of Glenarvon stand out markedly from typical NS-propaganda films, regarding the usual bland imparting of anti-British sentiment.

It can be argued, therefore, that the film's purpose was not merely the propaganda value of the enforcement of anti-British feelings among its German audiences, but, to a certain extent, a demonstration of an actual interest in, and an attraction to, Irish history, culture, and folklore (the latter poorly researched). With this, the filmmakers responded to a popularity of all things Irish within a German educated middle-class since nineteenth-century Romanticism. Moreover, the film's visual references to the iconography of the "blood-and-soil" films with their glorification of peasantry as bound to nature and the eternal pillar of society, as well as the protection of the homeland as a key issue of the narrative, reflect a larger cultural scenario (which dwells on transcendent historical categories such as nature, race, and folk), and create an imagined "real" common, intercultural bond between contemporary German audiences and the Irish people. Ironically, it can be argued that the "foreign subject-matter" film The Fox of Glenarvon is a representative of the nationalist socialist Kulturkampf (fight for cultural purity) against the previous Weimar era's modern international pretensions.

My Life for Ireland

The second "Irish film": My Life for Ireland, which is set in 1920s Dublin and thematically portraying the coming-of-age of an Irish "freedom fighter" and his involvement in an IRA uprising, is at a fleeting look more of an anti-British propaganda film than it is a pro-Irish film. Unlike The Fox of Glenarvon, where audiences get a glimpse of the Irish Question and British-Irish relations, here the locale is irrelevant, and the film could have been set in any other country with a colonial history. In My Life for Ireland, the Irish struggle predominantly serves as a backdrop to the film's central message directed at a male German youth: to act patriotically, even if this means having to challenge established authority (here teachers) as there is only one highest authority--the German nation and those who protect it. Heroic behavior with the ultimate sacrifice of giving your own life for the nationalist cause is what this film wants to suggest to its target audiences, who are in 1941 essentially potential soldiers, their mothers, sisters, and girlfriends. The film plot relates to one of the Nazis' principal objectives, that is to organize the will of the youth and to enlist it in a historical mission. The film's title carries the key message and is almost an insult to the viewers' intelligence for it really should read "My Life for Germany."

The film contains no cultural realism except for the Irish names (Maeve Flemming, Michael O'Brian, or Patrick O'Connor), albeit pronounced phonetically with a German accent. Interestingly, to a certain extent, My Life for Ireland seems to be in line with another earlier film narrative that also provides an external American view on "the Irish": Young Patrick, driven by personal motives of love and jealousy, becomes an informer against his will, and bears strong similarities to main character Gypo Nolan in John Ford's 1935 film The Informer (adapted from Liam O'Flaherty's tale of friendship and nation betrayed), which is also set in 1920s Dublin. Like Patrick in My Life for Ireland, Ford's anti-hero has to make up for moral failure (informing on an IRA fugitive) by paying his life. In particular, the final sequence where Gypo gets shot and finds forgiveness from his victim's mother is very similar to My Life for Ireland's final sequence where a dying Patrick gets absolution from Michael's mother Maeve. In both films, a leading figure is the local IRA commander who acts as social control, moral authority, and guarantee of justice. Patrick and Gypo, however, represent the failure of those who put personal interests before the nation: Even if their actions were only human, they have to pay the ultimate price, and, in the end, both are ready to accept this. These similarities may not come as a surprise as fiction films of the Third Reich focused on the classical narrative in much the same way as Hollywood films of the 1930s did. (6) My Life for Ireland was awarded three film labels--one of them "educational," which means it particularly targeted young audience. As Eggebrecht notes:

The NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers Party] institutionalized Oedipal revolt, directing the young against "the parental home, church, school, and other outdated forms and role models. In its youth organizations it assumed the central role in the rebellion of sons against their fathers." (qtd. in Rentschel 58)

With up and coming star and teenage girls' heart-throb Will Quadflieg in the lead role, the film was sure to become a box-office hit. The fact that the majority of extra cast were non-professional actors and members of the local Hitler Youth supported a certain sense of ownership within the young audience. (7)

The Display of Femininity

Both "Irish films" conform to another, additional aspect of Nazi film production: the specific representation of women and womanhood (see Vaupel). The recognition of women's role within German society of the Third Reich, and its reflection within NSDAP party policy, was based on the same biologically motivated core ideas which inspired fascist ideology on racism and anti-Semitism, i.e. the reduction of the female's status to her specific biological ability of reproduction and its control by the nationalist state.

Aided by the mythological construct of womanhood drawn from German folk epics and legends, the ideal German woman (the "volkische Frau") was described as the "link to the line of the Germanic ancestors; keeper of the home fires and defender of the clan" (Luck 143; my translation). Hers was the holy task to keep the German blood pure, which implies an overall awareness that a woman's decisions regarding reproduction were not just in the best interest of her family, but of the German nation and race at large. Women who chose to be disobedient to this ideal, and who acted against their "nature," would sooner or later be punished by fate. This is the predominant message of Nazi films, particularly those distributed to German audiences during the wartime period where the majority of spectators were female. Furthermore, Ufa stars such as Olga Tschechova and Anna Dammann, who were generally not associated with official propaganda films, (8) were brought in to attract female audiences through their casting for the melodrama, which was then and still is considered a typically female genre.

In order to support the NSDAP's population policies, the films of the wartime era in particular displayed women by and large as a (future) wife and (potential) mother, which is also true for the examined "Irish films." Gloria in The Fox of Glenarvon is a heroic character fighting forced acculturation under colonial rule. She is portrayed as morally stronger than her English husband and a mother in a double sense: to her child and to her people--which does not only relate to the Catholic perception of the mother as the ideal form of womanhood but also to the Irish perception of "Mother Ireland" and Eire. Gloria makes up for her earlier mistake of having chosen the wrong (English) partner by sacrificing her marriage to the nationalist cause, and gets rewarded for this by winning the (Irish) alpha-male's heart. Also, the visual resemblance of Gloria to similar images of femininity in the Spanish cinema of the 1940s (and early 1950s) is no coincidence, as obviously both fascist regimes shared a conservative outlook on womanhood, motherhood, and the supportive role of the wife. Gloria's visual stylization as a "Catholic icon" is in keeping with Franco's demand for a resurrection of symbols of national greatness and resistance to foreign aggressors in a series of theatrical and overly pious biopics that celebrates illustrious Catholic heroines of the past as, for instance, in Rafael Gil's historical melodrama Reina Santa (The Holy Queen; 1946). With German (and occasional Spanish-German co-) productions as a regular feature on Spanish silver screens, the selling and dubbing of German films became a lucrative business for both national film industries after 1938, and a certain catering for this market had a likely impact on the conception of film characters and casting.

Maeve Flemming in My Life for Ireland is also predominantly portrayed as the wife and widow of a freedom fighter, the mother of a future freedom fighter and the care-giver of a wounded freedom fighter. Furthermore, she becomes the passion of another male who, influenced by her, becomes involved with the struggle for freedom and the defense of the homeland. Maeve knows her place in the local nationalist community and is at ease with what it holds for her--a supportive role in advancing an emancipated Irish nation. The idealized relationship between genders is also brought to light in the heroine's devotion to nurturing and providing moral and practical support to the males' struggle for freedom, with the woman in charge of the domestic and the man responsible for its defense and survival.

With this in mind, one wonders about the exhibition of Gloria as the stronger personality and driving force in The Fox of Glenarvon, in spite of having a husband (after all "Aryan") at her side. In NS fiction films, English males are regularly portrayed as "unmanly" (e.g. in Reinhold Schunzel's Die englische Heirat [The English Marriage]; 1934) because of being subject to, and symbolically castrated by, a long line of female heads of state--with particular reference to Queen Victoria's dominant impact on English culture and society. As a result, a woman might be forced to take action by a man who fails his male role and responsibilities: Gloria is fighting the home front battle while the "real" men are fighting in and outside of Ireland (such as Irish exile Lord Ennis). If there is no "real man" around, the woman instinctively takes over, not because she wants to, but because she has to in order to protect the family as the nucleus of the nation. With the majority of young and middle-aged German males in the Wehrmacht fighting a megalomaniac war, women had not only to be prepared to make personal sacrifices, but also to take up the men's places in industrial production--which was ultimately the foretelling of many a woman's role in post-1945 Germany as it was the Trummerfrauen [rubble women], who cleared the destroyed German cities of rubble, who sold and swapped whatever they had left on the black markets, and who negotiated with allied authorities. Their men, however, were largely absent, for they were either dead, prisoners of war, crippled, or missing. With a new generation of men pressing to the fore, and the last surviving prisoners returning in the mid-1950s, the female labor force was quietly sent back to the domestic realm.


Notwithstanding the fact that both of the discussed films belong to the fiction film genre and thus are not documentaries, the cinematic imagination of Ireland and the Irish in these films connotes historiographic and cultural realism. The films present a highly subjective and ideological view of an assumed "reality" designed to indoctrinate their audiences. Although the Ufa's "Irish" films' overall purpose was first and foremost the transmission of anti-British propaganda, the films also offered a clear potential of identification for their German audiences by stressing the imagined and real similarities between Irish and German culture, history, and society. In particular, The Fox of Glenarvon is a principal example of a threefold manifestation of supposed cultural exchange by dwelling on aspects of: 1- Real Culture: when referring to the complicated colonial relationship between Irish and British or when quoting from the national Irish literary canon or commenting on Celtic legends and myths; 2-Perceived Culture: when adopting traditional iconography reserved for the (cinematic) representation of Celtic Ireland or when conforming to the cliched imagery of the Irish as the "noble savage" and presenting Irish custom and folklore in a "Germanized" manner; and 3-Imagined Culture: when insinuating strong cultural ties or even "cultural sameness" between Irish and Germans by projecting Nazi ideology on an imaginary Irish cultural identity.

It is the nature of national communities to be first and foremost imagined communities. Whilst sometimes appearing natural, they have usually been constructed through elaborate ideological and political work, which produces a sense of nation and national identity (by promoting cultural signifiers such as language, literature, music, belief systems, etc.) that can always be challenged (see Anderson). In the case of The Fox of Glenarvon and My Life for Ireland, the displayed representations of Irish cultural identity and nationhood suggest that a shared trans-national identity exists--yet, illogically, not with Ireland's British neighbors due to century-long colonial relationships, but with Ireland's supposedly "long-term ally" Germany, which appears to be a vital facet of the films' key messages to be absorbed by German cinema audiences. Key issues positively addressed within both films are loyalty, bravery, pride, sense of sacrifice, and an overall conservative construction of femininity, which are all core principles of both Irish and German nationalist culture at that time and until the 1950s.

In general, the reviewed films display, for the most part, an inaccurate depiction of Irish "real culture" (always bearing in mind that the idea of an internally homogeneous culture is an absurdity), and, on the contrary, reveal the degree to which these mainly distorted realities impact the German perception of "Irishness" and its cinematic representation. A national film industry's primary concern is to reflect experiences which are of relevance to those within that culture, and Irish audiences would probably have been amused about these "Germanized" reflections of "Irishness." In particular, the obvious lack of proper research on Irish custom and folklore is striking, as professional advice would have been easily available due to a keen academic interest in Celtic Studies and ongoing Irish-German cultural contacts.

However, it is the concept of the Other which is needed to create a sense of self, and in the films examined, the Other clearly is "the English" and not "the Irish," which makes any display of "Irishness" ultimately become a mirror of the German self. As previously outlined, the films' cinematic interpretation of inter-culturalism is fundamentally dependent on imagined cultural realism, whereas, there is, incongruously, little reference to actual trans-cultural realities within Irish society: a society that is vehemently opposed to British (cultural) imperialism but that is, as a matter of fact, deeply anglicized in language, conduct, and public life, and has been for over 500 years.

Nonetheless, the cinematic imagination of Ireland, her people, and the topical references to Irish socio-political issues in The Fox of Glenarvon--and to a lesser extent in My Life for Ireland--differ greatly in their semi-informed and pro-Irish stand from an essentially negative English external image of "Irishness"--as well as from Hollywood's equally negative cultural stereotyping of the ridiculed Irish drunk in the contemporary visual and print media, which, during the 1940s, were specifically intended as a punishment for the perceived betrayal by the Irish for remaining neutral in World War II (see, for example, Curtiz's Angels with Dirty Faces [1938], Bacon's Three Cheers for the Irish [1940], and Launder's I See a Dark Stranger [1946]). Even so, the films explored in this study are first and foremost films made by Germans for Germans. For that reason, the tiny glimpses of aspects of "real" Irish history and representations of Irish culture (real, perceived, or imagined) that audiences were superficially introduced to are articulated with a heavy German accent, and are the bearers of an entirely German message after all. Accordingly, the film producers' attempts at suggesting inter-cultural exchange and cultural similarity as the reasons for a natural Irish-German alliance are not so much based on factual realities as on "wishful thinking," namely, an ideologically created vision of German-Irish cultural association.

The Nazis relied heavily on cinema to divert the masses as well as to direct their attentions, and the film productions during the national socialist era often used displaced and exotic settings "to enact and resolve domestic dilemmas" (Rentschler 125). The two Irish subject films The Fox of Glenarvon and My Life for Ireland were predominantly just means to achieve this.

Works Cited

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Albrecht, G. Nationalsozialistische Filmpolitik. Munich: Hanser, 1969.

Bacon, Lloyd, dir. Three Cheers for the Irish. Warner Bros., 1940.

Curtiz, Michael, dir. Angels with Dirty Faces. Warner Bros., 1938.

Drewniak, B. Der deutsche Film 1938-1945. Dtisseldorf: Droste, 1987.

Fischer, J., P. O'Dochartaigh, and H. Kelly-Holmes. "Foreword." Irish-German Studies: Yearbook of the Centre of Irish-German Studies 2001/2002. Eds. J. Fischer et al. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2004.7-9.

Grossberg, L., C. Nelson, and P. Teichler, eds. Cultural Studies. NY and London: Routledge, 1992.

Grunberger, R. The 12-Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany, 19331945. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

Helbig, Heinz, dir. Leinen aus Irland. Dt. Styria Film, 1939.

Kautner, Helmut, dir. Grosse Freiheit Nr 7. Ufa, 1944.

Kimmich, Max W., dir. Der Fuchs von Glenarvon. Tobis Filmkunst, 1940.

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Krause, W. Die Kelten und ihre geistige Haltung. Konigsberg: Grafe u. Unzer, 1936.

Kreimeier, K. Die Ufa Story: Geschichte eines Filmkonzems. Munich: Hansa, 1991.

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Launder, Frank, dir. I See a Dark Stranger [released as The Adventuress in the US]. Individual Pictures, 1946.

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Luck, M. Die Frau im Mannerstaat. Ffm, Bern, Las Vegas: Peter Lang, 1979.

O Dochartaigh, P. "Nazi Historiography and the Partition of Ireland." Irish-German Studies: Yearbook of the Centre for Irish-German Studies 2001/ 2002. Eds. J. Fischer et al. Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, 2004. 62-67.

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Riefenstahl, Leni, dir. Olympia. Olympia-Film, 1938.

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Selpin, Herbert and Werner Klinger, dirs. Titanic. Tobis Filmkunst, 1943.

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(1) The core question being: "How much difference must there be between two cultural groups before we say they are different?" (Smith and Bond 39).

(2) Note the Irish connection present in both films. In Titanic, although the ship was built and managed by a British company, its disaster story is very much linked with Ireland as the ship was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. As for Linen from Ireland, it is a historical fact that National Socialists synchronized the production of anti-Semitic films with the preparation of the Jewish genocide. Until 1938, anti-Semitic motives played only a minor role in NS-feature films which changed drastically from 1939 onwards, with Linen from Ireland being one of the first anti-Semitic feature films distributed (Kreimeier, Medienwissenschaft n. pag.).

(3) Linguist Wolfgang Krause, for instance, proposes "a certain racial relation" between the early Celts and Germans (16).

(4) Eight German postgraduate students completed their doctoral theses on Irish topics at German universities during 1933-1941, which proves a certain popularity of Irish Studies in German academia (Wolf 82).

(5) The film was not distributed in occupied Poland for similar reasons.

(6) Which stimulated in particular Ufa's musical film production, the "Revuefilm."

(7) Interviews with some members of the original extra cast, conducted in 2007 by the makers of the RTE TV documentary Hitler's Irish Movies (broadcast on January 30, 2007 on RTE One), confirm the largely positive and enthusiastic reception of MY Life for Ireland by contemporary young spectators. However, the interviewees also stated that they did not perceive the film as a predominantly Irish subject film, but rather as an action film with the young generation in a leading role, spiced with a bit of romance and adventure: an altogether attractive "wrapping" of the film's patriotic key message and a contribution to a general militarizing of the German youth.

(8) Unlike actress Kristina Soderbaum, wife of star director Veit Harlan who usually featured as the stereotypical blond German maiden in many lead roles of the biggest propaganda films such as Jud SuB, Ohm Kruger, or Die Goldene Stadt.
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Author:Vaupel, Angela
Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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