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Enemies of the State: Jewish Filmmakers in Nazi Germany

Erich Pommer

Perhaps one of the most high-profile casualties of Ufas cull was producer Erich Pommer, who together with another victim, director Erik Charell, had produced Der Kongreß tanzt (The Congress Dances), Germanys most successful film of 1931.   However Pommer, a producer with a highly-developed business acumen, had foreseen the possible consequences of the Nazis taking power and had already taken steps to protect his professional and personal future.

 In 1932, Pommer had received an assurance from Ludwig Klitzsch that Ufa would not discriminate against Jews, but this assurance had not deterred Pommer from entering into negotiations with Sidney Kent of the Fox Film Corporation regarding the foundation of a European production subsidiary in Germany or France in the autumn of 1933.   Pommer remained in Berlin for a month after his dismissal by Ufa, and during this time it seemed that he may in fact be re-instated by the studio.   He was contacted by the Foreign Office, possibly at the bidding of Goebbels, who suggested he might be awarded honorary Aryan status if he remained active in the National cinema industry.   Pommer might have agreed had an incident involving his son not irreversibly changed his mind.

John Pommer was a student.   In the third week of April 1933, he received a letter inviting him to a meeting in his schools auditorium to learn his role in the forthcoming May Day parade.   However, the next day a newspaper stated that Jewish students would not be permitted to participate in the parade.   Pommer confronted Foreign Office negotiators and demanded to know how they could expect him to work in a country where his son was not good enough to march with his peers.   He requested and received an exit permit and the necessary endorsements on his passport that would enable him to leave the country.

Pommer left Germany the same evening on the Berlin-Paris Express.   However, fearing that Goebbels might attempt to block his departure, he told his driver to travel to Hanover, where he left the train and drove to a remote border station.   From there he drove unchallenged into France.   Despite his sudden departure, Pommer continued to receive preferential treatment from the Nazis well into the 1930s.   The German Consulate General in New York renewed his passport as late as 19th September 1935 with no reference to his Jewish origins.

A similar fate awaited Robert Siodmak, who in 1932 had completed a comedy film called Quick for Ufa. The following year he joined Ufas biggest competitor, Deutsche Universal-Film AG, a former branch of Universal Pictures where many Jewish filmmakers, including Kurt Bernhardt, Franz Waxman and Herman Kosterlitz, found a temporary refuge before finally being forced out of work completely or fleeing for friendlier countries.   There, Siodmak filmed an adaptation of Stefan Zweigs Brennendes Geheimnis (Burning Secret).   The premiere of this film was delayed on a number of occasions, before finally taking place in Berlin on 20th March 1933.   Even then, Goebbels forbade any production credits to be shown, and the following day, Der Angriff, the Nazi party paper, called for it to be banned and demanded a cinema that is clean and decent so that we may be spared from now on these unhealthy erotic disturbances.   It was not long before Siodmak, like Pommer, left Germany for France with his fiancée, Bertha Odenheimer.

Robert Siodmak

 The treatment of respected filmmakers like Erich Pommer and Robert Siodmak was shared by thousands of Jews within the film community who found themselves fired from positions they had held for years with no notice or recourse to appeal.   Their oppression gathered pace in July 1933 with the formation of the Reich Chamber of Film (RFK) as a result of the Nazi governments Law for the Establishment of a Provisional Chamber of Film.   In addition to overseeing the operation of the Filmkreditbank, the new institution, which became a subdivision of the new Reich Chamber of Culture in September 1933, effectively controlled all aspects of the German film industry.   One of its key roles was to register all professionals involved in the industry, ostensibly judging an individuals suitability on the grounds of a vague reliability clause by which registration could be refused due to the fact that the applicant does not possess the requisite reliability for the film trade.   Membership quickly became a pre-requisite for anyone hoping to find work in the film business but, as the RFK was guided by a directive issued by the Reich Ministry of Popular Entertainment in June 1933 which stated that anybody involved in the production of a German film must be of German descent and hold German citizenship most Jews were predictably refused membership.   A privileged few, like director Reinhold Schünzel, were granted short-term permits, but even these exceptions were excluded by January 1935, by which time the majority of affected filmmakers had already left the country.

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