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Jewish Journal

Did Hollywood Heil Hitler?

by Danielle Berrin

June 26, 2013 | 11:38 am

from the 1939 Warner Bros. film "Confessions of a Nazi Spy"

In a twisted tale that could be called Confessions of a Nazi Scholar comes a shocking revelation that Hollywood’s association with Hitler’s Third Reich may have been much closer and more collaborative than previously known.

According to a new book by historian Ben Urwand, a member of Harvard University’s Society of Fellows, Hollywood actively collaborated with Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler in order to assure their stronghold in the German film market.

According to the New York Times:

In “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler,” Ben Urwand draws on a wealth of previously uncited documents to argue that Hollywood studios, in an effort to protect the German market for their movies, not only acquiesced to Nazi censorship but also actively and enthusiastically cooperated with that regime’s global propaganda effort.

The disturbingly cozy relationship, which included a postwar Rhine cruise for Jack Warner on Hitler’s yacht, was mutually beneficial: Hollywood sustained its overseas profit and Hitler exploited the film industry’s international influence.

In the 1930s, “Hollywood is not just collaborating with Nazi Germany,” Urwand told the Times. “It’s also collaborating with Adolf Hitler, the person and human being.”

First reported by University of Houston professor David Mimics in Tablet, the notion that the Hollywood studio heads of the WWII era -- most of whom were Jewish -- were secretly ingratiating themselves with Hitler’s regime is an alarming disclosure that threatens to upend Hollywood's Jewish legacy.

According to the Times:

On page after page, [Urwand] shows studio bosses, many of them Jewish immigrants, cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and, according to one document, helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.

Even Jack Warner, praised by Groucho Marx for running “the only studio with any guts” after greenlighting the 1939 film “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” comes in for some revisionist whacks. It was Warner who personally ordered that the word “Jew” be removed from all dialogue in the 1937 film “The Life of Emile Zola,” Mr. Urwand writes, and his studio was the first to invite Nazi officials to its Los Angeles headquarters to screen films and suggest cuts.

“There’s a whole myth that Warner Brothers were crusaders against fascism,” Mr. Urwand said. “But they were the first to try to appease the Nazis in 1933.”

Urwand reportedly stumbled into this research while in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. His first clue was finding an interview with the screenwriter Budd Schulberg that mentioned a meeting between Louis B. Mayer and a German consul in Los Angeles. Soon after that, he was researching his dissertation topic in the German state archives in Berlin, where he found “a January 1938 letter from the German branch of 20th-Century Fox asking whether Hitler would share his opinions on American movies...”

It was signed “Heil Hitler!”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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