Ohm Kruger: The Genesis of a Nazi Propaganda Film

Article excerpt

The invasion of Poland having been successfully completed in the early autumn of 1939 and the campaigns in Norway, Denmark, and western Europe in the following spring, the Nazi war machine set its sights on Great Britain. In order to galvanize the German public for a military offensive that would undoubtedly meet with much greater resistance than had been encountered heretofore, Joseph Goebbels and the Ministry for Propaganda authorized the production of several films designed to stir up anti-British sentiment among the German people. The more modestly budgeted films dealt with British colonial affairs in Africa and the Irish struggle for independence.1 But the cornerstone of the antiBritish propaganda2 effort was clearly Ohm Kruger, a 1941 Tobis release concerning Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal from 1883 until 1902, and his struggle against British imperialism before and during the Boer War.

Among noted commentators on Nazi propaganda films, only Richard Taylor, David Welch, and most recently Klaus Kanzog have dealt with Ohm Kruger in any detail. Taylor offers a general commentary on the major scenes (207-15), and Welch, in a more substantive discussion, focuses on the film's anti-British theme in the general context of Nazi representations of the enemy (271-80). Kanzog offers a wealth of information about the background of the film and its reception, summarizes the plot, and mentions a few of the differences between the film and the literary material on which it is based (253-65). In this paper I offer a more comprehensive analysis of Ohm Kruger as an example of Nazi propaganda with special reference to its major themes and the composition of its screenplay, which sheds light on how propaganda was often presented in the form of a feature film.

Hans Steinhoff assumed the artistic direction of Ohm Kruger and was assisted, according to the film's credits, by Herbert Maisch and Karl Anton.3 Emil Jannings, along with playing the title role, was responsible for the general direction or "Gesamtleitung." Other well- known actors include Gustav Grundgens as British colonial minister Joseph Chamberlain, Ferdinand Marian as Cecil Rhodes, Werner Hinz as Jan Kruger (the president's son), and Otto Wernicke as the British commandant.

More money was spent on the production of Ohm Kruger (RM 5,477,000) than for any other film of the period except Kolberg, the monumental epic about the Napoleonic Wars (RM 8,800,000), and Munchhausen, the classic comedy-adventure film (RM 6,602,000) (Albrecht 417-29). The Propaganda Ministry awarded Ohm Kruger the following ratings:

1) politically and artistically valuable

2) culturally valuable

3) valuable for the national character

4) educational

5) valuable for youth4

Perhaps most importantly, the film was designated as the very first "Film of the Nation" (Albrecht 553).

The story of Ohm Kruger contains both historical and fictional elements. Paul Kruger's conflict with Cecil Rhodes and the British colonial ministry and the Boer War itself are, of course, based on historical fact. But the film also contains a plot line concerning a fictional conflict between Kruger and his son Jan. In the film the latter is an Oxford-educated lawyer who returns to South Africa with a decided predilection for the British way of life, much to the chagrin of his vehemently anti-British father. When the Boer War breaks out, Jan decides to retire to his farm with his wife and children to avoid having to participate in the conflict. But the war unexpectedly comes to him. A British sergeant arrives one evening at Jan's home demanding lodging for his troops. When the impudent intruder begins to molest Jan's wife Petra, he hits the slovenly Englishman on the head with a whiskey bottle and kills him. Then, in one of the film's least convincing moments, the legendary Boer general Christian de Wet heroically enters the Kruger home, having easily routed the sergeant's men, whereupon Jan spontaneously decides to leave his family and join the Boers' fight for freedom from British domination. …