Hitler's Heroines: Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema

By Baer, Hester | German Quarterly, April 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Hitler's Heroines: Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema


Baer, Hester, German Quarterly


Ascheid, Antje. Hitler's Heroines: Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003. 288 pp. $19.95 paperback.

In 1943, Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels decreed that all beauty salons in the Third Reich would be shut down. According to his official reasoning, beauty salons were a waste of valuable human and natural resources. At the same time, the shutdown was a logical step in the Nazis' campaign to manage femininity by purging the glamour and fashionability associated with Weimar and American culture in order to promote a "natural" German womanliness linked to motherhood and domesticity. Yet this campaign was far from successful, and Nazi culture in fact continually accommodated diverse, sometimes incongruous, and often conflicting representations of femininity, as Antje Ascheid shows in her important contribution to the burgeoning body of recent scholarship that has sought to reevaluate the film culture of the Third Reich.

A study of three of Nazi cinema's biggest stars, Hitler's Heroines: Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema examines the divergent models of femininity embodied by Kristina Soderbaum, Lilian Harvey, and Zarah Leander. Hitler's Heroines uses the example of stardom as the basis for a feminist investigation of the ideological construction and interpellation of gender and gender roles in National Socialism. At the same time, Ascheid argues for a more nuanced and heterogeneous understanding of Nazi culture, particularly in its popular dimensions: "If we accept the idea that German spectators harbored notions of the popular that did not correspond to those of National Socialist ideology, we can account for much of the period's cultural phenomena, including many of its female film stars" (22). As Ascheid suggests, film spectatorship in the Third Reich was not simply a unidirectional experience, in which viewers were passive vessels. By problematizing the unidirectional model of Nazi culture and shifting the focus of analysis away from film production and toward stardom and spectatorship, Ascheid uncovers the ambiguities and contradictions of gender ideology in the Third Reich. While oppressive Nazi policies on women's education, employment, marriage, motherhood, and sexuality-and decrees such as Goebbels's closure of beauty salons- point to the ways in which the regime sought to police women and "undesirable" constructions of femininity from the top down, many of the Third Reich's most popular and widely disseminated images of femininity ran counter to the dominant ideology.

Kristina Soderbaum, the star most closely identified with the Nazi conception of ideal womanhood, became popular for tragic performances that epitomized women's struggles to contend with loss, disaster, and deprivation. …

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