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Major Berlin film fest acknowledges its founder’s ‘alarming’ hidden Nazi past

The Berlinale, one of Europe’s top cinema showcases, says that Alfred Bauer, who ran the festival for its first 25 years, was a high-ranking Nazi propagandist during WWII

Picture taken on July 4, 1959 shows Italian actress Sophia Loren, American journalist Elsa Maxwell and festival director Dr. Alfred Bauer, right, at the festival in the Palais am Funkturm in Berlin. (Konrad Giehr/dpa via AP, file)
Picture taken on July 4, 1959 shows Italian actress Sophia Loren, American journalist Elsa Maxwell and festival director Dr. Alfred Bauer, right, at the festival in the Palais am Funkturm in Berlin. (Konrad Giehr/dpa via AP, file)

BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — The Berlin film festival, one of Europe’s top cinema showcases, released a study Wednesday showing the deep entrenchment of its founding director in the Nazi propaganda apparatus, which he actively covered up.

The Berlinale, as the annual event is known, said in a statement that researchers found that Alfred Bauer, who ran the festival from its start in 1951 until 1976, was a high-ranking official in the Reich Film Administration.

Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels created the body in 1942 to oversee movie production and Bauer’s role there “contributed to the functioning, stabilization and legitimation of the Nazi regime,” the festival said in a statement.

The embarrassing revelations first emerged in a report by weekly newspaper Die Zeit last January.

The Berlinale Palast, the venue for the competition premieres, during the Berlin Film Festival in 2007. (Wikipedia/Maharepa/CC BY)

They led the Berlinale to strip Bauer’s name from one of its top prizes and commission an independent investigation by the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ).

This file photo taken on February 16, 2018 shows the Berlinale Bear, logo of the Berlinale film festival, pictured prior to a press conference at the 68th Berlinale film festival in Berlin. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

Berlinale co-chief Mariette Rissenbeek called the latest facts to come to light, and Bauer’s successful efforts after the war to keep quiet his role in the Nazi power structure, “alarming.”

“They constitute an important element in the process of dealing with the Nazi past of cultural institutions which were founded after 1945,” she said in a statement.

“The new knowledge also changes the view of the founding years of the Berlinale.”

‘Avid SA man’

Rissenbeek said Bauer appeared to be one of many German cultural officials who were able to sweep their Nazi past under the carpet and seamlessly continue their careers after Adolf Hitler’s fall despite the Allies’ “denazification” drive.

She called for further research into the German film industry’s roots in the country’s Nazi past.

This file photo taken on February 16, 2020 shows workers setting up the Berlinale Bear, logo of the Berlinale Film Festival, at the Berlinale Palace venue as preparations are under way for the film festival in Berlin. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

The IfZ confirmed Bauer belonged to the Nazi party and was “an avid SA man,” referring to the Sturmabteilung paramilitary wing.

Bauer also played a key role in the surveillance of actors, producers and other members of the film industry.

After World War II Bauer sought to erase all traces of his Nazi past, even telling Allied interrogators that he had resisted the regime.

He died in 1986, whereupon the festival established the prize in his name. Its winning films included Alain Resnais’s “Aimer, boire et chanter” (Life of Riley) (2014) and Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” in 2003.

The Berlinale ranks with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s top filmfests.

This year dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof won its Golden Bear top prize for “There Is No Evil,” a searingly critical work about the death penalty in his country.

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