Nazi flag on German consulate in Jaffa 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
LOS ANGELES - "The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City” may rank as the oddest film fragment in cinematic history.
The 23 minutes of raw, unedited footage is all that has been found of a Nazi propaganda project to prove that the “model” Theresienstadt camp was a veritable paradise for its Jewish inmates.
Shot in early 1944, when the horrors of Hitler’s Final Solution finally
trickled out to the West, the film was part of an effort to hoodwink a
visiting International Red Cross delegation that all was productive work
and wholesome recreation in Theresienstadt, and by extension in other
During the day, contented workers shoed horses, made pottery and
designed handbags. Children played soccer or gorged themselves on
sandwiches. In the evenings, well-dressed men and women attended
concerts and lectures.All this to the incongruous background music of
Offenbach’s “Gaite Parisienne” or a jazzy “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.”
The director of this curiosity was a mountainous Jewish inmate, Kurt
Gerron, whose strange story of pride and self-deception is documented in
a companion film, “Kurt Gerron’s Karussel (Carousel).”
Gerron, a native Berliner born Kurt Gerson, was a towering figure both
in girth and as a leading impresario in the swinging Berlin cabaret
scene of the 1920s.
He also was a successful actor, playing the nightclub owner in “The Blue
Angel” opposite Marlene Dietrich, and was featured in the world
premiere cast of “The Three Penny Opera.”
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Though banned from the German stage in 1933, Gerron persisted in the
self-delusion that his talent and charm would triumph in the end.
When Peter Lorre and other German expatriates in Hollywood arranged for
Gerron to join them and even pay the travel expenses for the impresario
and his family, Gerron refused on the grounds that the proffered ship
accommodations were not first class.
Gerron did establish a temporary second career in France and Holland,
but the Nazis caught up with him and deported him to Theresienstadt.
When “The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City” project came along, Gerron saw a
chance to resume his career and signed on as director. He also
swallowed the “word of honor” of the German camp commandant that his
life would be spared after he completed the film.
Instead, Gerron was sent to Auschwitz in October 1944 and killed one day
before SS chief Heinrich Himmler gave the order to shut down the gas
chambers for good.
“Karussel” director Ilona Ziok combines footage of Gerron’s halcyon days
in Berlin with testimony of surviving Jewish camp prisoners to draw a
picture of Gerron as a tragic, self-deluded figure -- “a big, strong man
with the mind of a child,” in the words of a fellow Theresienstadt
“Kurt Gerron’s Karussel” is available as a DVD, but distribution of “The
Fuehrer Gives a City to the Jews” has been sharply limited by the
A spokesman for Seventh Art Releasing said the film fragment was
available for free, but fearing misuse of the material, he stipulated
that it could only be used for educational and scholarly purposes by
schools or religious institutions, and had to be clearly labeled as Nazi
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