Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft)


Just as Ufa's Dawn anticipated Nazi cinema, its board preempted official Nazi policy: three days before the official Nazi boycott of German Jews was instituted, Ufa fired all of its Jewish employees (29 March 1933). While in the course of 1933 the Propaganda Ministry was established under Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945) in order to create a pre censorship office for the ideological control of all German film productions and the industry was aryanized by making it illegal for Jews to make films, Ufa and other film companies remained economically independent. However, in 1937 the German Reich secretly purchased 51 percent of Ufa through a dummy corporation, Cautio Treuhand GmbH, and by 1939 owned 99 percent of Ufa stock. The government's ownership of Ufa was not publicly announced until February 1941, after which all other remaining German production companies were dissolved and integrated into the now wholly state-owned Ufa. This allowed the Allies to completely dismantle Ufa after the end of World War II, ostensibly as part of the denazification process but with the hidden agenda of guaranteeing that German cinema would never again threaten Hollywood hegemony.

But in 1933 Goebbels still had big plans for Ufa. His goal was to wean Germans from American films by creating a Hollywood-style star system on the one hand and by producing seemingly apolitical entertainment films on the other, which would lull the German public into believing that there were still ideology-free zones in the cinema. He specifically stated that he did not want to see Nazis on the screen but rather that the best propaganda was presented covertly. In order to create an atmosphere of internationalism (allowing Germans to forget that they could no longer travel abroad), Ufa imported new female stars, like Zarah Leander (1907–1981, Sweden), Marika Rökk (1913–2004, Hungary), and Kristina Söderbaum (1912–2001, Sweden), who appear in overheated melodramas by Detlef Sierck (1897–1987, also known as Douglas Sirk) and Veit Harlan (1899–1964) and musicals by Georg Jacoby (1883–1964). Leander, in particular, became wildly popular in such films as Zu neuen Ufern ( To New Shores , 1937) and Das Wunschkonzert ( Request Concert , 1940), films that addressed women's desire, all the while subtly inserting fascist attitudes in order to prepare women for war. For young male audiences, Ufa produced adventure films with Hans Albers (1891–1960) that glorified combat and war, thus preparing German youth for the coming war of aggression without overt political tones. As the war went from bad to worse for the Germans in 1942–43, Ufa focused almost exclusively on entertainment films that kept the minds of audiences off the rising death toll and falling bombs.

Meanwhile, Ufa also produced a yearly quota of Nazi propaganda films, usually historical epics that reconfigured German history by using the vocabulary of Nazi ideology and valorizing their heroes as Führer -figures in the image of Adolf Hitler. The cycle began with Gustav Ucicky's (1898–1961) Flüchlinge ( Refugees , 1933), about the struggle of German nationals in China and ended with Harlan's Kolberg (1945), which portrays an episode from the Napoleonic Wars (1813) during which a group of

F. W. Murnau's Der Letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924) made innovative use of the moving camera, eliminating the need for subtitles.

Prussian citizens holds off the marauding Russian Army, thus directly paralleling the contemporary situation on the Eastern Front. However, by the time the film was premiered in Berlin, 90 percent of German cinemas had been bombed to smithereens by the Allies.

Ufa's history ends with a whimper. In June 1953 the "Lex Ufi" took effect, a law passed by the West German government to reprivatize the company, which by then consisted of little more than real estate. The giant Ufa studios in Neubabelsberg, within the Soviet zone of occupation, fell under the control of the Deutsche-Film Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA), the state-owned film production company of the German Democratic Republic. In 1964, Ufa film rights to the catalogue eventually passed into the hands of the F. W. Murnau Foundation, which was controlled by the German Ministry of the Interior.

SEE ALSO Censorship ; Germany ; National Cinema ; Propaganda

Elsaesser, Thomas. Weimar Cinema and After: Germany's Historical Imaginary . New York: Routledge, 2000.

Hull, David Stuart. Film in the Third Reich: A Study of the German Cinema, 1933–1945 . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Koepenick, Lutz. The Dark Mirror: German Cinema between Hitler and Hollywood . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1947.

Kreimeier, Klaus. The Ufa Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company, 1918–1945 . Translated by Robert Kimber and Rita Kimber. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.

Rentschler, Eric. The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Jan-Christopher Horak

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