From 1939 to 1945 Europe was at war. The Axis powers fought the Allied forces while the European film industry was in a terrible crisis. Economically and culturally there were more pressing issues than film. Film stock was a rare commodity, and the hostilities made it difficult for films to travel across national borders.
Paradoxically, three film afficinados were the cause of the conflict. The Nazis and the fascists shared the fascination of cinema with the communists. Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin loved cinema and saw the potential of the mass media to gather people around a common goal.
From a media perspective the period running until 1945 contains a wealth of material. In EFG you’ll find everything from Italian Newsreels during the war to documentaries directly or indirectly reflecting on wartime experiences.
It can be difficult to get an overview of the vast amount of material if you don’t have very specific idea about what you are looking for. Therefore it is wise to search for names like Himmler, Reichstag or Anzio instead of terms like anti-Semitism, propaganda or invasion. This will produce the most thorough search result.
In general it is easy to find material from the victors. The English and American propaganda films by Humphrey Jennings and Joris Ivens and Frank Capra are well known, but documentaries showing the German and Italian views on the war are rarer to come by. These are some of the EFG portal’s most interesting material on 2WW. Unfortunately these films are narrated in Italian, but most of the rest of this material is in Danish or English.
Quattro giorni de battaglia / [Four days of battle] (1940)
Italian documentary from the beginning of the war explain the battle between Italian and French troops in the Alps. Many hours of footage have been edited down to propel the story on. Four days of intense battle cost many lives, and the film mourns and hails the fallen Italians, before Mussolini visits at the close of the film to instill new fighting spirit and inspire future battles. (14 min.)
Dai fronti del sud al mare del nor / [From the frontline in the South to the sea in the North] (1941)
erman documentary from 1941 offering an overview of the early phases of the war in which Germany and its allies triumphs on all fronts. The opening images are of Adolf Hitler being hailed in Berlin and later from supporters during his train voyage through Germany and Austria. From this beginning images of war takes over. Tanks, aeroplanes battleships effectively gives the impression of the German forces military and technological superiority on land, in the air and on the sea.
This extraordinary piece of propaganda creates an image of the military success of the Axis powers on the Balcans and in Africa by using footage taken directly from German dive bombers and battle ships sinking allied ships. The scenes from the battle are interrupted by footage of English and American POWs, while at no time showing any German losses. (31 min.)
Statsminister Stauning taler om Tiden vi lever i / [Prime Minister Stauning talking about the time we live in] )
During the German occupation Danish Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning held a speech at the Voice Archive of Danish National Broadcasting Company on April 26, 1941. It was a difficult speech in a difficult time. His power to govern Denmark was only nominal. In his speech Stauning addresses his citizens who were divided about the relationship towards the German troops, both parties knowing the German authorities would listen for any statement that could be interpreted as hostile to Germany.
Stauning expresses a wish for a “strong and continued peace” as a precondition for “a cooperation for reconstruction, production and development of cultural values to benefit all nations and nationalities. (3 min)
Bombe su Berlino / [Bombs over Berlin] (1943)
Documentary from the German Wochenschau. As the war progresses it can’t be contained to the borders of Germany. It directly affects the German people when Berlin is exposed to intense bombing. The Nazi propaganda can’t sustain the idea of a war with insignificant losses. Instead it turns its attention to the suffering of the German people living a life between hope and fear. (60 min.)
After the war
Since 1945 The Second World War has been the subject of countless films. Here you can find documentaries on the battles, Holocaust, the Danish resistance and the attempt to understand and forgive former enemies.
After the Battle (1959?)
In British documentary After The Battle BBCs reknown war correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas returns to Italy to trace his own journey from Anzio to Rome. During the war he reported on the famous Operation Shingle in which the Allied forces landed in the south of Italy to draw German forces away from other fronts, ultimately leading to the fall of the Italian fascists in 1943. In this documentary he looks back on the war campaign using footage from the invasion at Anzio. Vaughan-Thomas’ telling of the events became the source of Hollywood movie Anzio (1968) with Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk in the leads.er siden blevet filmatiseret som Slaget om Anzio (1968) med Robert Mitchum og Peter Falk i hovedrollerne. (30 min.)
Nuit et brouillard / Night and Fog (1955)
Alain Resnais’ classic documentary leads us back to the German concentration camps to remind us of the undescribable events taking place there. The film mixes new footage of the peaceful barracks with archive footage by the Germans and the allied liberators showing the grueling mechanism of the genocide. (30 min.)
5. maj / [May 5] (1948)
A commemoration of the Danish liberation depicting the memorials for the men and women killed during the fight to free Denmark from German occupation. (6 min.)
Min morfars morder / [The killer of my grandfather] (2004)
The Danish film director Søren Fauli usually excels in comedies and satires, but here he shows his serious side in this personal documentary about his attempt to track down the man who killed his mother’s father. Fauli succeeds, but it is left open if the meeting with the the Danish SS-officer leads to anything except a better understanding of his mother’s pain and hate towards the man who escaped justice and persecution by fleeing Denmark. (60 min.)