Left party defends use of swastika to help election campaign

Unsuspecting onlookers called police when they saw a film crew spraying a swastika and a racist message in Berlin. But Germany's Left party has said it was justified in using the Nazi symbol.

Germany's left-wing opposition party Die Linke (the Left party) on Friday defended their use of the Nazi swastika in an election campaign.

When filming a television commercial for their election campaign they painted a swastika and the words "foreigners out" on a Berlin florist. In the advertisement, a lady is seen wiping away the paint to symbolize the party's fight against racism.

But unsuspecting onlookers, shocked to see people painting Nazi symbols, called police.

Read more: Neo-Nazi marchers in Berlin matched by counterprotesters

The ad drew condemnation from "Vereinigung 17. Juni," an organization that commemorates the crimes of the Socialist Unity Party, the party which ruled the former East Germany and which was succeeded by Die Linke.

"This is a joke, you can not stage such a thing," Sterneberg was quoted as saying by Berliner Morgenpost.

The director of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, a former Stasi prison that now commemorates its former inmates, was similarly shocked.

"It is especially bizarre for Die Linke to allow a swastika to be painted in order to counter right-wing propaganda. This is actually a case for the prosecutor," Hubertus Knabe was quoted as saying by B.Z Berlin.

Use of the swastika can be punishable by three years in jail, but the production company is unlikely to fall foul of the law.

Read more: Chinese tourists detained over Nazi salute in Berlin

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Reporter | 24.06.2017

Scrubbing the right

A spokesman for Die Linke Hendrik Thalheim said the criticism was "nonsense."

"In our commercial, we are illustrating the social reality in our country and the left-wing proposals and response to such things," Thalheim told BZ.

Thalheim said the party had express permission to use such symbols and even without that there was legal precedent for such use, referring to a 2007 ruling.

The ruling found that Nazi symbols could be used if the distance to national socialism was "obvious and unambiguous."

Read more: Scrubbing away hate - one Berliner's cleaning campaign against far-right graffiti

Thalheim celebrated the fact that citizens had called the police, telling Der Tagesspiegel resistance to Nazi ideology was part of the party's purpose.

This week in Lübeck, a campaign truck belonging to Die Linke was spray-painted with a crude swastika and "AFD," referring to the populist right-wing party that has gained a large following in nearby Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania.

In the final ad, the swastika is obscured by text and is not seen. 

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Hitler's favorite director

Leni Riefenstahl was among the Nazi filmmakers who tried to redeem their reputations after 1945. She was responsible for filming the Nazi party's massive rallies and was an integral part of the propaganda machine. Anti-Semitism was inseparable from the party's ideology.

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Retelling history with anti-Semitic twist

"Jud Süss," one of the Nazis' most famous propaganda films, which is restricted today, was directed by Viet Harlan in 1940. Harlan tells the historical tale of 18th-century German-Jewish banker Joseph Süss Oppenheimer and places it in the context of anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. "Jud Süss" was seen by millions of Germans when it was first released.

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Mixing anti-Semitism with 'art'

In Harlan's film, anti-Semitic prejudices are underlined by the plot and the way the characters are portrayed. The writer Ralph Giordano said, "Jud Süss" was the "most mean-spirited, cruel and refined form of 'artistic anti-Semitism.'" Michael Töteberg wrote, "The film openly mobilizes sexual fears and aggression and instrumentalizes them for anti-Semitic incitement."

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

'The devil's director'

His biographer once called Veit Harlan "the devil's director," due to his unabashed service to Nazi ideology. Harlan had "qualified" himself to make "Jud Süss" after making his own films with anti-Semitic tendencies in the 1930s. After 1945, the director was able to continue working after going on trial and serving a temporary occupational ban.

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Dealing with propaganda films - in film

Much was written and said about Viet Harlan and his anti-Semitic film "Jud Süss" after the war. At least one response to Harlan's work was uttered in film form. Director Oskar Roehler dealt with the origin and effect of the propaganda film in his melodramatic, controversial film "Jud Suss: Rise and Fall" (2010).

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Joseph Goebbels pulled the strings

The Nazis were quick to recognize that cinema could have a powerful effect in swaying the people. Joseph Goebbels and his Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda used the medium to promote their ideologies, including anti-Semitism. Besides feature films like "Jud Süss," cultural and educational films were also made.

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

A so-called documentary

Another Nazi-made anti-Semitic film was "The Eternal Jew," released just a few months after "Jud Süss" in 1940. The film, made by Fritz Hippler, shows well-known Jewish artists, scenes from the Warsaw Ghetto and images of Jewish religious practices, combining them in a deceitful manner with excerpts from Hitler's speeches and SS marches. The propaganda work was billed as a documentary.

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Devil in the details

Most of the propaganda films the Nazis made between 1933 and 1945 used smaller doses of anti-Semitism and were not as overt as "Jud Süss." Some films were even toned down during production. The historical film "Bismarck" (1940) was originally planned as a much more aggressive anti-Semitic propaganda film.

How the Nazis promoted anti-Semitism through film

Anti-Semitism from the perspective of Charlie Chaplin

During the war, Hollywood produced a number of anti-Nazi films that condemned anti-Semitism. Charlie Chaplin humorously portrayed Hitler in "The Great Dictator" in 1940. After the war, Chaplin said he would have acted differently, had he been aware of the extent of the Nazis' extermination policy against the Jews.