The Collaboration

Friday, September 06, 2013


In the 1930's, Hollywood studios agreed to censor and sometimes cancel films in order to remain active in Nazi Germany. Bob talks to Ben Urwand, author of The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler about this oft-forgotten chapter of American history.


Ben Urwand

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [13]

charles waldman from home

IBM & THE HOLACAUST, TRADING WITH THE ENEMY, WALL STREET AND THE NAZIS, THE AMERICAN Axis, all document the extensive Nazi business engaged by U.S.coporatia, marginalized, secreted, nary a word from the media and to praphrase Orwell, certain things are simplynot talked about.

Jan. 30 2014 02:53 PM

@ derek monroe
I hide my name because I'm female, and women are often threatened online.

I doubt many ordinary Americans had read "Mein Kampf" by 1930, or even 1936. The book wasn't translated into English until 1933, in an abridged version. A full translation didn't come until 1939. It seems you're conflating what you think people SHOULD have known, with what they actually DID know. Many Americans were against joining the conflict, and not only for reasons of "convenience, indifference, or profit." Americans had been in a war in Europe before, and many remembered it as futile.

BTW, I have to amend an earlier post: Andrew Kelly, in his book "Cinema and the Great War," says that the 1939 version of "All Quiet on the Western Front" with the anti-Nazi newsreels edited in, was promoting the idea that America should stay out of WWII. How they managed to both show anti-Nazi images and still promote pacifism, I don't know, but it's a different view than I posted before. (One example of how the interpretation of facts is important.)

Andrew Kelly also wrote an entire book on "AQWF," and he points out that the movie was censored everywhere. Cari Beauchamp, in her book on screenwriter Frances Marion, describes many censorship pressures on studios in the 1920s and 30s. One film Marion wrote was entirely withdrawn by MGM after Catholic and Irish groups in the US complained. Studios expected states and even individual theaters to cut films to suit their purposes, and sometimes provided alternate endings. Irving Thalberg contacted the Hays Office before even starting work on "The Big House," to see if they would approve the idea of a film about prisons.

Andrew Kelly points out that Germany was the 2nd-largest market in Europe at the time "AQWF" was released, so the studio's reasons for cooperating with their govt are obvious. If you consider how typical it was to change films for different markets, these compromises seem a lot less sinister. I'm not saying the constant knuckling under to outside groups was right, but it was the expected thing: not necessarily a bloody choice to "collaborate," in the Vichy sense. Again, it's the interpretation of facts that's the issue. I don't claim the studios didn't make bad choices--but Urwand leaves out the bigger picture. I heard no mention in this interview of all the other governments and groups that influenced what was in Hollywood films. Urwand makes it sound like the studio behind "AQWF" only cared about Germany's reaction.

Even after the cuts, "AQWF" was still called "a Jewish lie" by "Der Angriff," the Nazi daily newspaper, per Kelly, so Hollywood did something right.

You might be interested in this: "Further complicating Urwand's portrait of the studio heads as Nazi collaborators is the fact that they helped finance efforts to spy on and sabotage American Nazi groups like the German American Bund and the Silver Shirts in Los Angeles."

Oct. 07 2013 09:50 PM

I found Mr Garfield's shock at the fact that Jewish people collaborated with the Nazis very strange for such a well informed man. It's like being shocked to find there were Africans involved in slave trading. In Germany itself Jews collaborated with the Nazis. Even the "Chosen" people are, after all, human. I'm not condoning Mayer et al, but I'm definitely not surprised. But there were significant omissions in this piece that would have made these actions, if not excusable, at least less "shocking."

OTM failed to mention the amount of support for Germany in America at that time. Most white Americans in the 1930s, as they are today, are of German Christian descent. Many in that era were first or second generation. Most American newspapers supported the Nazis, as did some famous and influential people, because they did turn the German economy around and "stabilize" a country teetering on the brink Communism, so why ask too many difficult questions about how they did that? So it was not inevitable that Congress, where there were Nazi sympathizers, would choose Britain over Germany which is why it took TWO YEARS to ally themselves, and that was a forced hand. Jews knew historically an overnight change of attitude in the elites, could bring disaster. Lets not forget what took Hitler years to achieve against German Jews, happened over just a few days in Austria after the Anschluss. If that happened to Austrian Jews, the most assimilated and successful Jewish community in Europe, what chance the even smaller proportion of American Jews?

Mayer et al had always had to contend with viscous little antisemitic jibes in the press, as Jews in Hollywood do today in the blogosphere. But the threat for them, whose parents had survived pogroms in Europe, was a lot more real. Remember, all Hoover thought he had to do to "slur" Chaplin was spread a rumour that he was Jewish. The point being that it was as dangerous being Jewish in America as anywhere else at that time. Jews more than any, have historically been forced to decide whether to fight and die for what's decent OR keep their heads down, play the game, and try not to get noticed. Don't expect any more nobility than you'll find from any other part of humanity on that one. And given the way we as exceptional Americans regularly turn our backs on atrocities and happily buy diamonds, gas, cell phones, computers etc made by slave labour in murderous dictatorships, I feel some are a little too quick to be "shocked" by the blind-eyes and collaborations of others in the past. What will history say of us, who are supposedly far better informed and educated than the Americans of the 1930s?? It certainly "shocks" me.

Please Mr Garfield, try to avoid the amateur dramatics in the future, it doesn't help the historical analysis.

Sep. 18 2013 06:20 PM
derek monroe from round lake, IL

I think that both KEN and lifeboat(why hide your name?) offer circular arguments and completely miss the point. I have read the NY review and it is very poorly written and argued. It actually reminds me of a hack job a while back they did on Venezuela which is full of inconsistencies and contradictions. Mr Doherty also refers to almost identical argument of lifeboat's: hindsight. The documentation speaks for itself, all of you are entitled to your opinions but to your own facts.If you really are interested in exploring the deeper issues involved here aka. big picture I recommend an excellent source by very conservative writer Anthony C. Sutton "Wall St and the rise of Hitler." I think it is always best to get informed first instead of shooting from the hip. I have a lot of issues with OTM but this time they got it right.

Sep. 13 2013 10:36 AM
Keith Otis Edwards from Michigan

The September 16 issue of The New Yorker contains a sharply-negative review of Urwand's book and instead recommends "Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939" by Thomas Doherty (published in April). OTM often features authors touring to tout their new book, but OTM here chose the lesser author perhaps because, according to the article, Urwand exaggerates heavily and draws conclusions based on insufficient evidence. This makes for a more lurid segment which allows Bob Garfield more Oprah-like gasps.

Anyone of a certain age is quite familiar with the absurd censorship common to all of Hollywood's products before, say, 1966, but there is a leap of judgment from this to Urwand's charge of "collaborating with Adolf Hitler."

Disney once made a movie about the life of Beethoven in which the composer retained perfect hearing to the end of his life. Was this some sort of conspiracy, too?

Sep. 12 2013 08:53 PM

So, Laemmle in 1930 should have seen what was coming in 1936? "Mein Kampf" had been published, but Hitler wasn't Chancellor yet. Laemmle was not only a Jew, he was also German. Why should he have been expected to cut off all ties with the nation he grew up in?

Again, I'm not trying to excuse what some of the executives did. I just think the author, and also Bob Garfield, with his shocked gasps, didn't present the story with very many of its historical facets. I would like to hear this author in a debate with other Hollywood scholars. How much did American anti-Semitism, with the refusal of many banks to lend to Jews, factor into these kinds of business deals? What about the German expatriates who were working in Hollywood? What did the Will Hays office have to say? Some of what Urwand claims has been covered in other books, but some of it is quite new, and it's hard to know whether to believe it, especially when presented with this dogmatic, black-vs-white attitude.

The commenters who bring up current stories vis-a-vis China are spot on, and I would like to add Russia to the mix. What kinds of future issues are we not seeing now?

Sep. 12 2013 04:53 PM
derek from Round Lake Beach, IL

I agree with Daniel from Washington DC and completely disagree with Lifeboat. Anyone sane and fairly intelligent could have read "Mein Kampf" published in 1920s and make their own conclusion. Also the "hindsight" defense flies in the face of heroic men and women (including volunteers from over 50 countries) who stood up to fascism and many losing lives in defense of Spanish Republic (1936-39). Is it to say that they saw something coming that nobody else did? Many,including those in Hollywood chose to not see what was coming either for emotional convenience, sheer indifference or profit.

Sep. 12 2013 04:27 PM

I think this report is benefiting too much from hindsight. Back in 1930, when "All Quiet on the Western Front" came out, not many people outside Germany (and to some extent, even inside) were aware of what the Nazi regime was planning. Countries besides Germany also banned "AQWF", including Italy and Australia. (Though if the movie we see today was censored at the behest of the Germans, I can't imagine what was taken out, as it's still such a powerful film. And why was it banned in Germany AFTER Laemmle supposedly made cuts to please them?)

"By the middle of 1940" was before the U.S. was at war, so, although there were many moral reasons to cut off ties with Germany at the time, Hollywood was far from the only U.S. industry that hadn't done so. This is not to justify the executives, but to put the story in the context of the day. How did they view the situation? The author seems to expect people in 1940 to have the same understanding of the Holocaust that we do. My father remembers that, during WWII, people in his California neighborhood didn't at first believe the stories of Nazi atrocities, because the same stories from WWI turned out to be exaggerated, often by Hollywood.

Another tidbit that could have been mentioned was that "All Quiet on the Western Front" was re-released in 1939 by Universal, with anti-Nazi newsreels added in.

Sep. 12 2013 04:15 PM

Facinating and shocking. While listening to this I couldn't help but think about how Hollywood is currently kowtowing the the Chinese Communist Party to curry favor to gain access to that giant market. Studios are pre-censoring movies with the Chinese market in mind, post-censoring and even allowing Chinese authorities onsite during filming in order to gain access to China's tightly controlled market. One producer went back in and digitally changed all the Chinese bad guys to North Korean bad guys. The movies we are watching in the US are being shaped by what the CCP wants. Maybe you should do a follow up on this OTM?

Sep. 11 2013 09:07 PM
Daniel Bennett from Washington, DC

Between this story and the Chinese censoring Hollywood movies, the issue seems to be about business versus creative freedom. But without looking deeper into the nature of the business, it would be hard to find what might be able to break the pressure of profits to destroy morals. My father did is similar investigation as part of his documentary, Book Under Fire, which looked into the textbook publishing business in regards to the Texas textbook hearings.

One of the answers is the CPB that funded my father's film and other non-profit funding systems. The other is a more clear understanding of the role of the government granted "intellectual monopolies." Copyright is a strong incentive for publishers and producers and creates both positive and negative incentives. Fortunately, satire and criticism pierces the copyright protection, but rarely can morals enter into the actual profit decisions.

China protects copyright for movies (to some degree) and that is the incentive to kowtow to the Chinese censors. Patent protections led to leaded gas (Nation magazine article: ). Businesses have the luxury of limited liability and the government granted charter and the ability to maintain mandated monopolies by government. For manufactured products there is some ability to regulate safety. For media, there are few such protections (outside of some countries' hate speech and libel laws).

I would be happy to help you look into this issue.

Sep. 09 2013 09:54 AM
derek monroe from Round Lake, IL

Thank you for the piece on this at OTM. I have long seen excerpts from UFA-Tonwoche and even Deutsche Wochenschau (after 1940) in US newsreels (I used them in my art project about influence of commercial and military propaganda on human psyche). As far as OTM's comment is concerned I think it is a little bit too self-congratulatory. OTM also plays a spin game just like other medias in the US. For example their piece on Kickstarter as new crowd-sourcing venue for "independent US journalism" is a complete fabrication and fraud. What is not mentioned that Kickstarter routinely blocks projects it deems unsuitable and blaming it on Amazon that process the payments for projects. A category of controversial and questionble project: Independent Reporting on Iran, for example.

Sep. 08 2013 10:25 AM

Tim - we actually covered this when Red Dawn was released. That movie originally featured a Chinese invasion, but in post production, the entire thing was given a digital makeover to make the attacking army North Korean.

Earlier this year, the movie World War Z was changed to remove a scene in which the origin of the zombie virus is traced to rural China.

Sep. 08 2013 07:00 AM
Tim Rohe from Boston

Sadly, Hollywood is still collaborating with a foreign government that has a questionable human rights record, though not yet to the level of Nazi Germany. Representatives from the Chinese government have recently been granted similar censorship privileges over several Hollywood blockbusters. Hollywood has also started to self-censor much of its content for fear of running afoul of the Chinese government's propaganda interests, all due to the size of China's global market share.

Sep. 07 2013 08:20 AM

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