On October 19, 1939, a month and a half after Poland was invaded by the German troops, Max Winkler (07.09.1875-12.10.1961), Reich Commissioner for the German Film Industry, on behalf of Hermann Göring created “Main Trustee Office for the East” (Haupttreuhandstelle Ost, HTO), a predatory state institution responsible for liquidating Polish and Jewish businesses in occupied Poland or selling them to German settlers from the East for a symbolic fee. HTO particularly comprised “Film Distribution and Propaganda Society” (Film- und Propagandamittel-Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH) with its headquarters in Krakau (Kraków), the administrative capital of the General Government (Generalgouvernement).
Soon after Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 and invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941, Central Film Company East (Zentral-Filmgesellschaft Ost, ZFO) was founded in Berlin on November 10, 1941. As an enterprise indirectly state-owned (reichsmittelbar), funded by the capital from the Ministry of the East (Reichsministerium für die besetzten Ostgebiete, or Ostministerium) and the Propaganda Ministry (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, or Propagandaministerium), as well as by Max Winkler’s trust company Cautio Treuhand GmbH, it was meant to shape a film industry which had formerly been centrally administered, but which was now completely in German hands, into a “hard-hitting propaganda machine” in those areas of the USSR occupied by Germany which were no longer under military administration.
Looking ahead, we will mention that between December 16 and 23, 1943, in accordance with the Führer’s Decree of August 15, 1943, the Propaganda Departments of the Ministry of the East were taken over by the Propaganda Ministry. Thus, since then ZFO was answerable exclusively to the Propaganda Ministry only, and no longer partly to the Ministry of the East.
On October 22, 1942, the State Propaganda Leadership of the NSDAP (Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP) clearly set out the ZFO functions in the following way. The films distributed by ZFO should:
“1. Enlighten, i.e. make Bolshevism impossible as a doctrine and make it out to be responsible for the lowly position of the peoples of the East because of its war industries.
2. Entertain, in order to maintain and heighten pleasure in working.
3. Teach skills, so that what is produced in the country conforms to German norms and requirements.
4. Intimidate, in order to limit unrest to a minimum, and to bring Germany’s industrial and military predominance to peoples’ attention in an ever more awe-inspiring way.
ZFO had two subsidiary companies supervising shooting and distribution of movies in the territories of Reichskommissariat Ukraine and Reichskommissariat Ostland: Ukraine-Filmgesellschaft mbH, or Ukraine-Film GmbH founded on November 10, 1941 and Ostland-Filmgesellschaft mbH, or Ostland Film GmbH founded on November 28 of the same year.
Ostland Film GmbH with its headquarters in Riga at 15, Adolf Hitler-Straße (previously Brīvības iela, i.e. “Street of Freedom”) had branches in Revel, Kauen (Kaunas), Wilna (Vilnius), Dorpat (Tartu) and Minsk. In 1942 Ostland Film employed 1,400 locals and 25 Germans in managerial positions. By the way, editorial office of the renowned newsreel series “The German Weekly Review” (Die Deutsche Wochenschau GmbH) also had a subsidiary (according to other sources – two) in Riga since June 01, 1942.
Interesting to know that according to the article published on September 05, 1942 on the front page of the illustrated newspaper “Film-Kurier Tageszeitung”, the ZFO announced that in addition to distributing German films with Estonian, Lithuanian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian subtitles, in future the Deutsche Wochenschau newsreels would be screened in both Russian and Ukrainian dubbed versions.
It is worth mentioning that two other ZFO firms were set up without ever becoming active: the German Caucasus Film Company (Deutsche Kaukasus-Film GmbH) was founded on September 12, 1942 following the German summer offensive of 1942 to Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus and “Elbrus” Film Association (“Elbrus” Film-Arbeitsgemeinschaft GmbH).
The very name of the ZFO subsidiary, “Ukraine-Film GmbH”, has been quite conditional due to the specific delineation of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine administrative boundaries. Thus, territory of the Western Ukraine that fell under the Soviet occupation in 1939 and temporarily remained in the Soviet hands as part of the Soviet Ukraine, was made an administrative unit of the General Government known as the District of Galicia (Distrikt Galizien). It was HTO that was responsible for film production in that area. Part of Ukrainian territory – the Transnistria Governorate with Odessa as its administrative capital and the Northern Bukovina – were ceded to Nazi-friendly Romania.
According to the article published on September 05, 1942 in the “Film-Kurier Tageszeitung”, Ukraine-Film GmbH with its headquarters in Kiev at 18, Novaya Gospitalnaya Street, had five branches in Dnepropetrovsk, Nikolaev, Zhitomir, Chernigov and Melitopol. Come November 30, 1942, the same paper reported that seven new branches had been opened in Lutsk, Zaporozhye, Krivoy Rog, Kirovograd, Poltava, Vinnitsa and Proskurov. Branch in Rovno, the capital of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine, is said to have operated as well.
Activities of the Ukraine-Film were determined from the very beginning by a combination of political propaganda and economic interests. The latter, for instance, included distribution of German feature films produced by the world renowned motion picture studio UFA (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft). Thus, aforementioned “Film-Kurier Tageszeitung” reported on August 05, 1943 that five most popular German feature films in Ukraine were “Kora Terry” (1940), “Operette” (1940), “Stern von Rio” (1940), “Opernball” (1939) and “Der Postmeister” (1940). As for the Reichskommissariat Ostland, the same “chart” looked like this: “Operette” (1940), “Die große Liebe” (1942), “Quax der Bruchpilot” (1941), “Jud Süß” (1940) and “Ich klage an” (1941).
Throughout the whole year of 1942, the name of the ZFO subsidiary, “Ukraine-Film GmbH”, was hotly debated, in the sense whether mention of the “Ukraine” was appropriate. Thus, in order not to irritate Berlin authorities, it was initially offered to use more “politically neutral” names, e.g. “German Film Service for Ukraine” (Deutscher Filmdienst Ukraine GmbH), “German Film Distribution Enterprise” (Deutsche Filmverwertung GmbH) and “German Ukraine Film” (Deutsche Ukraine-Film GmbH). Eventually adopted name “Ukraine-Film” though followed by a supplement “GmbH” was similar to the Soviet variant originating from November 1930: “Ukrainefilm” (“Украинфильм”). In 1922-1930 it was known as All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administartion (Всеукраинское фотокиноуправление, ВУФКУ). Moreover, in Ukrainian propaganda films the company was credited in old-fashioned way as “Ukrainefilm” (“Украинфильм”). Whether it was a coincidence, or an evidence that film production was still controlled by the government authorities, or just an attempt to keep on using well established brand name familiar to thousands of Ukrainians, is still not clear. Anyway, the fact that Ukraine, unlike Russia and Byelorussia, had its own film production enterprise organized by Germans, stressed its special role among occupied “Eastern territories”.
Thus, according to the directive of the Ministry of the East issued in May 1941, Ukraine should have been considered “a full-fledged member of the new European family”. It was particularly by means of propaganda movies that Germans tried to support this allegation. The most vivid example is undoubtedly “We Live in Germany” (Wir leben in Deutschland), shot in pseudo- documentary fashion in 1942-1943 by Eberhard Lösser (director), Friedrich Jurda (camera operator) and Walter Schütze (composer). The movie shows a certain “New Europe” which is demonstrated through an example of an idyllic camp that is operated on a selfgovernance principle and is comprised of separate barracks inhabited by representatives of various European countries, including, of course, Ukrainians.
Other movies showed unsophisticated Ukrainians being cultivated basic hygiene practices in a friendly but tutorial way, peasants being taught more effective (red: German) methods of agricultural practices.
Some propaganda movies represented German invasion as liberation of population from terrible “Jewish Bolshevik commissars” who spoke with pronounced Jewish accent and sometimes even raped daughters of Ukrainian peasants deported to Siberia. Naturally, those were blond German soldiers who came at the rescue of their daughters. Stories about “Hitler the Liberator of Europe” and “wonderful life in the Third Reich” were an integral part of such propaganda movies. German soldiers “liberators” were shown in various humanitarian roles: providing first hand medical attention, sharing tobacco and vodka with peasants, etc.
Other propaganda movies showed Donbass coal miners during their trip to Germany and Ukrainians who worked in Germany “in the name of ultimate victory over Jewish Bolshevism”, gaining knowledge and practical experience for activities aimed at rebuilding their Motherland.
22 minutes long propaganda movie “We Go to Germany” (Wir fahren nach Deutschland. Der Weg ins Reich) shot in 1942 by Georg Dahlström (director), Walther Lüdtke (cameraman) and Franz R.Friedl (music) provided an interesting example of recruiting of Eastern workers, or Ostarbeiter. It not only embellished everyday life in Ukraine and in Germany, but was full of cock-and-bull stories about “thoughtfulness” of Germans and stressed their commitment to freedom of religion.
Cheerful voice of professional narrator proclaimed: “Great and special event took place in September 1941: German liberation army exorcised Bolshevik rule from our Motherland forever. Kolkhoz slavery in the countryside is over. Jewish dominance in cities is over. Bloody dictatorship of Stalin and NKVD is over. (…) The war shifted to the East, following retreating Bolsheviks. However, battlefront is still felt everywhere. And every honest Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian aid battlefront effort with all they can, and with such aid they help to overthrow Jewish Bolshevism once and for all”.
German filmmakers also employed such humiliating stereotype as addiction of “eastern population” to strong alcoholic drinks: “Last formalities before boarding wagons: roll-call and announcement of rules during the journey. Administration of recruiting commission informs about the length of trip to Germany and ration for the journey. In addition to the ration, every passenger will be given a bottle of vodka. Interpreter made a joke in that regard. As you can see, people laugh and clap their hands. Indeed, a bottle of vodka can’t hurt during the journey!”.
Here’s a pathetic comment put at the end of the movie “We go to Germany”: “We get sad when we hear melodies of folk songs as each of us loves his Motherland. But no need to be sad, my friends! Just remember that the worst is already behind you. Bolsheviks are over! In a short period of time our new Motherland will blossom out from the rubble of Jewish rule, and our outstanding people equal to other nations of the new Europe will turn to new horizons of prosperity!”.
That tactics worked perfectly, even if it was conducted in a didactic, arrogant, condescending manner characteristic to a “master race” that considered joint film watching by Germans and Ukrainians inadmissible.
Well-known Soviet cameraman Nikolay Topchij (17.12.1905-1973) was involved in shooting of the movie “We Go to Germany”, also known as “Galina Goes to Germany”. Nikolay Topchij, one of the founders of the Soviet school of cameramen art, who shot together with Ivan Kavaleridze such movies as “Nights of Assault” (“Штурмовые ночи”), “Perekop” (“Перекоп”) and “Koliivshchina” (“Колиивщина”), was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for collaboration after liberation of Ukraine. Topchij himself claimed that he collaborated with Germans because of the need to provide adequate care for his ill mother. Nikolay Topchij was also accused of participation in shooting of the propaganda movie “Kiev Mutilated by the Bolsheviks”. However, he managed to retain his professionalism, skills and talent during detention. His first movie after discharge that happened in 1953, “Heavy Price” (“Дорогой ценой”, 1957) written by Mark Donskoy (06.03.1901-21.03.1981), became an excellent example of camera art, divining development trend of cinema stylistics. In 1956-1973 he worked as director of photography at the Dovzhenko Film Studios in Kiev.
Ukraine-Film GmbH that lamented lack of skilled professionals from Germany or at least ethnic Germans, had a unique team of specialists from the former Soviet “Ukrainefilm” that was evacuated to Ashkhabad and Tashkent. That team was led by Konstantin Stanishevsky. Ethnic German Ivan Nikitin, projectionist and inventor of the “N-7” sound recorder, was one of the members of that team. According to the memoirs of Konstantin Stanishevsky that are kept at the archives of the Dovzhenko Film Studios, Nikitin defected to Germans shortly after the occupation of the city, but lost all faith in his compatriots in 1942, and did all his best to save several people, e.g. make-up artist Leonid Khazanov, camera operator F.Korneev and professor of the Cinema Institute A.Goncharov who managed to escape from the POW camp.
Here’s an extract from the memoirs of Konstantin Stanishevsky dedicated to the assistance rendered to Khazanov: “He could have been legalized only by obtaining an “Ausweis”, and that required guarantees of three eminent persons. So I went to Nikitin.
– But he is a Jew! – Ivan Ivanovich exclaims surprisingly.
– No, actually. As every odessite he looks like Greek, like Moldavian, and like Jew – here’s his birth certificate!
Nikitin signs document, and Khazanov gets employment as a development operator in the “K&K” (Konev and Kovalchuk Vsevolod) photo atelier”.
As for Kovalchuk, former frontline cameraman, he returned to the occupied Kiev and managed to become owner of the photo atelier frequented by German officers and soldiers. In order to save people from certain death, he made them employees of his atelier. Thus, except Khazanov, he employed Valentina Tyshkovets (26.01.1915-20.02.1977), the first female Ukrainian camera operator, wife of director Alexander Kozyr, Jewess and candidate member of the Communist Party.
Stanishevsky’s team actually made copies of German motion pictures and dubbed them. Apart from that, according to the memoirs of Alexey Bobrovnikov, an artist who also carried out functions of a garage watchman, team members also took care of vegetable garden situated amidst the vast territory of the Kiev studio, one of the largest in Europe. The fact is that every studio employee was issued with a lot for growing vegetables.
In the evenings studio employees gathered around radio receiver and listened to Sovinformburo broadcasts. Stanishevsky not only was aware of that death-defying pastime, but contributed in every possible way towards that.
After the WWII Konstantin Stanishevsky had been sentenced for collaboration with the Germans, spent seven years in prison, but was acquitted and released in 1952. According to the court verdict, although “studio did produce certain movies, none of them has ever been released during the whole period of occupation”.
The day German troops invaded Soviet Union, June 22, 1941, Kavaleridze found himself far away from the Kiev studio that was evacuated to the Central Asia. At that moment he was busy shooting the movie “Song about Dovbush” (“Пісня про Довбуша”) written by Lyubomir Dmiterko. Archives of the Ivan Kavaleridze Museum Studio keep his travel authorization order from May 19 to July 02,1941 allowing him to visit Lvov and Stanislav regions. His 27 men-strong film crew had to return to the occupied Kiev virtually afoot, and they reached former capital of the Soviet Ukraine on September 20 only. For some time, Kavaleridze made money by exchanging landscapes he draw for food at the “Jewish Market” in Kiev. Having fallen under the wrong influence of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) members Olena Teliha (21.07.1906-21.02.1942), Oleh Olzhych (08.07.1907-09.06.1944) and Ulas Samchuk (20.02.1905-09.07.1987), Kavaleridze has taken up employment in the City hall as head of the Arts Committee.
Film director Alexander Dovzhenko promised to personally shoot “traitor Kavaleridze” after liberation of Kiev, despite the fact that Igor, the son of the latter and Boris, his stepson, have been killed in action, and Nina, his daughter with his first marriage has been executed by Germans in Kharkov as being linked with guerilla fighters.
In 1944-1948 Kavaleridze worked as a senior researcher at the monumental architecture division of the Academy of architecture of the Ukrainian SSR, and in 1957-1962 as a director at the Dovzhenko Film Studios in Kiev.
But let’s get back to the history of the Ukraine-Film GmbH. According to the instructions issued on June 30, 1942, an inspection was carried out in Kiev from January 17 to February 15, 1943. The study revealed that Ukraine-Film GmbH founded on November 10, 1941 on the basis of seed capital worth 50,000 Reichsmarks, “has set up 314 motion picture theaters offering a total capacity of 98,600 seats” between December 1941 and January 15, 1943. In addition, “cultural treatment of troops in the field of cinema has been undertaken by order of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces”. However, its own film production “had not been put into practice so far”. Thereafter we read, “Kiev-based studio operates working premises of 120,000 square meters approximately. This territory houses big shooting hall with the total area of 100 by 35, i.e. 3,500 square meters, and 22 m in height, as well as to smaller studio rooms, 12 m in height and with the total area of 384 и 270 square meters, respectively. All halls are equipped with everything lighting technicians might need, e.g. walkways and electric crane carriages. Big shooting hall built initially for making silent films does not provide satisfactory sound proofing, while two other studio rooms are adequately insulated from outside noise. Thus, expert opinion suggests that shooting of propaganda and educational films as well as dubbing could be carried out in small studio rooms only. Some difficulties are, however, observed in logistics and delivery of hardware, as well as in staff situation. Nevertheless, all conditions for film production were provided during the year of 1943”.
However, the report didn’t mention that according to instructions from the corresponding ministries adopted on October 22, 1942, only “propaganda and educational movies in Ukrainian” should have been shot in Kiev film studio, “but not pure feature films”. “Production of two educational documentaries – on tobacco industry and about the city of Kiev started in the fiscal 1942/1943 year”. It was also mentioned that shooting under way faced considerable difficulties. The latter particularly originated from “attempts of Bolsheviks (…) to leave manufacturing enterprises in Ukraine for the most part in unusable condition during the retreat”. Problems also emerged due to the lack of skilled specialists, as German citizens and ethnic Germans were allowed to be placed “on leadership positions only”.
Despite this, the idea of creation of German film production in the resort city of Yalta has been with occupation authorities since February 1943. It was believed that “Crimean region, still not under civilian authority, has special climate conditions, probably even more favorable than those of Hollywood”. That idea partially resembled cherished dream of the “Soviet Hollywood” on the Black Sea, conceived in the early 1930s by Boris Shumyatsky (16.11.1886-29.07.1938), All-Union Association of Film and Photo Industry chairman, after his return from the trip to the USA. However, German plan never materialized due to unfavorable dynamics of the battlefield on the Eastern Front.
Thus, management of the ZFO has submitted a complaint to Dr.Max Winkler on April 20, 1943. In particular, it informed that due to the “military operations started at the end of February” German troops stationed in Kiev captured the whole territory of the motion picture studio, confiscated several of its buildings, seized some lorries, as well as part of the supplies of coal, wood and peat, i.e. nearly everything “with the exception of copying room”. By that time, Ukraine-Film GmbH have received an order to “leave urgently Kiev, capital of the region”. However, its employees were forced to stay there a bit longer because of the intervention of Wehrmacht propaganda units withdrawn back to Kiev.
As of August 31, 1943, the ZFO had 121 employees, Ukraine-Film GmbH – 141, and Ostland-Film GmbH – 33 employees.
The issue of the “Film-Kurier Tageszeitung” published on May 24, 1943, reported that Ukraine-Film GmbH had produced a series of documentary films for local population, such as “We Work in Germany” (“Wir schaffen in Deutschland”), “The Way to the Reich” (“Der Weg ins Reich”) and “Letter Home” (“Brief in die Heimat”). A film titled “With their Own Eyes” (“Mit eigenen Augen) showed the impressions of Russian workers and farmers on a tour of Germany. A cultural film “The Mirror of Time” (“Der Spiegel der Zeit”) told of the support for an illustrated newspaper in a community. Two cultural films being planned were “The Beautiful Ostland” (“Das schöne Ostland”) and “In the Land of Mould Humus” (“Am Land der schwarzen Erde”). Other films to be produced included two on the return of Russian farmers from Soviet imprisonment, “The Repatriate” (“Der Rückkehrer”) and “The New Life” (“Das neue Leben”).
Apart from that, several propaganda movies without captioning data, but shot somewhere in the occupied Ukraine, have been found recently in the cinema archives of Belgrade. Actors involved in the movies were most obviously obscure actors of provincial Ukrainian theaters that operated even during occupation. Thus, movies titled “Concentration Camp of Foresters” (“Концлагерь лесников”), “Men of Comrade Edelstein” (“Люди товарища Эдельштейна”) and “The Final Strike” (“Последний удар”), were framed without further ado according to a single model: Ukrainian peasants were oppressed by the Soviet administration that consisted entirely of disgusting Jews. While peasants spoke Ukrainian, their bosses spoke Russian with terrible Jewish accent. Further development was absolutely predictable: well-built, fair-haired and attractive German soldiers “liberate” villagers changing their lives for the better in a flash.
At the beginning of 1944, the ZFO set up a dubbing laboratory in the occupied Paris for the movies produced for the East.
However, from 1944 things were getting increasingly worse for the ZFO. Soviet troops were relentlessly pushing westwards, and attacks by guerilla fighters and ruthlessness with which the occupying power clamped down on the local people made civilian life in the “Eastern territories” nearly impossible.
Atmosphere lingering then was reflected in report sent by the ZFO chairman Dr.Erich Müller-Beckedorff to Dr.Max Winkler on April 12, 1944. It particularly contained the following confessions: “henceforth the hope that what is happening here is just a flexible retreat is lost” and “at the moment in the first instance the complete loss of Ukraine must be acknowledged”.
With calculated optimism and pragmatism the ZFO attempted to save what was saveable – above all the exemption from military service of some of its staff. The firm therefore came to the attention of the Propaganda Ministry, as it was asking for more and more cash injections, but returns from movie shows were drying up. At the beginning of 1944 its movie production department had to be wound up and absorbed into the UFA special production unit. It was feared that Alfred Rosenberg would object, however what was happening overall in the war meant that the influence of his Ministry was diminishing, and in August 1944 a more stringent plan was made, as part of the “total war effort”.
Initially workers and equipment were moved to the city of Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine, and in March 1944 they were sent to the Gemeinschaftsbetriebe Königshütte, a joint venture in the little town of Königshütte in the Harz Mountains, which was safe from bombing. From there they organized propaganda for volunteer groups from the East, workers from the East and Soviet prisoners of war as well as the provision of film technology to German areas in danger of air raids.
Monthly report of Dr.Erich Müller-Beckedorff dated January 25, 1945 particularly noted that workforce has been strengthened by “new Ukrainian specialists from Slovakia”. The document also offered to transfer “unskilled workers to different defense jobs”. Though it contained mention of the poor supply of provisions and outerwear, it mainly focused on active propaganda work conducted among them. “Christmas celebrations for foreign employees have been held on December 23, 1944. Directorate and lager management have taken meticulous care in its conduct. At the event, 93 persons including German citizens residing in Königshütte, were present. Remarkable success rate of the propaganda education during that event must be especially marked. Volunteer meeting of a Ukrainian group that has been held after the event was an additional success as 2,650 Reichsmarks donated by 53 Ukrainians were unexpectedly collected in favor of General Vlasov’s Liberation Army. For emotional support of foreign employees constant film screening was conducted, new books in foreign languages were added to library funds”.
Activities of the Ukraine-Film GmbH were suspended on the order of Adolf Hitler dated July 25, 1944, and rights of possession of remaining heritage were purchased on January 31, 1945 by the syndicate Tobis Filmkunst GmbH. Cited below is an extract from the amendment to the Contract of Sale.
“1. Technical equipment, hardware and other valuable items of the Ukraine-Film GmbH have been moved to the German territory. They have already been inventoried and are stored in warehouses of the Rautal-Werke in Königshütte in Harz on order of appropriate authorities. In accordance with Order of the Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production and of Reich Minister of Economics dated March 15, 1944, application of above mentioned hardware should be found in war economy.
2. Attorney of the person in charge of the general conduct of hostilities have issued the following instructions on August 04, 1944. Activities of the Ukraine-Film GmbH have been ceased and it does not function anymore in the territory of Ukraine. Military significant challenges in the area of film production faced by the enterprise after its removal to Königshütte, do not apply to custody instructions issued by the Reich Commissioner for the Ukraine”.
Legally dispossessed of its capital, ZFO had still been only formally liquidated on April 15, 1958 according to the judgment of the West Berlin Court “based on Paragraph 2 of the Law dated October 09, 1934”.
The article including illustrations (except the one marked with the Antique-Photos logo) and most information is mainly based on the data taken from the Germanfilms.net that is used by the kind permission of this online resource.