Reel Liberation

A Denver psychotherapist reveals a rare stash of Nazi propaganda films.

Chess pieces rattle off a chessboard from the force of an underwater explosion. "Now, utmost calm needs to be maintained in eluding the pursuers while stealing silently away." The next scene was filmed hours later. It shows the Canadian shore viewed through the submarine's periscope.

"Now the sub is situated between the banks of the river and the convoy," the narration continues. "The torpedoes are being prepared. Each eel [nickname for a torpedo] receives a hearty 'Cheerio' on its stout belly." Submariners fingerpaint a sarcastic greeting in the grease smeared across the side of a torpedo, then load the missile into a propulsion chute.

"A big, unwieldy tanker is poised in the sights. Fire! Detonation! That eel was a match!"

16mm daggers: Gary Nurkiewicz with his collection of Degeto Weltspiegel films.
John Johnston
16mm daggers: Gary Nurkiewicz with his collection of Degeto Weltspiegel films.

The final scene in the four-minute film is back on the surface. A tanker ship burns on the horizon, slowly sinking, billowing massive clouds of oily smoke. "Convoy and destroyer are out of sight. They have left that tanker to its fate. For a short time, all is clear. The radio officer is telegraphing the success story. The crew is catching a well-deserved breath of fresh air. The men have grown stately beards during the long journey."

Another episode in Nurkiewicz's collection, The Fuhrer's Headquarters, depicts Hitler and his generals in a command center during the early hours of the Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland. "This is a power station of immense spiritual and technical energies, as they have never before been conglomerated at one place on Earth," the narration book reads. "A card table, several seating accommodations. The picture is reminiscent of the rooms in farmhouses in which Frederic the Great used to gather the generals, making the decisions. From here, the orders, the ingenious plans, are going out."

"That film makes my heart ache, because my family lost a sizable and valuable piece of land as a result of the Blitzkrieg," says Nurkiewicz, whose paternal grandmother lived a few hours outside of Krakow in the fall of 1939. "I've never been able to recover the land, because it fell within the expanded Ukraine border after the war."

The Weltspiegel films present the invasion of Poland as a just reclamation rather than a conquering. In the same vein, they present Hitler as a superhero wielding "the German sword of vengeance," effecting payback for the criminal wrongs heaped upon his people following Germany's surrender in World War I.

Nurkiewicz believes that President Bush is capitalizing upon the American public's emotional response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in much the same way Hitler capitalized upon the German public's outrage over the Treaty of Versailles. "Bush is incrementally positioning himself as a dictator, and he's using modern propaganda to further his agenda," Nurkiewicz says.

"That's why I want to make sure these films enter the public domain, because if you look carefully at how they use images and language, you can see they mirror what's happening right now in America. The Department of Homeland Security -- that sounds exactly like the language of the Ministry of Propaganda. People need to examine these films and realize this has happened before."

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