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November 18, 2006

The Rothschilds: Aktien auf Waterloo. Fritz Hippler

This film is one of several anti-Semitic films which were made in 1939 – 1940 which include Linen from Ireland (1939) and Jud Suss (1940). The shift into overt anti-Semitic cinema follows hard on the heels of Kristallnacht in November 1938 and Hitler’s infamous and outrageous speech to the Reichstag in January 1939. A point which Alan Rosenthal’s review of Reeves’ 1999 the Power of Film Propaganda also makes. (Please scroll the other reviews first). The costume drama Jud Suss was followed by The Eternal Jew directed by Fritz Hippler claimed to be a “documentary” about the evils of Jewishness.

It is always important to note the target audiences of any film and to be considered the intended messages or preferred readings and actual audience readings. It seems clear that the anti-Semitism changed over the period for Linen from Ireland is read as a ‘light comedy’ which is mildly anti-Semitic. A useful piece of research would be to link this film to the relationship of leading Nazis with Lord Londonderry discussed below.

At a general level it can be seen that the ideological nature of these films is precisely targeted and is contextualised by the increasing confidence of Hitler’s personally driven genocidal policy against Jews which built up gradually from 1933 onwards.

From The Rothschilds (1940)

Above image from The Rothschilds: Aktien auf Waterloo

The English language description on the Deutsche Film Portal on the Rothschilds reads:

Anti-Semitic and anti-British propaganda film about the rise of the Jewish bankers (the Rothschild family) at the beginning of the 19th century. The film portrays the family’s greatest coup as the fabricated report of a possible British defeat by Napoleon at Waterloo. Through the inexpensive acquisition of English stocks thereafter, the Rothschilds gain substantial capital. The closing scene depicts a burning Star of David superimposed on a British flag.

Early in 1940 Hitler was still harbouring thoughts about Britain making peace with Germany. This wasn’t as far fetched at the time as it might seem now. Hitler had his supporters amongst the British elites. David Kershaw’s recent book Making Friends with Hitler explores the relationships between Lord Londonderry and eminent members of the Nazi regime. Londonderry was visited at Mount Stewart by von Ribbentrop in 1936 for example. Londonderry also met Hitler several times as well as staying at Goring’s hunting lodge. Kershaw points out that “recapturing a lost mentality” is not easy and it is necessary to visit the mentality of a time: Many looked to Hitler with admiration and pressed for a policy of friendship with Nazi Germany (Kershaw: 2004 p xiv).

The overt political project of Hitler was the invasion of the East and the policy of Lebensraum. It was following up the notion of Germany’s place in an imperial sun; a position which both Britain and France still held. From the perspective of British aristocrats already concerned by the success of the Russian Revolution and working class disturbances in other European countries including republican Spain, Hitler looked as though he could make Germany a real buttress against any attempts at expansion from Soviet Russia.

Londonderry also had an ‘ingrained anti-Semitism’ which Kershaw notes that this “latent antipathy…was common enough on the Conservative Right.” (Kershaw: 2004 p 230). The Rothschilds were still influential in Britain and a friend Antony Rothschild took Londonderry to task when he stayed in denial of the awfulness of the growing anti-Semitism in the mid 1930s. For Londonderry flying in the face of logic the Bolshevik Revolution was a “Jewish plot”.

This film wasn’t ‘just’ a piece of unpleasant piece of anti-Semitic propaganda it was clearly targeted at those in the British establishment who had doubts about taking on the Nazi regime. The choice of the Battle of Waterloo was an historical reminder that Prussia had been Britain’s ally and that Wellington would certainly have lost the battle had it not been for Blucher and the Prussians army. The film is perhaps better read as a last attempt to persuade Britain to collude with Hitler’s core project rather than as a piece of anti-British propaganda. By 1941 the content of many films had become extremely anti-British by late 1940-1941 see Taylor (1998 r.e.) page 150).


Kershaw, Ian. 2004. Making Friends with Hitler. Harmondsworth:Penguin / Allen lane

Reeves Nicholas. 1999. The Power of Film Propaganda: Myth or Reality. London: Cassell. Reviewed by Alan Rosenthal
Film Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Winter, 2001-2002), pp. 67-69

Taylor, Richard.1998 Revised Edition. Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. London: I. B. Tauris

Wikipedia (Germany) entry The Rothschilds

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