The Cultural War Against Hitler

There was a significant cultural rebellion against Adolph Hitler by many entertainers and artists who eventually had to leave Germany, many of whom later became big names in Hollywood. The German cabaret scene, with its brilliant stand up comedians who specialized in the poison cookie, that seemingly innocent joke with a darker twist, was a vibrant part of German culture until the cabarets were outlawed by German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Marlene Dietrich became very popular in Germany after her role in the Blue Angel, a tragicomic film about the dark side of Germany, before she fled the scene and became an international actress based in California.  George Grosz’s ink drawings of the common people of Berlin are haunting to look at, yet this German Army veteran of World War I fled his homeland in 1933 to become a prominent artist in New York City for twenty-three years. Fritz Lang, an Austrian WWI soldier who was injured three times during the war, became a very successful director in Germany, including the haunting movie M, starring Peter Lorre as a child murderer. Lang fled to France and then Hollywood during the rise of the Nazis, where he struggled to find the kind of creative license that he had known earlier in Germany. Nevertheless, Lang was very influential on prominent film makers such as Francois Truffaut. Peter Lorre, of course, was a very dynamic character actor in several classic American films, such as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.  Like Dietrich, he fled Germany to become an international star. Billy Wilder was a Polish Jew who was quite successful as a movie director in Germany before he had to flee the Nazis, and his success in Hollywood was extraordinary. In movies like The Apartment, a very American film starring Shirley MacClain, Jack Lemon and Fred MacMurray, Wilder demonstrated an ability to transfer his talents to very different cultures. Other artists did not make such an easy international transition, such as playwright Bertold Brecht, who fled to Russia, yet never seemed to recover the creativity he had enjoyed during the heady days of the rebellion against Hitler and the Nazis. The Weimar period in Germany is known best to Americans from the movie Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli, yet this movie is slightly different than the book from which it came. Christopher Isherwood, and English writer, wrote about Sally Bowles, a young woman in Berlin who hung around seedy Berlin bars with angry veterans of World War I, a far cry from “come to the cabaret my friend,” as romanticized in the movie’s song. Yet the influence of those cabarets, and their cry out for freedom against Adolph Hitler, was a cry heard far and wide internationally, as many of the rebels were able to make their influence known elsewhere.

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