The Alfred Bauer Case

Alfred Bauer 1951

In January 2020, almost 70 years after the founding of the Berlin International Film Festival, it came to public attention that the role played by the Berlinale’s first director Alfred Bauer as a film consultant in the “Reichsfilmintendanz”, the central government institution for controlling film production during the Nazi regime, was more significant than had previously been known. It also became evident that, after 1945, Alfred Bauer systematically obscured his activities, with sources describing him as an “eager SA man” (Hof, p.6).

After this information came to light, the Berlinale commissioned the independent Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte – IfZ) to thoroughly investigate Bauer’s position in the Nazi film bureaucracy. The author of the preliminary study for a historical portrait of Dr. Alfred Bauer (1911-1986), Adjunct Professor Dr. Tobias Hof, concluded that Bauer was not – as he had claimed after World War II – an opponent of the Nazi regime but instead that he “had considerably contributed to the functioning of the German film system within the Nazi dictatorship and thus to the stabilisation and legitimisation of the Nazi regime” (Hof, p.43).

During his denazification process from 1945-47, Bauer then concealed the significance of his role during the Nazi era by deliberately giving false statements, half-truths and incorrect assertions.

In 2022, the expanded study entitled “Schaufenster im Kalten Krieg” (Showcase in the Cold War) by Wolf-Rüdiger Knoll and Andreas Malycha was published on behalf of the Berlinale, once again in cooperation with the IfZ. This work, which surveys Bauer’s career after 1945, reveals that in retrospect he appears to have been less a convinced National Socialist than an opportunist and careerist who knew how to play his cards in the most effective way. His case becomes rather blurred in the murkiness of the post-war period during which questions of guilt and innocence, good and evil often produced more contradictory answers than they do with the benefit of hindsight today. Bauer was able to continue working seamlessly with many of his pre-1945 connections who, like him, soon found a home in post-war Germany. This network brought about and secured his rise and his position as an important actor in German cultural politics during the early years of the Federal Republic. Although international in outlook from the start, the Berlinale is a German festival. It was founded in a country that, six years after the end of World War II, was still deeply enmeshed in the wrongs and atrocities of the “Third Reich”. Bauer’s case is not only relevant to the Berlinale but also to how Germany dealt and continues to deal with its own history – and, in particular, its own film history. The transition from the Nazi regime to the newly founded Federal Republic was by no means a new start: there was no clean break with the old connections to the “Third Reich”.

Instead, transitions were often fluid, especially when it came to the people involved in the “new” film industry. Wolf-Rüdiger Knoll and Andreas Malycha convincingly demonstrate this in their analysis of three career paths in Bauer’s close professional environment. Oswald Cammann, for example, was initially put forward for the post of first director of the Berlinale. However, following an article published in 1951 in the “American Jewish World” in which his activities during the Nazi era – at the side of Bauer in the “Reichsfilmkammer” – were revealed, he was no longer deemed suitable. In his position as managing director of the Berlin film theatres, however, Cammann remained part of the founding committee of the Berlin International Film Festival and was also an important player on behalf of the festival in the years to come. Quite how complicated and opaque the situation was at that time is reflected in the fact that “after Camman was forced to withdraw, Theodor Baensch, head of the film department of the Senate Department for Public Education, advocated Alfred Bauer as head of the festival. His plea for Bauer is all the more astonishing given that Baensch, unlike Bauer, was active in the resistance against National Socialism” (Knoll/Malycha, p.7). The lines between those who became friends and those who remained enemies were redrawn after the end of the “Third Reich” and alliances forged that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

There is, however, no evidence in Bauer’s indisputably strong influence on the Berlinale’s film selection that he continued to harbour National Socialist sentiments. Throughout the rest of his life, he adhered to the narrative he had prepared for the post-1945 era: “While working for the Allies, he conveyed his view of film as an apolitical medium and claimed that apolitical films had also been produced during the Nazi era. In this sense, there could be no political reservations about his activities in post-war Germany. For himself, Bauer claimed an apolitical attitude towards the film” (Knoll/Malycha, p.7). Here, too, Bauer remains an opaque, contradictory figure: after all, under his aegis, a “showcase of the free world” in the form of the Berlinale prospered in Berlin, the city on the frontline of the Cold War, and for years he fought to screen films and invite directors from the Eastern Bloc. However, as with many things, it is impossible to conclusively determine whether this was out of genuine conviction or a desire not to fall behind in the competition with the big festivals in Cannes and Venice which were also presenting these works.

Only once – actually in the festival’s founding year of 1951 – did Bauer attempt to find a place in the programme for a director, Karl Ritter, who had made his name with Nazi war and propaganda films. The Berlin Senate Administration opposed the film and asserted its authority. “However, this process was unique in this form in the history of the Berlinale and cannot be used as evidence that Bauer tried to give a stage to directors of the Nazi regime who were generally politically charged” (Knoll/Malycha, p.15).

Ultimately, the transition from one system (dictatorship) to another (democracy) was not just about individuals. It was also impossible simply to erase entire mentalities from society with Germany’s defeat: “In the 1950s, however, Bauer was certainly trying to promote ‘good German film’, just like the German ministry officials in the film department of the Ministry of the Interior. Consistent with this idea, which revolved around expectations of custom, decency and morality, there were definitely similarities to film education in the ‘Third Reich’. They corresponded to a common zeitgeist and show a certain moral continuity in film evaluation that lasted beyond the end of the war.” (Knoll/Malycha, p.16).

Alfred Bauer was Berlinale director from 1951 to 1976 and thus one of the key players in establishing the festival. Between 1987 and 2019, the Berlinale awarded a prize bearing his name: initially intermittently, from 1996 onwards annually and then as the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize from 2013. In 2020, the revelations about his biography led to the cessation of this award. In its place, the Silver Bear – 70th Berlinale was awarded in that year which, in 2021, became the Silver Bear Jury Prize.

The Bauer case exemplifies the way in which the history of the festival has always been linked to actual history. As a “showcase of the free world” in a divided city, the ideological trench warfare of an emerging new world order – the Cold War – had an inevitable influence on the founding act of the festival. This case now casts a shadow over the first decades of the Berlinale. It is part of the evolution of the festival and is emblematic of the societal struggles of which the Berlinale has been both a mirror and protagonist as the festival developed: from the long disentanglement from the ruins of the “Third Reich” to the hard-fought ideological disputes of the 1960s and 1970s; from the supposed end of the East-West conflict to the present day. Looking back, the history of the Berlinale appears to present a lesson in moving towards a more open and politically conscious society. Bauer’s personal biography is as much a part of the festival’s DNA as is the Berlinale’s status as one of the world’s most important public film festivals, the political orientation of its programme and the presentation of the TEDDY AWARD, the most high-profile queer film award in the world. The responsible and transparent way of dealing with all the aspects and chapters of the festival’s eventful history is an important part of the work required to process and come to terms with its past. The Berlinale has never existed in a state of purity in which politics and society could have been separated from art – something Bauer himself claimed in his attempts to wash himself clean: “Ultimately, Bauer’s defence strategy was based on one core argument that was as simple as it was effective and ran like a common thread through the hearings and defence documents: his activity in the film industry merely arose from his unreserved love of film and was therefore always apolitical” (Hof, p.40). The Bauer case is a reminder of the need to continually address our heritage and the devastating consequences that still do damage today, and to rediscover and re-evaluate our history.

Berlinale, autumn 2022

"Hof" quotations translated from: “Vorstudie über ein historisches Porträt von Dr. Alfred Bauer (1911-1986)” (Preliminary Study on a Historical Portrait of Dr. Alfred Bauer (1911-1986) written by Adjunct Professor Dr. Tobias Hof on behalf of the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History Munich–Berlin. (Download, PDF (514 KB))

Summary of “Schaufenster im Kalten Krieg. Neue Forschungen zur Geschichte der Internationalen Filmfestspiele Berlin (Berlinale) in der Ära Alfred Bauer (1951-1976)” (Showcase in the Cold War: New Research on the History of the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) in the Alfred Bauer Era (1951-1976)), written by Dr. Wolf-Rüdiger Knoll and Dr. Andreas Malycha on behalf of the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) and the Berlin International Film Festival. (Download, PDF (787 KB))