The Alfred Bauer Case

In January 2020, almost 70 years after the founding of the Berlin International Film Festival, the general public learned 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 became evident that, after 1945, Alfred Bauer had systematically obscured his activities, with sources describing him as an “eager SA man” (p. 6).

After this information came to light, the Berlinale commissioned the independent Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History, to thoroughly investigate Bauer’s position in the Nazi film bureaucracy. The study’s author, Adjunct Professor Dr. Tobias Hof (summary (240 KB)), concluded that Bauer was not – as he had claimed after World War II – an opponent of the Nazi regime. Instead, Bauer “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” (p. 43).

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

Alfred Bauer was director of the Berlinale from 1951 to 1976 and was thus one of the key players in the development of the festival which, until 2019, awarded a prize bearing his name. This began as an irregular award in 1987 but became annual in 1996 and, from 2013, was known as the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize. In 2020, the award was suspended due to the new discoveries about Bauer’s past. Instead, the Silver Bear – 70th Berlinale was awarded in 2020 and the new Silver Bear Jury Prize was inaugurated in 2021.

Although having an international 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 its own film history in particular. The transition from the Nazi regime to the newly founded Federal Republic was by no means a new start: the old connections to the “Third Reich” had not been cleanly cut. Especially when it came to people involved in a “new” film industry, the transitions were often fluid. Alfred Bauer was part of this transition. Tobias Hof writes: “In order to be able to understand and assess Bauer’s role during the Nazi era and his attempts to cover it up in the post-war period, it is not sufficient to consider his biographical details and professional career in isolation. Instead, his track record during and after the war must be placed in a broader sociocultural and political context. In particular, the role of Nazi films and German film production in the “Third Reich”, as well as the activities of Nazi film officials and the continuity in terms of personnel after the war, must be taken into account” (p. 3f).

The history of the festival was and will always be linked to 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. The Bauer 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 it developed: from the long disentanglement from the ruins of the “Third Reich” to the hard-fought ideological disputes of the 1960s and 70s, from the supposed end of the East-West conflict to the present day. Looking back, the history of the Berlinale appears to exemplify a lesson in moving towards a more open and politically conscious society. Bauer’s personal biography is part of the festival’s DNA, as much as the Berlinale’s status as one of the world’s most important public film festivals, the political orientation of its programme and 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” (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.

All 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.

Berlinale, Summer 2021