First American Anti-Nazi Documentary Is Unearthed

'Hitler's Reign of Terror' Gathers Dust in Belgian Archive

getty images

By Reuters

Published September 21, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The first U.S. film to warn about the dangers of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime has been found in a Brussels film archive, having lain unnoticed for some 75 years.

“Hitler’s Reign of Terror” was produced by Cornelius Vanderbilt, an heir to the wealthy American industrialist family, who visited Germany as Hitler was voted into power in 1933.

The film revolves around footage that Vanderbilt shot and smuggled out, showing Nazi party rallies, book-burnings and the ransacking of Jewish shops.

At its premiere in New York in 1934, the film was a big success, said Bruno Mestdagh, head of the digital collections at the Belgian film archive Cinematheque.

“The German embassy in the United States protested, so the film was censored and adapted. It was then shown in other cities but with much less success,” Mestdagh said.

The version uncovered by the archive was most likely ordered by someone who wanted to show it in Belgium but never collected it, so the reel survived the war, and Nazi occupation, in the Belgian customs office.

In the 1970s, it was transferred to the archive, which holds some 70,000 titles in its vast vaults in Brussels, 80 percent of them foreign. But it was only two years ago that the curators realised they had the only surviving copy.

The film has now been remastered and will be shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in October.

The film is arranged much like a newsreel, where Vanderbilt provides a voiceover to his own original footage, and mixes it with newsreel footage from other sources.

“Vanderbilt was able to capture some spectacular footage but he just had a few minutes and they constructed a complete film around it. But that wasn’t done by professional film-makers, so the film has a sometimes amateurish feel to it,” Mestdagh said.

Part of that feel comes from the somewhat clunky re-enactments of a brief interview that Vanderbilt snatched with Hitler as he prepared to address a rally in Berlin’s Sports Palace after winning the 1933 election.

“In the hour-and-a-half that Hitler talked to that packed audience, he was as effective as a barker at a side show, travelling with a circus,” Vanderbilt comments in the voiceover.

He also visits Leonding, the Austrian town where Hitler attended primary school, explaining: “From all I could gather, he was one of the most unpopular kids in the neighbourhood. Nobody had a good word for him.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.