“The People Rise up, the Storm is breaking.” Veit Harlan’s film Kolberg and the Socialist Ideology of Nazism


Heikki Länsisalo

Veit Harlan’s (1899–1964) film Kolberg (1945) was the most megalomanic movie made by the film industry of the National Socialist Germany. The German minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945) had the film shot in order to convince the audience about the strength of Nazi Ideology and the aesthetic brilliance of German cinema. The film told a dramatic story of a little Prussian fortress town Kolberg, which was besieged by the troops of Napoleon during German Liberation wars. Shooting Kolberg was begun in 1943 and completed in 1945 when the defeat of the Third Reich was a matter of months. Despite the miserable military situation of Germany, thousands of front soldiers were used as assistants in the movie.

Kolberg is traditionally interpreted as a straightforward piece of military propaganda the content of which was solely aimed to incite the Germans to fight to death for Hitler. In my article, I demonstrate that Harlan’s movie was a complex mixture of war propaganda and original National Socialist ideology which had been abandoned after Hitler’s seizure of power. Since Minister Goebbels lost all of his trust for aristocratic military officers after Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg’s attempt to murder Hitler, he ordered Harlan to praise the courage and the patriotism of common people.

Harlan’s film represented the socialist ideas which the Nazis agitated during their “years of struggle” (Kampfjahre), the period before Hitler was named the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. The movie attacked the traditional elites, such as high officers and degenerated aristocrats. Traditional institutions, church and officialdom, were depicted vain and philistine. Kolberg glorified the rebellious characters who defied both the Napoleonic army and Prussian hierarchy.