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The Incredible Transformation of Dr. Bessel: Alternative Memories of the Great War in German War Films of the Late 1920s
Abstract

Abstract:

The memory of World War I had a decisive influence on the formation of German nationalism in the years preceding the rise of National Socialism. Analyzing popular German films of the 1920s, this article suggests that despite the significant postwar nation-building process, the bourgeois culture of the Weimar Republic also endeavored to utilize memories of war experiences in order to undermine nationalism and to contemplate an alternative, transnational framework for collective identity. Focusing on two films—Leo Lasko’s pseudo-documentary Weltkrieg (1927/28) and Richard Oswald’s fictional Dr. Bessels Verwandlung (1927)—the article examines the ways they presented the war as an inevitable outcome of nationalism, implying that rationalism and subjectivity, the fundamental concepts of the Enlightenment, can be obtained only through an alternative, non-nationalist perception of collective identity. The contemporary reactions to these films show that these ideas, although repressed and forgotten after January 1933, were not exceptional to German bourgeois society in the Weimar period.