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CRISIS ON THE EASTERN FRONT, 1941-42: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF GERMAN AND AMERICAN NEWSREEL COVERAGE by Robert E. Herzstein Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Popular EnI ightenment and Propaganda , believed that film was the most powerful contemporary instrument of mass propaganda. He saw special potential in the newsfilm, or Wochenschauen , which he, his staff, and his cameramen brought to an unsurpassed level of technical accomplishment and popular credibility. Never one to downplay his achievements, Goebbels gloated that, "The 'German Weekly Newsreel' is an incomparable contemporary document such as no other nation in the world has ever brought forth. It is the herald of a unique heroism.... For us the war film is serious business; the incorruptible witness to the heroic deeds of the young National Socialist Army. It goes beyond propagandists purpose. The lifelike pictures, the powerful marches, the songs, the music, and the language are the expression of a new age which was molded by the boundless will to life of a nation united in National Socialism."' By 1941 Hitler, who had some doubts about earlier wartime Wochenschauen, agreed with Goebbels: "I've been thrilled by our contemporary newsfilms. We are experiencing a heroic epic, without precedent in history.... For the sake of the future, it's important to preserve the newsfilms of the war. They will be documents of incalculable value."2 As usual, Hitler's insight was diluted by knowit -all arrogance--he suggested that in order to preserve the Wochenschauen for all time, extra copies be printed on strips of metal! The UFA-Tonwoche, after June 12, 1940 the Deutsche Wochenschau (DW), was perhaps the most impressive newsfilm series ever developed. In Siegfried Kracauer' s words, "...the emphasis they [Goebbels and his staff] put on newsreel s after September 1939 goes far beyond their former P.obeAt E. Wvtzktojjñ. tò ????&?????. o{¡ ht^totiy at the. Univ&vbtty o{¡ South CoJLotina. He ti, authon. o ^: The, Naztò, The, WaA That HtJJLeA Won, Uhm Nazt Dmamò Comí Thae,, s.??? WnòteAn CtvtJLLzatton. Thtt> Li, paAt one, o{¡ a tiMO-paAt aJvticLe,. 1 achievements and cannot easily be overestimated."^ The films consisted of a combination of superb battlefield footage, the Hitler cult, powerful music, smooth narration, and occasional stories covering the home front. War footage was especially significant in these films. The campaigns in Poland and France had given the men of the Propaganda Companies (the PKs) a chance to hone and refine photographic techniques in preparation for their ultimate assignment—to cover the German victory in Soviet Russia. Hitler said the world would hold its breath when he attacked the Russians. It was up to the PK men to show the German people why. The PK men were reservists who combined past military training with professional expertise in fields such as photography, graphic arts, and filmmaking.4 Once in the field, they bore military rank and were subject to military discipline. Joseph Goebbels proudly declared that, "The PK man is not a reporter in the traditional sense; rather he is a sol di er. "5 One of the PK men, Eric Borchert, put it this way: "We, my comrades and I, have put aside our civilian clothes. We are no longer reporters or editors, we are soldiers of a new weapon of the Fuhrer: the propaganda company. "6 These PK men lived amidst the soldiers of the Wehrmacht; this gave their film footage a sense of immediacy that no film studio could have duplicated on its own. With his usual hyperbole, Goebbels declared that the work of the PK men gave the DW "...the most modern, quickest, most reliable, and most current war reporting that we know of in the world..."' He was less anxious to note that the casualty rate among the PK men was extremely high. Iron crosses after the names of cameramen on the credits at the end of newsfilms bore silent witness to this fact. From 1942 these losses led to the occasional induction of PK men who lacked military training. The forty- two local Gau branches of the Propaganda Ministry were responsible for providing the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht (OKW) with the PK men. These Gau offices also found themselves ordered to supply...


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