New Holocaust movie shows legacy in a famous family

FROM “HARLAN” DOCUMENTARY: Infamous Nazi film director Veit Harlan (center in overcoat) on the set of a movie with his beautiful wife, who starred in his films, seated in front of him, surrounded by German officers.


If you are an educator, historian, film buff or concerned parent—we are strongly recommending a new Zeitgeist DVD release: “Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss,” which you can buy at a discount starting today on Amazon.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I come from decades in journalism covering religion, cultural diversity and the tragic legacy of hate crimes. Over the decades, I have watched nearly every film about the Holocaust in general release—and I can tell you that “Harlan” is unique. This Holocaust documentary is not a typical tour of the Final Solution and death camps. In fact, there are no scenes from the camps in this film. Instead, “Harlan” covers the life—and long legacy—of the infamous Nazi filmmaker Veit Harlan who created the single most famous anti-Semitic feature film, “Jud Süß” (sometimes spelled “Jud Suss” or “Jew Suss”).

Leni Riefenstahl may be more famous as “Hitler’s filmmaker,” partly because she lived so long that she was trying to promote her latest productions up until her death in 2003. But Leni, at her worst, produced “Triumph of Will” and “Olympia,” which fueled the overall Nazi myth. Veit Harlan, who died in 1964, produced the movie that was a smoking gun of propaganda for the Final Solution.

During the Third Reich, as many as 100 million people watched Harlan’s feature film, “Jud Süß,” which incited viewers to destroy “dangerous” Jews living in their communities. “Jud Süß” was a feature-length, black-and-white costume drama, set in the 1700s. The film featured a horrific Jewish villain who casually committed crimes such as rape and torture to amass personal power—until a popular uprising among ordinary people finally destroyed him. “Jud Süß” was a savage melodrama that burned stereotypes and righteous fury into viewers’ memories.

Today, one of Harlan’s own sons calls “Jud Süß” the equivalent of “a murder weapon” for the Third Reich. Diary entries from Nazi propaganda czar Joseph Goebbels draw the same conclusion. Public showings of “Jud Süß” are banned, to this day, in Germany—with the exception of rare events for educators and historians. Most Americans have never seen Veit Harlan’s infamous film, even though most of us have seen clips from Rienfenstahl’s “Triumph of Will” repeatedly on television. Millions of people seem to be familiar with Leni—but according to Harlan’s own son, Veit Harlan was the deadliest of Hitler’s filmmakers.


There should be a special circle in Hell for people who maliciously falsify Holocaust history. However, recent headines about a massive scam to defraud an international Holocaust reparations fund show that, to this day, many people are tempted to lie about that chapter of history. When that reparations-fund scam recently was revealed, newspapers including the New York Times reported that a whopping $42 million was defrauded through years of falsified survivor applications to the fund. Such a scandal is a tragedy in an era when Holocaust denial still is promoted by some world leaders.

Also this month, news broke about a secret U.S. government report on Nazi criminals who were given “safe haven” after the war. For decades, crucial information on many Nazis accused of war crimes was withheld by these U.S. officials. Once again, suspicion was raised about how much we truly know about the Holocasut.

Clearly, the promise to “remember” and to educate future generations remains an urgent concern.


VEIT HARLAN in his prime under the Third Reich.You can see a preview of “Harlan” in a moment.

We recommend that you get a copy of the DVD and watch the entire film. Then, if you want to spark a discussion, divide the film into two 45-minute segments to watch with friends or your small discussion group.

The opening of the film explores the life of Viet Harlan, who comes across as a sociopath. He seems to have been a talented film director with no moral qualms as he trampled other professionals and even his first wives in pursuit of Hitler’s inner circle, fame, fortune and luxury. Throughout his stormy life, Harlan usually enjoyed both riches and the companionship of beautiful women—even after the war. He was put on trial twice for war crimes—and the documentary explains how he managed to escape conviction in both cases. Especially in the first half of the documentary, “Harlan” repeatedly asks viewers: What would you be wiling to do in modern media in pursuit of fame and fortune, if you had no moral qualms about the people you might destroy along the way? That’s certainly a relevant moral question in 2010 and beyond.

In the second half of the film, we learn about the extreme reactions among members of Harlan’s extended family—right up into the 21st century. We begin to see the long-term, generational impact of such crimes. One of Harlan’s sons became an internationally known activist against everything associated with his father’s career. Another son seems, to this day, to defend the old man. Because of his multiple marriages, Harlan’s family tree branches in many directions. One Harlan niece became the wife of world-renowned director Stanley Kubrick. And, this niece was not alone among Harlan’s descendants in marrying Jewish spouses. The personal choices made in Harlan’s family are like aftershocks from an earthquake. The list of choices Harlan’s descendants made, in reaction to his life’s work in the 1930s and ’40s, includes suicide.

“Harlan” is a revelation on many levels! Most movie fans, for example, are unaware that the creator of “Clockwork Orange,” “2001,” “The Shining” and so many other classics of world cinema was related to Hitler’s most deadly filmmaker. Except for rare books, such as “The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, and the Holocaust,” Kubrick’s connection to the Harlan family is largely unknown. Couple those revelations with fresh connections “Harlan” makes to anti-nuclear activism and the moral code of media professionals in general—and you’ll have no shortage of spirited discussion!


You should see a video screen, below, where you can watch a short preview of “Harlan.” If a screen does not appear in your version of this story, click to visit the main version of our story online at ReadTheSpirit—and the preview screen should appear.

REMEMBER: You can purchase “Harlan: In the Shadow of Jew Suss” at a discount from Amazon.

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