Film was one of the many tools employed by Joseph Goebbels to build support for the Nazi regime and keep morale up during World War II. Normally, given the Propaganda Minister’s clout, film makers usually had little trouble securing resources. For example, Goebbels’ pet project, Kolberg, a Napoleonic epic of de Millean scale, which was completed in January of 1945, even as the Allies were literally standing on Germany’s borders, required that literally tens of thousand of troops be pulled away from the front for considerable periods and the expenditure of tons and tons of explosives.
Sometimes, however, meeting the needs of the film industry had even stranger results.
In 1942, director Rolf Hansen was turning the novel Die Grosser Liebe into a film. The plot was a simple one, common to war films made in other countries, a romance between a glamorous cabaret performer, and a serviceman, in this case a Luftwaffe pilot recuperating from his wounds, who meets the woman while on a 24 hour pass. The leads were played by the expatriate Swedish actress Zarah Leander and Viktor Staal, both fairly prominent film stars of the day. In the course of the picture the couple go through various adventures and misadventures, while the world sinks deeper into war, as Germany invades the Soviet Union, until the two eventually end up marrying, looking forward to life together in a National Socialist Europe.
Now this seems like a pretty easy film to make. But one sequence presented some problems for the director. It was a dream sequence, involving Leander and a group of dancing girls. Trouble was, Leander was quite tall, and there were no chorus girls available who could do the scene with her.
What to do?
Well, Goebbels and SS-leader Heinrich Himmler came up with a solution. A detail of tall, slim, handsome, pure-blooded young Aryan SS-men from the Liebstandarte “Adolf Hitler” was assigned to director Hansen.
Surprisingly, once suitably bewigged, padded, made up, attired, and coached, the SS-men made passable chorus girls, some of them looking quite fetching flitting around Ms. Leander in their little fairy wings, though a few betrayed a slight “five o’clock shadow” and there were one or two unusually prominent Adam’s apples as well.
Now during the filming, an amusing incident reportedly occurred, according to Wolfgang Preiss, who played a Luftwaffe officer in the film.
Preiss said that one day during the filming, still wearing his lieutenant colonel’s uniform, he chanced to wander past the room in which Der Fürher’s intrepid guardsmen were getting dressed for their performance. In moment of impish humor, he said that he shouted “Attention!” through the open door. At that, as he put it, “They all stood strictly to attention, just as they were, in women’s dresses, wigs askew, half made-up, or in their underwear – a grotesque scene.”
Having had his fun, Preiss called out, “Carry on,” and slipped away.
1. Leander returned to Sweden, in 1943, after she realized she might get killed by an Allied air raid. Although she initially met with some criticism in the artistic community, after the war, like many another artistic or intellectually inclined collaborator, her association with Nazism was largely forgotten and she continued to make films through the 1950s.
2. For the curious, a web search will provide details on securing Die Grosser Liebe on DVD.
Incident at Camp Mills
In mid-1917, after being inducted into federal service, a large number of National Guard regiments from several states were concentrated at Camp Mills, on Long Island, in New York.
Among these were the 69th New York, the 15th New York, and the 4th Alabama..
The 69th New York was traditionally an Irish unit. In the reorganization for the war, however, the 69th had acquired several hundred men from New York’s other famous regiment, the 7th, the very first militia unit to bear the title “National Guard,” and nicknamed the “Silk Stocking Regiment” because in its ranks could be found the scions of some of the richest and most notable names in the state, such as Roosevelt, Fish, Lefferts, de Bevoise, and so on.
The 15th New York was a largely black regiment. The men had been recruited mostly from New York City’s black middle and professional classes. Although the officers were mostly white men from the city’s upper crust, many of them veterans of the 7th Regiment, such as Col. William Hayward and Capt. Hamilton Fish, Jr., as well as regimental surgeon George Bolling Lee, grandson of Robert E. Lee. There were also a number of black officers, among them James Europe, already a noted bandmaster, N.B. Marshall, a prominent attorney, and Vertner Tandy, a promising young architect, serving as lieutenants and captains.
The 4th Alabama was, of course, of different character. And the Alabamians had a problem with Northern black folks, who clearly lacked a certain degree of obsequiousness toward whites. On trains and in local businesses near Camp Mills the Alabamians often abused black citizens, discovering to their surprise that local whites frequently raised objections. And they were extremely hostile to black soldiers. The Alabamians refused to salute black officers or acknowledge their authority if at all possible. Black enlisted personnel were frequently subject to verbal insults and occasionally physical assaults, even when performing official duties, such as provost guard. In local businesses and taverns, which were open to all, there were often tense confrontations between white servicemen from Alabama and their black counterparts from New York, not to mention the occasional brawl.
To the surprise of the Alabamians, the men of the 69th, although Irish and reputedly anti-black, often stood up for their duskier comrades, jumping in to help in free-for-alls, or where a group of Southern “gentlemen” were harassing a lone black soldier.
Now the Irishmen were hardly champions of racial justice. Nevertheless, the black soldiers of the 15th were, after all, fellow New Yorkers. And some of the men from the 69th had served with some of the officers of the 15th, when both had been members of the 7th. But there was another reason the Irishmen were willing to jump into the fray; The Alabamians had cast aspersions to the courage and honor of the 69th, claiming to have sent them fleeing in terror at First Bull Run.
Naturally, the tensions and incidents between the black New Yorkers and the white Alabamians soon come to the attention of the powers-that-were. The camp commander, fearing worse violence (after all, everyone was armed), and not willing to take action against the principal instigators and thus be seen to be siding with blacks against whites, ordered the men of the 15th New York to turn in their ammunition, but allowed the Alabamians to keep theirs!
This injustice really rankled New Yorkers of all colors. So Capt. Hamilton Fish, later a noted Congressman and isolationist, commanding a company in the 15th, quietly approached a friend in the 69th, apparently Maj. William J. Donovan, who would win a Medal of Honor at the head of the regiment, and still later lead the O.S.S. in a greater war. Fish asked Donovan if he could “borrow” some ammunition. The latter quietly agreed. Just as quietly, word was passed to the Alabamians that any further incidents would meet with an appropriate response. This seemed to cool things down quite a bit, especially since the men of the 69th let it be known that if there was any shooting, they’d join in, in support of their fellow New Yorkers.
At about the same time, the Army decided to form a division at Camp Mills, to be composed of National Guard units from all across the United States, which was promptly dubbed “The Rainbow Division.” Of course, what to do about the 15th New York? Among New Yorker’s there was considerable support for including the regiment in the new division; indeed, the most famous New Yorker of the day, Teddy Roosevelt, had proposed raising a division of “Rough Riders” that would have included a black regiment. But someone in authority – apparently Douglas MacArthur – declared that “Black is not a color of the rainbow,” and promptly arranged to ship the 15th off to France, where it arrived on New Year’s Day, 1918.
As for the regiments, the 69th New York became the 165th Infantry and the 4th Alabama the 167th (at least someone realized that the two outfits needed to be in different brigades), of the new 42nd Division, seeing hard service at St. Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne. The 15th New York became the 369th Infantry, of the partially formed 93rd Division, which served with the French. No American regiment spent more time in the front lines than the 369th, which never yielded an inch of ground, earned the first Croix de guerre awarded to a Doughboy, and was the first American regiment to enter Germany after the Armistice.
Today all three units are active, the 69th Infantry (having been so-redesignated in the Army list after World War II) and the 369th Sustainment Brigade in the New York National Guard and the 167th Infantry of the Alabama guard, and all have done their bit in recent conflicts.