Rethinking the role of film in German history: The Jewish comedies of the Weimar Republic

Ofer Ashkenazi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article provides an alternative interpretation for the roles of film in the ideological struggle that tore apart the Weimar Republic. Emphasizing the overlooked contribution of Jewish film-makers and critics to the development of the German 'national film' after World War I, I examine popular comedies that were associated with the 'Jewish milieu' by contemporaneous reviewers. My analysis suggests that 'Jewish' characteristics were frequently envisioned as a positive symbol for the new urban environment. Such an environment was depicted as an exciting, fascinating sphere, in which middle-class liberalism thrives. Noting the social functions of humour, I argue that these popular comedies transformed the Jew from a threatening outsider to the iconic hero of the urban middle-class. Thus, Jewish comedies went beyond the discussion of both (anti-Semitic) stereotypes and the (Jewish) desire to assimilate into the German nation. Their protagonists struggled for social equality, disdained prejudices and segregation and were indifferent to the nationalist sentiment (of both German and Jewish nationalism). The ideological biases of the popular comedies demonstrate the need to re-consider the roles and influences of film in the political discourse of pre-Nazi Germany. It suggests that Weimar film-industry should be studied as a source for a progressive, liberal propaganda, no less than as a manifestation of nationalistic zeal, right-wing conservatism or careless escapism.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)569-585
Number of pages17
JournalRethinking History
Volume14
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2010

Keywords

  • Jews
  • Lubitsch
  • Schünzel
  • Weimar Republic
  • anti-Semitism
  • humour

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