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One woman’s lifelong crusade against Leni Riefenstahl

TJI Pick
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PLUS61J 53 (3)

Published: 14 December 2021

Last updated: 4 March 2024

Nina Gladitz dedicated her life to proving Hitler’s favourite film-maker was complicit with the horrors of Nazism. In the end, she succeeded – but at a cost

ON NOVEMBER 20, 1984, in the southern German city of Freiburg, two film-makers faced each other in court for the first day of a trial that was to last nearly two and a half years. The plaintiff, Leni Riefenstahl, 82, showed up to court in a sheepskin coat over a beige suit, her blond hair set in a large neat perm framing a tanned face.

The defendant was a striking, dark-haired 32-year-old documentary maker. Her name was Nina Gladitz, and the outcome of the trial would shape the rest of her life.

During the Nazi era, Riefenstahl had been the regime’s most skilled propagandist, directing films that continue to be both reviled for their glorification of the Third Reich and considered landmarks of early cinema for their innovations and technical mastery.

Once the world war was over, Riefenstahl sought to distance herself from the regime, portraying herself as an apolitical naif whose only motivation was making the most beautiful art possible.

Riefenstahl was taking Gladitz to court over claims made in Gladitz’s television documentary Time of Darkness and Silence, which had aired in 1982. In the film, members of a family of Sinti – a Romani people living mainly in Germany and Austria – had accused Riefenstahl of taking them out of a Nazi concentration camp near Salzburg, in 1940, and forcing them to work as extras in her feature film Tiefland (Lowlands).

Riefenstahl would later claim that all of the Romani extras – 53 Roma and Sinti from the camp, and a further 78 from another camp in eastern Berlin – had survived the war. In fact, almost 100 of them are known or believed to have been gassed in Auschwitz.

Burying Leni Riefenstahl: one woman’s lifelong crusade against Hitler’s favourite film-maker (Guardian)

Photo: Nina Gladitz at her 70th birthday celebration in Berlin in 2016 (Kate Connolly)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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