Commentary Magazine

Leni Riefenstahl

To the Editor:

Richard Grenier’s article on Leni Riefenstahl [“The Fuehrer’s Filmmaker,” Movies, August] surprised me. I recall an incident that occurred in 1937-38 when the Nazis had not yet denied Jews the privilege of visiting Berlin’s zoo. The zoo had a section with restaurants and a musical stage. During that year, Leni Riefenstahl was a featured entertainer. As part of her act, she told tall tales about the “wonderful” new rule of Hitler’s Germany. Her mother introduced her with the words “my Leni loves the Fuehrer.” Although I had enjoyed Riefenstahl’s movie S.O.S. Iceberg, her tales and her mother’s introduction shocked me. At that time Jews were already victims of the Nazis, and the scramble to find a haven outside Germany was an emotional drain on the Jewish community.

Forty-three years later, one of my former assistants who had become a professor at the Technical University of Berlin sent me a postcard with a picture credited to Leni Riefenstahl. . . . Seeing the card revived anxieties I had long thought dead. When I met my former assistant several months later, he asked me how I had enjoyed his card. Before I had a chance to explain, he praised the “real art” on the postcard. When I told him of Riefenstahl’s background, he replied, “It is still art.” My response was that if murderers’ accomplices were singing a song that was considered art, I would still not wish to listen to them.

Leni Riefenstahl may not have compromised her artistic integrity, but she more than compromised her moral integrity. She remains a symbol of the perpetrators of the tragedy that resulted in the taking of six million Jewish lives. . . .

Gerald M. Friedman
City University of New
York New York City

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