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Television Under the Swastika (DVD Review)

17 Aug, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Street 8/19/08
First Run
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.

It's been said ancient Rome erected the coliseums to pacify the masses. Nazi Germany tried television.

Nearly 20 years before the "Golden Age of Television" began mollifying the American household, four hours of TV programming aired daily to select German audiences under the aegis of Nazi Party leaders.

Determined to beat Great Britain and the United States to the nascent medium, Deutscher Fernseh-Rundfunk (Greater German Television) commenced in 1935 as a conduit for the Nazis to broadcast National Socialist propaganda as well as sporting events, cooking shows, cosmetic tips, gardening, man-on-the-street interviews and vaudeville acts.

The 1999 English-language documentary Television Under the Swastika uses footage from 285 reels of 16mm film discovered in the catacombs of the Berlin Federal Film Archive to showcase the power of TV to a then largely indifferent consumer.

The picture quality at the time was spotty, and watching TV meant visiting a parlor typically reserved for society's elite, Nazi faithful and related VIPs.

Average Germans preferred radio, movies and theater for their news and entertainment.

German engineers soon improved both picture and sound quality, and the Nazi Party envisioned installing TV sets in households by 1939, the year Hitler invaded Poland, beginning World War II.

This documentary showcases a variety of disturbing TV programs the Nazis hoped would engender Germans to embrace the war as a "great leveler" of societal woes and help spawn a master race.

Interestingly, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, dismissed the concept of TV (preferring movie newsreels), and only efforts to produce entertainment for the soldiers kept the DFR operational.

One of the last Nazi broadcasts was a 1944 public service announcement instructing amputees how to stay fit so they could return to the front lines. The war, and Nazi TV, ended shortly thereafter.

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