Charlie Chaplin and the Nazis

Being there . . . . like a handful of others having tried to intuit, penetrate, and comprehend, nay,
measure by sounding, hence “fathom”, the mind of Adolf Alois Hitler when it came to his love
of the arts, especially the potential art of the motion picture story. A few volumes have been
written, and more will certainly be, when military writers in search of untold, or long forgotten
stories, tire of tracking his military “genius”, or lack of, angle. The fact the Fuhrer enjoyed the
company of artists more than his generals, especially those leaders of the SS and Gestapo and
its derivatives, is well known. But of the arts, which was his favorite? According to Professor Bill
Niven of contemporary German studies at Nottingham Trent University, and author of a
number of 20 th Century German histories, there are studies about the books Hitler read; his
fondness of architecture, with the exception of those imagined by Frank Lloyd Wright; his love
of Richard Wagner’s operas; his personal selections of paintings and other involvements for
Germany’s major art exhibitions; his insistence on participating on the interior designs, even
the selections of furniture of all newly his constructed state structures, especially his proudest,
the “ultra-modern” Chancellery. Yet, where are the studies of his quiet, unannounced,
recognition that cinema was the greatest of all the arts and humanities? It is difficult to identify
his favorite feature films. His chief sycophant, Josef Goebbels, Reich Minister for Popular
Enlightenment and Propaganda, and Editor in Chief of Der Angriff (The Battle), had difficulty
compiling a list. Yes, he loved Walt Disney’s production of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarf’s
(1937), and Laurel and Hardy more than other American comedian teams. Yet there is no clear
evidence that he ever watched a Charlie Chaplin movie, let alone “The Great Dictator” in which
Chaplin plays Hitler dancing around his office with a balloon that resembled the world.
. .
Reviewed and highly recommended by Don DeNevi
“CHARLIE CHAPLIN AND THE NAZIS – – The Long German Campaign Against the Artist “, by
Norbert Aping, Foreword by Kevin Brownlow. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers,
Jefferson, North Carolina: 2024, 473 pages, 7” x 10”, softcover, $49.95. Visit,
For those of us familiar with the early pre-World War II German films, we admittedly admire
and respect the classic, “Olympiad” (2 hours on the 1936 Olympics in Berlin),” but barely
acknowledge the infamous call-to-arms of “Triumph of the Will”, both documentaries created
by the extraordinarily talented cinematographer, Leni Riefenstahl. In 1935, “Triumph of the
Will” dealt with the Nuremberg Nazi rally of 1934. “Hitler”, author Aping writes, “classified
‘Triumph des Willens’ as a unique and incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of
our movement”. Hitler not only worshiped the feature film, but also respected Leni dearly, left
her alone, and, after the war, movie-goers throughout Europe cheered when three separate
war crimes courts declared her innocent of all crimes against humanity charges. Today, images
in both documentaries, from time to time, reverberate throughout this reviewer’s mind, having

seen them in the Berkeley Art Film Theatre, the Cinema Guild, in the mid-1950s. Of Leni, Hitler
may have been the one who said to Goebbels, the Gauleiter of Berlin and Reichstag deputy, “At
their most original, the directors we grew up with, Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst, and the current
Riefenstahl, resemble neither ‘filmmaker’ nor ‘painter’. In each of their own deep-dimensioned
minds alive with black and white montages, they seem like sculptors who scrape their material
from the soil of their native Deutschland and give them a cast of permanence.”
Every imaginable aspect of Charlie Chaplin’s life is examined by author Aping in arguments
against the Nazis – – so much so that the 7” x 10” softcover becomes a compendium of “all you
ever wanted to know of the Nazi war against America’s favorite “amusing person”, the
legendary Charlie Chaplin.” For example, the inevitable first question in the first chapter of
every Chaplin biography: “Was Charlie Chaplin – a Jew?”, Norbert’s answer is then dissected in
several subchapters: Chaplin’s ancestry, the Jewish characters in his first Hollywood features;
later perspectives on Charlie’s origins; then the beginning of the first Nazi attacks in the
Volkischer Beobachter in 1922 with Hitler as editor. Chapter 2 is entitled, “Chaplin Targeted –
‘Shoulder Arms’ where Chaplin is humiliated because he continued his sentry duties for two
additional years after the 1918 Armistice and Germany’s surrender. An analysis of “The Gold
Rush” is next, with Chaplin, in person, introducing and explaining the results. At the beginning
of each Chapter is a summary via a dozen or more bullet-points describing what issues Herr
Aping will be discussing. Helpful, thought-provoking, and encouraging, it is the best book ever
compiled and written about the “First-actor, No. 1 Superstar of the Silent Movies.” Add the
number of b & w photos, drawings, and cartoons that Norbert has included in his brilliant text
and you have an amazing story, including Charlie’s commitment, resoluteness, and old-
fashioned guts to openly and happily smile when telling it to anyone who would listen.

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