Ohm Kruger/Uncle Kruger: "The Most Notorious Of Nazi Germany’s Anti-British Film Statements" DVD Review by Blaine Taylor

Ohm Kruger/Uncle Kruger: "The Most Notorious Of Nazi Germany’s Anti-British Film Statements" DVD Review by Blaine Taylor

It covers a period little known by most Americans, that of the Boer War of 1899-1902 between England and the Boers of South Africa.

According to the box notes, "The most incendiary of Nazi Germany's anti-British films---and one of the most audaciously cynical movies ever made---it was conceived by Dr. Josef Gobbels' Propaganda Ministry as a propagandistic blockbuster. This lavish production leaves no stone unturned in its bitter indictment of Great Britain, which at the time---early 1941--- stood alone as Germany's wartime foe.

"In its historical reenactment of the Second Boer War, Ohm Kruger depicts Britain as a relentlessly aggressive power, hell-bent on world domination. The film's remarkable set pieces feature a scotch-swilling Queen Victoria, a cruelly conniving Cecil Rhodes (Ferdinand Marian), and a Winston Churchill look-a-like, who presides over a murderous concentration camp.

"On the Boer side stands saintly 'Uncle' Kruger, portrayed as a model of simple dignity and unerring moral right by one of the world cinema's greatest actors, Emil Jannings.

"By far the most expensive film produced in Nazi Germany up to that time, Ohm Kruger offers plenty of 'wild west' frontier grit alongside its vivid battle scenes, as though John Ford's Monument Valley had been transposed onto South Africa's Transvaal region.

"The shattering conclusion---a concentration camp massacre---provokes and disturbs even today---not only due to its undeniable artistry---but more because of how it invites comparison with the still greater horrors we associate with Nazi Germany, atrocities this movie was designed to rationalize and exonerate."

Made in Germany in 1941, in black-and-white at 126 minutes long, it was directed by Hans Steinhoff, and also starred Lucie Hoflich and Werner Hinz. The special features include a Historical Slide Show and a Nazi Sicherheitsdienst/SD report on the public responses to the film after its premiere in Germany.

Noted English film critic Roger Manvell in his 1974 study Films and the Second World War, "By far the best and most celebrated of the anti-British films was Ohm Kruger...The British are portrayed as anxious to seize possession of the gold fields of the Transvaal, tricking the Boer leader when he visits London and is presented to the Queen. The arch conspirators are Rhodes, Joseph Chamberlain---played by Gustaf Grundgens--- ('Providence has called on England to educate small and backward nations'), and the Queen herself, who is portrayed as a cunning old harridan addicted to whisky.

"Among the lesser villains are the Prince of Wales" (later King Edward VII) "obese and lecherous, and Winston Churchill, portrayed as the overfed commandant of a concentration camp for Boer women, who are kept in a condition of starvation.

"In contrast, Kruger has all the mystique of a great national leader-'With England, one cannot come to an understanding;' 'We have only one aim, peace and liberty;' 'One must be a dreamer to become a ruler.' Kitchener---the British war leader---is portrayed as a sadist---'No more humanity. We must be without mercy. We must set up concentration camps...This war is a colonial war, gentlemen; therefore, it must be fought by colonial means.'

"Kruger's son---educated at Oxford---is at first pro-British, but changes completely when a drunken British sergeant assaults his young wife. He becomes the martyr for the Boer cause, hanged by the British on a hill that looks like Golgotha. 'I die for the Fatherland,' he cries.

"The film opens and closes with Kruger---old and blind---confined in a European" (Swiss) "sanatorium. He reflects on the defeat of the Boers. 'We were a small people,' he says, 'but great and powerful nations will arise to reduce the British to pulp," an allusion to both the Third Reich and Fascist Italy, and---later---Imperial Japan.

Added Erwin Leiser in his 1974 work Nazi Cinema, "Anti-British propaganda got cruder as Hitler's hopes of a separate peace treaty with Britain receded. By 1941...British colonial power is characterized on terms of the crudest clichés...Ohm Kruger is meant to show that 'Britain is the brutal enemy of any kind of order or civilization.' Ohm Kruger---who rules the Boers like a father---is here the great leader who sees through the wiles of British diplomats and gold-diggers, and arms his people in time for the 'final conflict' with Britain.

"The British can justify any method they use against him...One scene shows a church service at which the British chaplains distribute arms to the Africans. As The Illustrated Film Courier put it, 'When England realizes that even with cannon and rifles she cannot crush the little nation whose heroic struggle is jubilantly acclaimed by the whole world, she decides to commit one of the most obscene acts in the history of the world.'

"The technique makes it possible to reveal that concentration camps were no German invention: the peculiar logic of a Gobbels thereby justifies the Nazi camps.

"A new general---Kitchener---is assigned the command of the South African war. His methods---which Ohm Kruger brands as monstrous--- bear a grotesque resemblance to the program of total war which Hitler promised for the annihilation of British cities. Kitchener observes that his predecessor made a crucial error in respecting 'certain military conventions' which 'may be applicable in normal circumstances, but are misplaced in Africa.'

"So he demands 'an end to wooly humanitarianism, which means hitting the Boers where they are vulnerable. We must burn their farms, separate wives and children from their men folk, and put them in concentration camps. From today all Boers---without exception---are outlaws. No distinction is to be made between soldiers and civilians.'

"...As a leader figure, Ohm Kruger 'doesn't give a damn about the international rights principle.' The film---made 40 years after the Boer War---has him called before the tribunal of 'world history' to talk about the day of reckoning: 'Great and powerful nations will resist the British tyranny, and then the way will be clear for a better world.'

"Kruger belongs among those who 'make world history.' Not one of the British characters in the film can match his stature. The Queen of England is a crafty old witch who tells her Colonial Minister that the British have not a friend in the world---'People call us robbers.' On her deathbed, she announces, 'The day countries stop hating each other, England is lost.'

"Old Kruger---who had been forced to yield to the superior power of the British---is now a blind prophet: 'There can be no coming to terms with the British.'"

States author Harry Waldman in his 2008 study Nazi Films in America, 1933-42 (McFarland, $ 55) "The British provoke war, and the Boers retaliate, led by Commander de Wett (Hans Adalbert Schlettow), but London then changes tactics, and appoints Gen. Kitchener supreme commander. He makes war on the Boer civilians, burning farms, killing cattle, poisoning wells, arming Africans...

"More than 25,000 Boers die of starvation and disease in the camps while 'Uncle' (Paul) Kruger is abroad, unsuccessfully seeking help. British diplomacy assures his failure, while the Boers lose the fight back home and become part of the British Empire.

"Gobbels financed this film for his patron Hitler, who in Mein Kampf/My Battle recalled that, on his youth, 'The Boer War came, like a glow of lightning on the far horizon. Day after day I used to gaze intently at the newspapers, and I almost 'devoured' the telegrams and communiqués, overjoyed to think that I could witness that heroic struggle, even from so great a distance...'

"Herbert Maisch and Karl Anton served as co-directors, Fritz Arno Wagner (1889-1958) photographed, and Theo Mackeben wrote the film's score. At the film's Berlin premiere, Jannings said, 'In the most difficult hour of his life, Kruger clung always to the theory that no individual and no nation shall deviate from the path of duty by withdrawing from its mission of sacrificing itself for the future.

"After World War II, Jannings (1884-1950) declared that he had been 'opposed to all tendentious and political films,' but Gobbels wrote in his diaries that Jannings worked 'on his Boer film like a man possessed...Jannings excels himself: an anti-England film you wouldn't dream was possible.'

"Gobbels named Ohm Kruger Nazi Germany's first Film of the Nation. Schlettow (1888-1945), a prolific actor, was a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the regime, preferring hardcore Nazi films. He died defending Berlin against the Russians.

"Ohm Kruger wasn't screened in the States, but did receive American coverage. Time (Apr. 8, 1941) reported from Berlin that 'Between bomb blasts, through the blackout, Berliners stumbled to their cinemas last week to get a Nazi eye-view of what the unspeakable British have been up to all these years.

"With noisy and immense satisfaction, they saw beefy, aging Emil Jannings play Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, South Africa's famed Boer statesman, in Tobis Films' production...The Nazi rewrite of the Boer War is pure propaganda.' The New Yorker (Sept. 19, 1942) blithely indicated Ohm Kruger was showing in Paris...After the war, Germany banned Ohm Kruger."

Finally, here is writer Rolf Giesen's account in his 2003 tome Nazi Propaganda Films: A History and Filmography (McFarland, $ 55): "Ohm Kruger...was supposed to be on the same level with Gone With the Wind, one of Gobbels' personal favorites. It had big production values, costumes, a score by one of Germany's leading composers...It was a period piece on a grand scale, a movie that had absolutely everything...It offered the pompously overacting Emil Jannings in the title role...

"'The English are terrible villains, one and all. They incite the colored natives by handing out guns during a mission service to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers. They feed rotten meat to the Boer women and children...and bayonet the prisoners without regard to age or sex; the viewer is told that 26,000 women and children have been murdered."

Queen Victoria is quoted as asserting, "If there's gold to be found, then of course it's our country. We British are the only ones capable of carrying the burdens of wealth without becoming ungodly."

In addition to the actual film, there is also the usual Historical Slide Show that is a staple of the typical overall IHF package offering. In this one, we learn that start-up work on the movie began in 1940 as the idea of Jannings himself, who'd been a close associate of Dr. Gobbels since the very start of the regime in 1933. In 1938, he'd become Chairman of Tobis Films: acting in, producing, and directing films. As Chairrman, he had control over all Tobis political films, and was named State Artist in 1941. Like Leni Riefenstahl, Jannings denied being a Nazi collaborator after the war, but period diary entries of Dr. Gobbels seemingly give the lie to both their assertions.

Actor Jannings actually wrote the preface to the memoirs of his subject, South African President Kruger, in which he compared the Boer War to World War II, but---as the slide show points out---the real Paul Kruger saw his mission in heavily religious, and not political, terms.

The dramatization was based on the 1934 novel Man Without a Nation by Arnold Kruger. The budget for the film was 5.5 million Reich Marks, and this allowed for an ersatz South Africa to be created on the outskirts of Berlin, and also the importation of 100 longhorn cattle from Regent Adm. Nicklos Horthy's Hungary, an ally of Hitler's. African villages were built as well, and large numbers of black Africans brought in to play the Matabale "natives," we learn.

The set of the British concentration camp was actually but a few miles from the real Nazi camp at Sachsenhausen, an interesting case of art imitating life. Out of 200,000 inmates in the real camp, half died during1936-45. Gen. (later Field Marshal) Sir Herbert Kitchener interned 115,000 Boer civilians---mostly women and children---and of these, 26,000 died, mainly from typhoid and other fatal diseases. (The real Kitchener drowned in 1916, his troopship sunk by a German U-boat, ironically.)

The real reporter Emily Hobhouse broke the story in the United Kingdom of the British concentration camps. She'd come to South Africa on behalf of the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children. Ohm Kruger turns her into Flora Shaw, the real one of whom was linked to Cecil Rhodes. Here, she is depicted as trying to induce South African women to betray their cause in return for better food and treatment, while the real Emily Hobhouse made common cause with the Boers over Britain's "cruel system" of malnutrition and disease Here, the British are shown to be a universally hateful people.

As Dr. Gobbels noted in his diary in April 1941, "The film must be terrible to work its effect on the people."

Another bonus feature is the original period promotional material presented to the media when the film premiered: press kits, posters, books, brochures, and even comic strips for Axis-dominated countries in nine languages, including Japan---and especially France---to fan French anti-UK sentiments. There were Vive Kruger! Posters, and author Morvan Lebesque's book President Kruger that portrayed him as a "hero of liberty," as did the lavishly illustrated press kits, shown in great and revealing detail here. In German-occupied France, fully 16 major newspapers and magazines hailed the film as a great cinematic success.

The German premiere brochure was penned by Dr. Wilhelm Ziegler of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, and he also wrote a book comparing the British terror in South Africa to that in Ireland and the well known atrocities in India; it stressed English crimes against women and children as well.

The Supplemental Material features the actual Nazi SD/Secret Police report on audience reaction to screenings of the film: "From all various Reich areas, the film exceeded the great expectations that were aroused: an outstanding achievement and excellent blending of political message, artistic construction, and first class performances. Audiences moved to silence. Younger viewers get their first clear picture of the defeat of the Boers. This increases anti-British feeling, and also a demand for literature on the Boers. The shooting of Boer women was a particularly impressive highlight of the film. In the realism of this scene, the movie has reached the limits of what is bearable.

"The character of the mixed (Boer) race is ambivalent, and in view of Greater Germany's colonial mission after the final victory, they cannot be presented as the Germanic ideal," the SD report concluded. The film was released Apr. 4, 1941, with the SD report being dated the 12th.

In the film itself, Jannings quotes Kruger as saying, "In the saddle, our boys became men during the Great Trek 50 years ago," when they moved their cattle away from the greedy British deeper into South Africa across the Vaal River, hence to the Transvaal, their new settlement, but the British followed them there.

The famous British-inspired Jameson Raid by Dr. Jameson for gold in Boer land near Johannesburg is discussed after he was arrested by the Boers for giving guns to the blacks to foment an uprising. After being questioned personally by President Kruger, he then is released and sent back to the real instigator of the Raid: Cecil Rhodes, the chief British imperialist of that era.

A bit of folksy imagery follows next when Uncle Kruger loses a finger pull with the 82-year-old commander of the Boer armed forces to determine if he can retain his command; he does. Next, the President kicks Boer Congressman Koch out of his office for selling Boer land in the Johannesburg area to Rhodes and the English: " England wants our gold. No Boer shall sell his land without permission." Later on, the traitor Koch and his wife see their own land taken by the rapacious British occupier as the political chickens come home to roost.

President Kruger---ala Lincoln---personally sees constituents in his modest Presidential office, and much is made of his 45 grandchildren, too, making him almost literally the "father of his country!"

A tribal uprising around Johannesburg shows the natives dancing in the streets of their village with spears and shields, with their chief---Lobegunda---wearing a red British Army jacket. Fearlessly and alone, Uncle Kruger confronts the hostile rebels directly, addresses them, is cheered, and succeeds in getting back all the guns that were distributed on behalf of the "White Mother"---Queen Victoria.

This serves as the introduction to his formal visit to Buckingham Palace in London to meet her, complete with bear-capped Guards and British Field Marshals in attendance---even her famed personal Scottish servant, John Brown, who many then and now took to be her secret lover. (The real Brown had been dead many years before the film's period, however.) The Queen tells Chamberlain that "Mr. Kruger is too sly for you!" to which he replies, archly, "War would be easier" (than negotiation to seize the Boer gold.) "Who keeps an agreement?" he asks rhetorically.

As Kruger is received by Her Majesty, her son and Heir the Prince of Wales snidely refers to him as "This cattle breeder from South Africa," as the two Heads of State agree to sign a treaty that the British think hoodwinks him. In a secret meeting later with Rhodes, Dr. Jameson calls Chamberlain "the biggest jackass" because the treaty allows the British to mine the gold in return for paying Kruger taxes, while both the Queen and her Colonial Minister consider assassinating the South African President.

Meanwhile, Congressman Koch---who has been bribed by Rhodes---opens embezzlement proceedings against Kruger in the Boer Senate chamber. The latter briefly resigns in disgust, but not before socking Koch on the jaw and calling him a traitor, a thinly disguised Nazi lampoon of the former German Social Democratic Reichstag that Hitler transformed in 1933.

Next comes a truly surprising confrontational scene as Rhodes himself comes to bribe Kruger in his own office. This is angrily rejected by Uncle Kruger, who shouts, "I will remain President and fight the British invasion!" that he predicts is coming. We see the national mobilization of the Boer people in arms, as volunteers and children sing a rousing song under a banner that reads "Boer land is a free land." They march off to fight the red-coated invaders. "We called for the army, and the whole nation arrived!" one character chortles, a preview of the later 1945 Nazi Volkssturm/People's Army.

All of this serves as prelude to the film's magnificent battle scenes---filmed on the sandy plains outside Berlin in actuality---as British infantry falls back under the hammer blows of Boer artillery. British artillery responds, and sweeping cavalry charges on both sides ensue in the fantastic battle scenery depicted herein.

British Gen. Colson is replaced by Kitchener, the South African Army is routed, and Johannesburg is captured, with Boer women and children being used by the British as barriers to Boer fire. They in turn shout "Shoot!" but the Boers surrender, and Kruger begins his diplomatic mission abroad to resurrect their lost cause. Meanwhile, Queen Victoria dies as the Prince of Wales is shown at a burlesque show in Paris.

The British Army burns down the home of Uncle Kruger's once pro-English son Jan, plus17 more that same night. Mass graves of Boer women and children are covered over with lime by the cruel British, as hundreds die of typhoid fever in the camps. In Europe, both Holland's Queen Wilhelmina and the President of Republican France refuse to even see Kruger, as does German Kaiser Wilhelm II, later one of Hitler's favorite targets during his late night table talks at Fuhrer Headquarters on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.

Jan Kruger returns to find his burned home, and sees his wife Petra in the concentration camp. After his capture and hanging, his wife is shot by British soldiers; their children---Pia and Stefan---are already dead.

The film concludes with blind Ohm Kruger telling his Swiss nurse, "That's how England subdued our nation! Other nations shall knock England to the ground someday!" as Hitler continued the actual Luftwaffe bombing of London and other British cities.

This is an outstanding film for anyone interested in the period and wishing to learn more about the era that preceded Imperial Germany's first war with the British Empire, as well as the later one with the Third Reich.

German dialogue with optional English subtitles. Bonus Material: Historical Slide Shows.

Ohm Kruger/Uncle Kruger: "The Most Notorious Of Nazi Germany's Anti-British Film Statements"

Scroll to top