In A Nutshell
The Fuehrer Gives a City to the Jews is a propaganda film about Theresienstadt, a ghetto used as a settlement before Jews were sent to Auschwitz which was used by the Nazis repeatedly to demonstrate their “humane” treatment of Jews. The film very unsettlingly shows people weeks before they were murdered being forced to look happy and pleasant going about their business for the benefit of the Red Cross and other organizations. Of all people, a Jewish director was chosen for the film, though not even he was spared the fate of his fellow inmates.
The Whole Bushel
In 1941, the Nazis created a ghetto called “Theresienstadt.” As would be expected of a place where enemies of the Reich were placed, conditions in the area were so horrible that 35,000 people died of disease and hunger there during World War II. Nevertheless, in 1944, this location was selected by the Reich to show representatives of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups that the Jews were being treated humanely. Not only was the town artificially beautified, but overcrowding was solved by removing many of the inhabitants to the death camp. This effort went so far that a film was shot in 1944 officially named after the ghetto but mostly remembered as “The Fuehrer Gives a City to the Jews,” a title given to it by the survivors.
Thousands of soon-to-be murder victims were told to smile and act casual for the cameras, and the effect is as unsettling as it sounds. Among the staged moments is a performance of a children’s opera called “Brundibar” and some children preparing for a game of football. Since they were already in murderously bad conditions, it’s likely these people had a sense of their impending fate, as critics have pointed out the people on camera naturally look ill at ease even as they attempt to look pleasant for posterity. With the yellow stars they all wear, even if they had all performed properly it’s hard to not imagine the nature of their segregation making the film difficult viewing for modern audiences.
Such was the nature of the lie that the Nazis even had the film shot by a Jewish camera crew and directed by Kurt Gerron, a seemingly very eccentric figure. For example, during the lead-up to the Second World War, when Jews were being stripped of work and rights, he was offered asylum in America by Jews who had already escaped and had arranged to pay his way. He rejected it because the accommodations were not first class. He found work in territory the Nazis conquered early in the War. The camera crew was falsely promised they would be spared for their cooperation after the shoot was completed. Instead, Gerron was gassed on the last day of mass executions at the death camp.
Theresienstadt was evidently a successful ruse. For example, the International Red Cross representatives were recorded as applauding the performance of Brundibar when they visited. Imagine how they would have reacted if they had learned that only two choir members were confirmed to have survived Auschwitz. The film was scheduled to be distributed to such locations as the Vatican and actually in the city itself for future humanitarian visits in 1945, but this ghoulish exercise in showing a lie at the scene of the crime was canceled due to the circumstances of the war.
Show Me The Proof
Featured photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1989-107-24 / Koll / CC-BY-SA
The Guardian: Terezín: ‘The music connected us to the lives we had lost’
US Holocaust Memorial Museum: Nazi Propaganda Film About Terezin
Film Threat: The Bootleg Files: “The Fuhrer Gives A City To The Jews”
Jerusalem Post: Rare Nazi film shows Theresienstadt camp as ‘paradise’