NEW YORK (Aug. 22)
Plans to honor Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl Sept. 1 and 2 at the first film festival in Telluride, Colorado, came under sharp attack today by the American Jewish Congress, which called the project “morally indefensible” and urged that others being honored–including Francis Ford Coppola and Gloria Swanson–withdraw from participation.
“With all the extraordinary film directors in the world, the decision to spotlight Leni Riefenstahl strikes us as crudely insensitive.” Rabbi Yaakov Rosenberg, chairman of the Congress’ Commission on Jewish Affairs, said in a statement. “Miss Riefenstahl put her talents as a propagandist at the service of a monster, helping thereby to seduce the German people and hypnotize an unsuspecting world.” Rabbi Rosenberg declared, adding: “Any award to such a film maker is morally indefensible.”
Rabbi Rosenberg said that Miss Riefenstahl’s most famous film–the Nazi propaganda epic Triumph of the Will–“could only have been created by a Nazi fanatic. It has rightly been called a profoundly subversive work and its creator Nazism’s most effective film propagandist. It is perhaps understandable that Miss Riefenstahl in recent years has sought to absolve herself of personal culpability for the horrors of Nazism. What is incredible is that she has so many defenders and willing listeners, including the sponsors of the Colorado festival.”
The AJ Congress strongly urged the sponsors to reconsider their decision. “To honor Leni Riefenstahl is to insult all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi tyranny she so effectively promoted,” the statement said. “If the decision stands, we urge others scheduled to be honored to withdraw from participation in the festival.”
The film festival at the Colorado ski resort is scheduled to begin Aug. 30 with tributes to Miss Swanson and Coppola. The Riefenstahl tribute–in which the controversial director is scheduled to participate–is planned for Sept; 1 and 2. Miss Riefenstahl now lives in Munich. Triumph of the Will allegedly records the 1934 Nazi party convention in Nuremberg. In fact, the convention was staged for the filming, with thousands of “extras” brought to Nuremberg by Hitler, who commissioned Miss Riefenstahl to direct the movie. The film, enormously successful, is generally regarded as a classic glorification of Nazism.