Author

Jonathan Herr

Date of Award

5-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Scott Moranda

Second Advisor

Dr. Gigi Peterson

Abstract

The East German film industry (led by state film company DEFA) had, since its inception in 1946, focused heavily upon the theme of antifascism. However, the meaning and definition of antifascism changed dramatically over the course of East Germany’s early history. In DEFA’s earliest days, antifascism was a confrontation of Germany’s Nazi past and argued that capitalism was a forebearer to fascism. As the East German state formed, antifascism evolved, casting America and its unchecked capitalism as the enemy to democracy. Here DEFA films still confronted Germany’s dark past, though the end goal of the films was to promote hope and direction to misguided capitalists and have them achieve a sort of socialist enlightenment. In the mid-1950s, the antifascist theme changed once more. By this time, films demonized their Western neighbor (West Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany) instead of the more distant America as a tangible threat to their future. Furthermore, capitalists were no longer able to be saved from the corrupting power of their own greed. These sentiments eventually culminated in the physical separation of East and West Germany by the Berlin Wall. In this thesis, I will argue that East Germany’s definition of antifascism changed dramatically from 1946 through 1961, in part as a reaction to historical events. I will do this through detailed analysis of DEFA films and through tracing the usage and media coverage of one of DEFA’s most pronounced films: The Murderers are Among Us.

This thesis will combine the benefits of a practical historical approach with aspects of art history. I will avoid discussions focusing on a sole genre or specific directors by focusing, instead, on antifascism through a set time period – specifically 1946 – 1961. In an attempt to add depth to my discussion, I have purposefully selected films from multiple genres for research including drama, historical, comedy, family, etc. Furthermore, as my thesis is separated into separate smaller periods, I have spread out my film discussion to cover each “era” in detail so as to not permit gaps in continuity. The films chosen were meticulously picked from the wealth of DEFA productions with heavy input from the DEFA Film Library at University of Massachusetts, Amherst and help to paint the changing meaning of antifascism in films produced in East Germany. This study also examines East German newspapers released primarily in Berlin, film magazines, DEFA publications, and DEFA film materials. Many of these East German publications and DEFA produced pieces have been provided by the Hans Joachim Ring Collection from the W.E.B. DuBois Library and the DEFA Film Library – both at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

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