September 9, 2003
Hitler's Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl
Dead at 101
Associated Press News Releasze
BERLIN (AP) Leni
Riefenstahl, the legendary filmmaker reviled and revered for
movies she made about Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich, has
died one of the last confidantes of the Nazi dictator. She
Riefenstahl died Monday night at
her home in the Bavarian lakeside village where she had lived
for 20 years, the kind of idyllic setting that reflected the
well-groomed aesthetic of her films and art. No cause of death
She made four films for Hitler, the
best known of which were ''Triumph of the Will,'' her masterwork
recording the Nazi's 1934 rally at Nuremberg, and ''Olympia,''
a meditation on muscle and movement at the 1936 Berlin Olympic
Both films accented her artistry,
but more troubling to her critics, presented the Nazis to
the world as peaceful and tolerant. Her portrayal of Olympic
sports was sensual and stunning; her depiction of the Nuremberg
rally shows Hitler in godlike poses and apple-cheeked children
handing him flowers.
German Culture Minister Christina
Weiss said Riefenstahl's life tragically demonstrated the
inseparable link between art and politics. ''Her career shows
that ... art is never unpolitical, and that form and content
cannot be separated from one another,'' Weiss said.
Born Helene Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl
on Aug. 22, 1902, the daughter of a heating firm owner started
out as a creative dancer. A knee injury made her shift to
movies, where she featured in daredevil silent roles set in
In 1932 she starred in the self-directed
''The Blue Light,'' which celebrated Germany's Alpine mystique
and reputedly enthralled Hitler. That same year, Riefenstahl,
then 30, heard Hitler speak at a rally and wrote to him offering
her talents. In her memoirs, she rapturously described her
first impression of him.
''It seemed as if the earth's surface
were spreading out in front of me, like a hemisphere that
suddenly splits apart in the middle, spewing out an enormous
jet of water, so powerful that it touched the sky and shook
the earth,'' she said. ''I felt quite paralyzed.'' Many suspected
Riefenstahl of being Hitler's lover, which she denied.
After the war, Riefenstahl spent
three years under Allied arrest. Though war tribunals ultimately
cleared her of wrongdoing and she could point out that she
never joined the Nazi party, the suspicion of being a Nazi
As late as 2002, Riefenstahl was
investigated for Holocaust denial after she said she did not
know that Gypsies taken from concentration camps to be used
as extras in one of her wartime films later died in the camps.
Authorities eventually dropped the case.
Riefenstahl herself seemed ambiguous
about how close she was to the Nazi center of power. She said
she knew nothing of Hitler's ''final solution'' to exterminate
the Jews and learned about concentration camps only after
the war. But she also said she confronted the Fuehrer about
Speaking to The Associated Press
just before her 100th birthday on Aug. 22, 2002, Riefenstahl
dramatically said she has ''apologized for ever being born''
but that she should not be criticized for her masterful films.
''I don't know what I should apologize
for,'' she said. ''I cannot apologize, for example, for having
made the film ''Triumph of the Will'' it won the top prize.
All my films won prizes.''
Riefenstahl said she was always guided
by the search for beauty whether it was the hypnotic images
thousands of goose-stepping soldiers in Nuremberg or in her
critically acclaimed photographs of the Nuba people.
''Through my optimism, I naturally
prefer and capture the beauty in life,'' she said.
An acclaimed pioneer of film and
photographic techniques, Riefenstahl's career was a quest
for adventure. Even as she turned 100 last year, she was strapping
on scuba gear to photograph sharks.
Boycotted for years after the war,
Riefenstahl made a comeback of sorts in the 1960s when she
lived with and photographed the Nuba in Sudan. She next turned
to underwater photography, learning to dive at age 72. Around
this time she met Horst Kettner, a fellow photographer half
her age who became her live-in assistant and companion.
Whenever she exhibited at German galleries,
controversy erupted because of her past. Despite or perhaps
because of her notorious image, Riefenstahl enjoyed a certain
pop star status outside of Germany.
Riefenstahl was married once, in
1944 to army Major Peter Jacob, but the couple split three
years later. She had no children, and her only sibling, Heinz,
was killed on the eastern front during World War II.
A funeral was planned Friday in Munich.