It is believed to be the first American anti-Nazi film, and had gone missing for more than 70 years. “Hitler’s Reign of Terror” by Cornelius Vanderbilt has been found safely stored away in Brussels’ Cinematheque Royale and will soon be re-released.
How did the film end up in Brussels?
“We believe that in 1939 someone tried to get the film screened in Belgium, but unfortunately it was too late. There was the invasion, and so the film stayed in its box. In the 1970s, it was transfered to the Royal Cinematheque, and that’s where we discovered it. We believe it’s the only existing copy,” said Nicola Mazzanti, director of the Royal Film Archive of Belgium.
The heir to a wealthy American industrialist family and an amateur filmmaker, Vanderbilt visited Berlin in 1933, when the Nazis rose to power. Footage shows Nazi party rallies, book-burnings and the ransacking of Jewish shops. He even, supposedly, managed a brief audience with Hitler, which wasn’t filmed, but was re-enacted for the film.
Vanderbilt was one of very few filmmakers who managed to shoot freely in Germany at the time.
“I think that a few years later, in 1935 or 1936, he wouldn’t have been allowed to do that, but apparently at that time, he was able to shoot these pictures, nobody stopped him,” says historian Roel Vande Winkel.
When the film was released in 1934, it was slammed by the German embassy in Washington and censored in America, which didn’t yet have a clear position on Nazi Germany.
Historians thought the reel had been destroyed. The miraculous discovery has major historic value.
A remastered version of the film is being screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on 26 October.