The Germans made a propaganda film attacking Poland.  The Poles also played in it

Called the nation’s film in the Third Reich, today “Heimkehr” only causes problems for the Germans. It was discovered by one of the Polish stations who were in the process of broadcasting this image with appropriate comments from historians. In this way, television wanted to meet viewers’ expectations and show the film in an educational context. However, the German side refused to provide the license, citing the applicable criminal law there. In Germany and Austria it is forbidden to “Heimkehr” as well as to sell broadcasting rights abroad. Because today the history of this film is an excellent example of how easy it is to use art for sordid purposes.

film with this thesis

Hitler wanted to kidnap the masses, because they were the real recipients of his propaganda. At the same time, he did not respect these masses, considering them a group of people with limited knowledge and intellectual abilities. He believed that the crowd could be controlled by demagogic slogans, arousing very strong feelings. Nazi propagandists considered that the best way to smuggle hateful content was a visual way, that is, leaflets, posters, and especially films. This was the film to which the Propaganda Minister of the Third Reich paid the most attention, convinced of its enormous potential to influence feelings. While sentences written on a piece of paper have not yet been processed by the human imagination into evocative images, the film is no such challenge.

At first, the attempts made did not bring the expected results due to the somewhat schematic nature and intrusive propaganda, which alienated viewers rather than captivated them. For this reason, fictional works like “SA-Mann Brand” or “Hans Westmar” have fallen into oblivion. On the other hand, the “Eternal Jew” documentary production, showing scenes from ghettos set up in Poland, was too terrifying and viewers didn’t want to watch it. So Goebbels focused on entertainment topics in which propaganda was cleverly concealed and thus easier for the public to accept.

German compulsory reading

The anti-Polish film “Homecoming” (“Heimkehr”) was produced in 1941 at the Austrian Wien-Film studio. Two cities were chosen for filming – Ortelsburg in East Prussia (today’s Szczytno) and nearby Chorzele, which until 1939 was part of the Second Polish Republic. A production company can move film equipment there relatively quickly and easily. From the very beginning, Hitler’s entourage, and especially the Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich, Joseph Goebbels, announced the action under the slogan: “Every German is obliged to watch this film.”

Neither technical resources nor money were spared on the production of the picture: it cost three and a half million marks, hundreds of extras, a Wehrmacht regiment and even a squadron of Luftwaffe aircraft played in it. However, the purpose of this production was worth every penny to Hitler and his associates. The film was meant to justify German military aggression against Poland, and at the same time convince the German public that the Poles are a hostile element, threatening Germany’s sovereignty, security, culture and ethnic purity.

Heimkehr was of a very high standard in terms of technique, which was appreciated by Joseph Goebbels himself, who in 1942 awarded him the title of Film of the Nation. This distinction, as well as the award of a gold ring with the engraved inscription “Film der Nation”, was created by a German propaganda specialist in 1941. Since then, five films have won the title.

Compared to other productions, “Heimkehr” stood out for its great ingenuity in presenting propaganda themes. Which does not mean quenching the blade of hatred towards the Poles! Deputy Director of the National Film Archive, Grażyna Grabowska, says, “On the contrary, this is a production that shows the Poles and Poland in a decidedly bad light. There is absolutely nothing good there. Not only in the attitudes of the Polish population we will not find any positive feature, worse, as That the actions of the Polish authorities appear to be oppressive in relation to the German minority. This is what affects this film the most.” The Polish directors portrayed them as enemies with whom it was impossible to dialogue. An enemy who only understands the language of force…


The plot of “Heimkehr” is tied together by a single thread. It is the mindless and unnecessary cruelty of the Poles. Hitler’s propaganda reaches the height of insolence here, because all actions attributed to the Polish population and administration are a mirror reflection of the reality that the Germans have prepared for the population of the occupied countries.

The action is set before the war breaks out in Śäck, populated by Poles and a German minority. The first few minutes of the movie shocked viewers. Here a group of Polish thugs destroy a German school, including all the equipment and books. They don’t even keep a cage with a live bird, which a Polish policeman, knocking, threw into the fire. In the following scenes, German doctor Fritz Mutius becomes the victim of a lynching – because he was silent when Poles gathered at the cinema in Lutsk got up to sing the national anthem during the newsreel. Dr. Mutius dies after being beaten by a mob because Polish doctors are not helping him.

When the local authorities refuse to deal with similar incidents, the only hope is the intervention of the German ambassador to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josef Beck himself. Unfortunately, even this doesn’t work. The German minority suffering under the Polish yoke loses all hope of improving its fate. The horror reaches its climax in the final shots of the film. The Germans of Lutsk gather in the barn – secretly from the Poles – to reverently listen to Hitler’s radio address. They are caught and arrested. The Poles ask the Germans to get into trucks and take them out of town. There, without exception, they will be shot: crippled people, women, children and the elderly. The Poles failed to end this atrocity – it’s September 1, 1939 and the German army is about to come to the rescue!

Crime and punishment?

The direction of this supposedly prestigious work was entrusted to Justo Oske, the son of the well-known modernist painter Gustav Klimt, from whom he inherited an artistic sense and sensitivity to the image. The screenplay was written by Ucicky’s regular collaborator Gerhard Menzel. The main role was given to the then Austrian star of the theatrical scene, Paula Wesley. Attila Horbiger’s husband played alongside her. After the war, they met with indecision for a short time and their nominations were overlooked during the selection process. But soon they returned to the labels, and their career developed without a hitch. After two years of war, Oski was able to make his next films without any hitches. Screenwriter Menzel returned to his craft in 1949, and less than eight years later (1957) the two creators of “Heimkehr” again produced another work, casting an old friend, Hörbiger, in it. The stars did not return to the film made for Goebbels, and only many years later the Austrian Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek reprimanded them for their participation in this ethically questionable project.

An incomparably worse fate befell the Polish actors who agreed to perform in this work “Polish food”. Flogging, shaved heads, disgrace – collaborations are always sanctioned by the Underground in absolutely stunning fashion. Director Bohdan Korzyniewski (1905-1992) stated in an interview with Majorzata Zegnert: “Of course, the punishments were disparate. Shame on those of artistic merit and flogging for those below standard.


The life of theater artists was not easy in occupied Warsaw. The Germans allowed performances only in open-air theatres, which could only stage plays of the worst kind. For those who did not want to be a part of the Nazi propaganda activities that were destroying Polish cultural life, there was only playing in cafés, recitations and songs. Grażyna Grabowska notes that this means a sharp decline in profits and often falls into oblivion. Despite this, many actors – such as Henryk Szletyński – retrained and left the profession. But there were also those who, for various reasons, agreed to play by Goebbels’ rules. Grażyna Grabowska notes that each decision to collaborate was motivated not only by financial or ambition considerations, but also by dramatic personal destiny. Stanislava Berzanowska, a prominent figure in the Polish theatre, had to raise money to support her disabled daughter; Maria Malika gave the impression that she was completely unaware of the reality in which both Poland and Europe found themselves, and lived as if the theater world was excluded from the war going on around it. Couldn’t understand the accusations of collaboration…

The promotion of such roles was, also for “Heimkehr”, the well-known pre-war film lover of folksdeutsch Igo Sym.

He appeared in Warsaw after the outbreak of war in a Wehrmacht uniform. Using the knowledge he had gained over the years on individual actors (with whom he plays in the same theatre), he persuaded, blackmailed and forced them to cooperate with the occupation authorities. The underground movement later, for all this dastardly activity, passed a death sentence on Sim (executed in 1941). Meanwhile, the actors of distant schemes agreed to play in “Homecoming”. The most prominent of them, such as Kazimierz Junusza-Stubowski, refused. On the other hand, Bohdan Korzenewski recalls that moment in the following way: “I wrote a letter to Oshiki then. I put the stamp of Poland underground, which I made myself. I wrote that we know the script and the intention of the creators, and that by persuading the Poles to take the roles, he encourages them to Committing national treason. If you keep doing this, I added, we will shoot you. It was easy. It could have been done. I sent a letter to the Bristol Hotel and the result was swift. Osiecki called all the Polish actors he had been involved with so far. He told them what the film would be like and asked them Asked if they were keeping their deals. Half of them then said no. However, Boguslaw Samborski, Josef Kondrat, Tadeusz Schielski, Michał Pluczynski, Hana Chodakowska, Juliusz Osczewski, Wanda Szczebyska and Stefan Gulczewski did not resist. Secret Poland in 1943 punished them with shame or reprimand Korzenevsky reports that Kondrat redeemed himself by serving for two years in partisan units in the Zamoye region.

In 1948, in Warsaw, by decree of the Workers’ Party of Kurdistan, a famous trial took place, during which the actors were tried and sentenced. And the most severe punishment fell on Samborsky, who brilliantly and convincingly played the role of the cynical and cruel mayor. The court sentenced him to death for this role. It was a default, because Samborsky went to Austria, and then to South America. Most likely, he agreed to play Heimkehr out of fear for his Jewish wife, who lived in Austria. Igo Sym promised that the Austrian government would recognize her as a Viennese if Sambourski complied. Chelsky played Minister Beck, perhaps also out of fear for his life – he was Jewish. He died before the end of the war and did not live to see the trial. The rest of the cast who accepted Sim’s proposal received prison sentences: Szczepańska – 12 years (in addition, she co-produced the film), Pluciński – five years, Golczewski and Łuszczewski – three years each. In the end, they all got back into the game pretty quickly, albeit on smaller stages, but their filmography shows that these long-running sentences aren’t always carried through to the end.

Nobody is forced to play

Is the punishment appropriate to the crime? Grażyna Grabowska notes that the situation in 1940 was tragic and people were lost. However, Bohdan Korzyniewski, a participant and witness to the events of that time, found one explanation for the actors’ collaborative positions: “For five years of war, the Polish representation was threatened by something that it did not know well, and which it was not ready for – poverty. The poor peasant reconciled with poverty. The Polish intelligentsia was not afraid of her either. During the occupation, I ate potato peelings with my wife and my little daughter, and it was very easy for me to eat them. We even said – healthy food. Not shameful at all. Well, seeing potato peelings was unacceptable to some people. They were on A willingness to go to great lengths to avoid that extreme. I don’t think the actors were ready to experience reality in all its truth, horror, and beauty.” Korzenevsky met her. During the occupation, he was active in underground work and was sent to Auschwitz. It is evidence that people of art were not doomed to cooperate. He stated shortly: “Nobody had to play.”

Today, it seems absurd that viewers in Poland cannot legally watch a movie on TV, where it will be accompanied by explanations from experts, while they can watch it on YouTube without any restrictions. Unfortunately, without proper commentary, it becomes more harmful, even dangerous, as it carries Nazi and racist content.

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