811.4061 Hitler’s Reign of Terror/1

Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (Moffat)

Saturday afternoon at about 2:15 the German Ambassador telephoned me at my house, very much perturbed over news he had received that a film entitled “Hitler’s Reign of Terror” would be shown on Monday evening, April 23, at Chicago. He said he was sending one of the secretaries of the Embassy, Dr. Schüller, around to my house to give me full details and ask the assistance of the Department in stopping the showing of the film.

About half an hour later Dr. Schüller called and gave me the following facts: The film entitled “Hitler’s Reign of Terror” was prepared by a firm called “Public Welfare Film Corporation” of 723 Seventh Avenue, New York City. This company is owned by Benjamin and Michael Mindling. Some weeks ago they arranged a scene in West New York wherein a number of people dressed as Orthodox Jews were assailed and beaten up by other people dressed in S. A. uniforms. As a result of the filming of this scene the police were called in and arrested one of the Mindlings for disorderly conduct. One of them is believed to be still in jail. The film is now to be shown at the Majestic Theatre in Chicago and is to be accompanied by excerpts [Page 522] of anti-Nazi speeches by Mr. Moley48 and others. There was a preview held on Friday at which there were incidents, and the Embassy is most apprehensive of what might happen at the final showing. The advertisement claimed that parts of the film were made in Germany and smuggled out. The inference is that it is the part dealing with the riot, but these can be proved to have been taken in New York. Once again the German Embassy appealed for our aid.

I replied that of course the Federal Government had no control over the showing of films but I would endeavor to find out whether if they are in a position to prove misrepresentation certain legal steps might be open to the German authorities. After his departure I talked the matter over with Schoenfeld of this Division who succeeded in getting in touch with Colonel Herron of the Hays movie organization in New York.

On the basis of this talk I was able to telephone Ambassador Luther at about half past five as follows:

The problem he had submitted to me could be divided into two parts: legal and practical. As far as the legal aspects are concerned, there was no law which would prevent the showing of a film once it had passed the Board of Censors. Of course if libel were actually shown on the screen and could be proved, there would presumably be relief through the courts.

As far as the practical end was concerned, we had succeeded in making informal contact with the movie organization in New York. They knew all about the film which had been made by irregulars or free lancers. An attempt had been made to show it in New York but it had been definitely rejected by the censors. Since then efforts had been made to show it in other cities. They did not know the Majestic Theatre in Chicago. Clearly it was not a regular movie house which would not carry the film. Probably it was a small legitimate theatre which of course was outside their purview. In their opinion the film would have little lasting influence unless advertised by opposition, attempts to suppress or official German protests. If, however, the Germans wished to pursue their objections, there were only two courses open to them: the first was to try and kill it with ridicule, by showing how the people making the film had been “caught at it” in West New York. The other, and it was dangerous, was for the German Consul to try and persuade the Chicago Board of Censors to ban the film.

The Ambassador asked if nothing could be done on the basis of preserving public peace, pointing out that there had already been incidents at the preview. I replied that this was entirely a local question and that as he was aware the policing was not only not a Federal matter but not even a State matter.

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He then said that the difficulty was less in the actual showing itself than in the press accounts and that he would have to regard that as a criterion.

The Ambassador then expressed his appreciation of the trouble taken on Saturday afternoon in this matter and said that he would leave it until Monday (I gained the impression that he might wish to telegraph Berlin) when he reserved the right once again to raise the question.

Pierrepont Moffat
  1. Raymond Moley, Assistant Secretary of State from March to September 1933.