Kolberg

Goebbels' Wunderwaffe as Counterfactual History

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques

The most expensive film produced in the Third Reich, Veit Harlan's Kolberg (1945) represents a culmination of Nazi cinema's interwoven ideological and artistic ambitions, aiming simultaneously to entertain, impress, and instruct spectators. Joseph Goebbels, who served as the film's unofficial executive producer, conceived it as a psychological miracle weapon capable of preserving national unity in increasingly hopeless circumstances and turning the tide of the war. In theory this was to be achieved by drawing a parallel between the civilian militia's successful defense of Kolberg during the Napoleonic Wars and Germany's situation in early 1945. However, close study of the film's production, distribution, and reception suggests that the film largely failed to achieve its propagandistic goals for a variety of factors, especially Goebbels' obsessive meddling with the script and editing process.