November 25, 2015

News Release from
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies

September 1, 2005

Holocaust Institute Criticizes Actress Jodie Foster for Defending Nazi Propaganda Filmmaker

A leading Holocaust research institute has criticized actress Jodie Foster for her comments defending Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, whom Foster intends to play in an upcoming film.

Foster said in a just-released interview that Riefenstahl has been "libeled so many times" by people accusing her of membership in the Nazi Party or of having a romance with Adolf Hitler.

But according to Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies:  “It's irrelevant if Leni Riefenstahl wasn't a member of the Nazi Party or wasn't Hitler's girlfriend.  She was the leading artist making propaganda for the most evil regime in human history.  Instead of defending Riefenstahl as an alleged victim of 'libel', Jodie Foster should frankly confront the reality that Riefenstahl is an example of how art can be perverted to promote fascism, racism, and genocide.  Sadly, it appears from Ms. Foster's statements that her intention is to defend Riefenstahl.”

Riefenstahl was Hitler's hand-picked filmmaker and directed such films as "Triumph of the Will" (1934), which Who’s Who in Nazi Germany characterizes as “perhaps the most effective visual propaganda for Nazism ever made.”  The then-president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti, has written:  "Young German girls and boys in 1941 were mesmerized by Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, in which Adolf Hitler is pictured as a new-born God."  The Oscar-winning British filmmaker Arnold Schwartzman has noted, “Riefenstahl was probably the best propaganda tool that Hitler had and a lot of the terrible things that happened were as a consequence of what she did.  There is no doubt she was a brilliant woman and a great documentarian, but she used her skills to rouse the German people into going along with Hitler.”

Riefenstahl even used Gypsy prisoners from German concentration camps as extras in one of her films.  Although Riefenstahl later claimed she did not support the Nazis, the historical record shows that when Hitler conquered Paris in 1940, she sent him a telegram declaring: “Your deeds exceed the power of human imagination. They are without equal in the history of mankind.  How can we [the German people] ever thank you?”

In an interview in the latest issue of Premiere magazine (September 2005), Ms. Foster was asked:  "For years, you've been planning a biopic about Leni Riefenstahl, who directed the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will and who died two years ago.  Are you still going to make it?"

Foster replied:  "Yeah, we're still working on the script, and I'm still going to play her.  I met her a couple of times ... She wrote a biography that's almost all lies, but it's interesting.  I wanted her archives, but  I didn't want her involvement [in the film]--and that's something she really wanted, because she'd been libeled so many times.  She was not a member of the Nazi Party, and she was not Hitler's girlfriend--that's just stupid.  But she's a complex morality tale.”

Dr. Medoff said:  “Foster is wrong.  There’s nothing morally complex about what Riefenstahl did as Hitler’s favorite filmmaker.  The only thing complex is Foster’s confusion on this issue.”

Last year, the Wyman Institute publicly criticized the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for including Riefenstahl in a memorial tribute to recently-deceased movie industry figures during the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

ABOUT THE WYMAN INSTITUTE: The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, located on the campus of Gratz College (near Philadelphia), is a research and education institute focusing on America's response to the Holocaust. It is named in honor of the eminent historian and author of the 1984 best-seller The Abandonment of the Jews, the most important and influential book concerning the U.S. response to the Nazi genocide.

The Institute's Advisory Committee includes Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, Members of Congress, and other luminaries. The Institute's Academic Council includes 45 leading professors of the Holocaust, American history, and Jewish history. The Institute's Arts & Letters Council, chaired by Cynthia Ozick, includes prominent artists, writers, and filmmakers. (A complete list is available upon request.)

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