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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Hitler's film-maker turns 100
Leni Riefenstahl
Riefenstahl: "I don't know what I should apologise for"
German director Leni Riefenstahl - best known for making films for Adolf Hitler - is celebrating her 100th birthday on Thursday.

Despite being widely acclaimed as one of the world's greatest film-makers, her reputation continues to be dogged by her links with leading Nazis.


She never made a secret of her fascination with Hitler

Rainer Rother, biographer
Her two greatest films, Triumph of the Will and Olympia, were sponsored by Hitler's regime and are widely regarded as classic examples of political propaganda.

But in a recent interview, Riefenstahl, who lives in Munich, was characteristically unrepentant.

"I don't know what I should apologise for," she said.

"I cannot apologise, for example, for having made Triumph of the Will. It won the top prize. All my films won the top prize."

Hitler got Riefenstahl to film the Berlin Olympics
Hitler got Riefenstahl to film the Berlin Olympics
On Thursday German prosecutors announced they were launching a judicial inquiry into the film-maker on suspicion of "Holocaust denial".

A spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Frankfurt said it followed a complaint by the German gypsies' association Rom.

Riefenstahl used gypsies from German concentration camps as extras in her 1940 film Tiefland, but Rom said her denials that any of them were subsequently killed - claiming she had seen them all after the war - are blatant lies.

Riefenstahl's biographer, Rainer Rother, confirmed that although she was "one of the most skilful directors that film has ever seen", her links with the Nazi regime were undeniable.

'Unique'

"She was happy to participate because she never made a secret of her fascination with Hitler, and she has told how she admired him, almost until the end of the war," he told the BBC World Service's World Today programme.

"So in her view it was presumably no problem to work for him, despite the fact she must have realised what was going on in Germany and that she was working for a dictatorship.

"On the other hand it was a unique opportunity for her career."

He added that Riefenstahl was also familiar with other leading figures of the time, including the propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

"She had close working connections with Goebbels, at least in the first years, and she was on a first name basis with Julius Streicher, the infamous editor of the anti-Semitic journal Der Sturmer," he said.

Book-burning

"So she was part of the social life.

"I can't imagine that she knew everything after the war broke out. But it was not a secret that there were concentration camps, and she admits she knew they existed.

"She knew there was book-burning, she knew Jews had to emigrate - all that was not hidden from the German public at all."

Mr Rother said it was her technical skill which was responsible for the continued admiration of film-makers 60 years after her cinematic prime.

"She could use rhythm as almost nobody else in the film industry could at that time, or later on. She had a very, very good eye for visual perspectives and she was a marvellous editor," he said.

"She was a unique director - she was the only female who could work on that scale with that success."

See also:

22 Aug 02 | Media reports
16 Aug 02 | Newsmakers
07 Jan 02 | Entertainment
23 Oct 00 | Entertainment
01 Mar 00 | Europe
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