March 1, 2004, - 3:13 pm

Oscar Honors a Nazi

By Debbie Schlussel

Hitler’s favorite propagandist has finally been rehabilitated.

At Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, Hollywood gave Leni Riefenstahl its kosher seal of approval.

As it does every year, the Oscars ceremony paid homage and tribute to all of the great actors, directors, composers, and other showbiz types who passed on in the previous year.

But along with recently deceased legends like Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Donald O’Connor, Robert Stack, Buddy Hackett — and even John Ritter, Ms. Riefenstahl was so honored.

Incredibly, the Hollywood audience in attendance gave loud applause in response to the televised photo and name of the German filmmaker who used concentration camp prisoners as extras.

Should Hollywood’s most important institution accord any recognition to this woman?

Riefenstahl claimed she was never a Nazi and didn’t sympathize with Hitler, but her actions and statements indicate otherwise. During the Nazi era, Riefenstahl:

  • was personally hand-picked by Hitler to make films glorifying Hitler, the Nazi party, and the infamous Nazi-run Berlin Olympics, at which Jews were excluded. (In 1932, Hitler told her, “Once we come to power, you must make my films.”)

  • received financing for several of her films from Nazi propaganda officer Goebbels’ and his Ministry.

  • “employed” Gypsy prisoners of concentration camps as extras in her films, their last stop before deportation to Nazi death camps where half of them were exterminated.

  • Deleted the names of Jewish co-writers from her first film, “The Blue Light” when it was re-issued in 1938.

Riefenstahl “played a leading role in making propaganda for the most evil regime in human history,” said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in protesting the Academy recognition.

Would someone worthy of Academy Award tribute utter these famous Reifenstahlisms about Hitler?:

  • “Your deeds exceed the power of human imagination. They are without equal in the history of mankind. How can we ever thank you?” (1940 telegram from Riefenstahl congratulating Hitler on conquering Paris)

  • “I must confess that I was so impressed by you and by the enthusiasm of the spectators that I would like to meet you personally.”

  • “That evening I felt that Hitler desired me as a woman” (regarding one of her many meetings with Hitler, though she denied they were lovers).

Was it ignorance, or just “the Academy’s” insistence on judging the art and not the artist?

If the standard is the latter, then Hollywood has a more lax standard for Nazis than for anti-Communists.

Remember Elia Kazan? He also died in 2003 and was part of the televised memorial honor roll that included Riefenstahl, Sunday.

But in 2002, actors like Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, and Ed Begley, Jr. protested the Lifetime Achievement Oscar that masterful director Kazan received. They sat on their hands, faces angry with rage, as Kazan took the stage to accept his award. They couldn’t forgive Kazan’s anti-Communist patriotism and his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities at the height of the Cold War.

In left-wing Hollywood’s eyes, Kazan’s magnificent films, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “East of Eden,” and, ironically, “Gentleman’s Agreement” (an ahead of its time film decrying anti-Semitism) were irrelevant. His talent wasn’t as important as his naming names of members of the Communist Party – even though the Venona Papers revealed that those he named were in fact Communists working to overthrow the U.S.

No such outrage from the entertainment industry’s liberal elite for the Nazi filmmaker who glorified the genocide of six million Jews and the murder of five million others.

No actors sitting on their hands. Just lots of applause.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a strange version of exclusivity.

The Wall Street Journal, Friday, detailed comedian Rob Schneider’s failed repeat bids for membership in the Academy. While its membership includes that “fine actor”, Martin Lawrence, and now honors a Nazi propagandist, the Oscar purveyor is too highbrow to accept the likes of Schneider, whose movies make whopping multi-millions.

The Academy “will find it easier to endorse you for membership once you’ve turned in a strong performance . . . that showcases additional strengths.”

“What the hell was I thinking, wanting to join an organization like that, anyway?” Schneider asked. “My thanks to the remarkably distinguished committee of actors for considering me (Ed Begley, Jr.?).”

If only he’d taken some money from Goebbels and added a “Heil Hitler” to the “Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo” sequel he’s now filming.

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