Riefenstahl, Leni

DIRECTOR, ACTOR, PHOTOGRAPHER, DANCER (GERMANY)
BORN 22 Aug 1902, Berlin: Wedding - DIED 8 Sep 2003, Pöcking, Bayern
REAL NAME Riefenstahl, Helene Bertha Amalie
GRAVE LOCATION München, Bayern: Waldfriedhof (509-W-4a/b (ashes))

Leni Riefenstahl was the daughter of the businessman Alfred Riefenstahl. Her mother Bertha Sherlach had been a seamstress before her marriage. She attended the Russian Ballet School in Berlin. After she injured her knee in Prague she could no longer dance professionally and she became an actress. She played in mountain movies like "Der Heilige Berg" (1926, directed by Arnold Fanck). After she played in "SOS Iceberg" in 1933 she started directing movies herself. Adolf Hitler asked her to make a documentary at the Nazi Party rally in Nürnberg in 1933, resulting in "Der Sieg des Glaubens". It featured Ernst Röhm, but after Hitler had ordered his murder the movie was withdrawn by the nazi's. Riefenstahl went on to make "Triumph des Willens" about the Reichsparteitag in Nürnburg in 1934. She also made the documentary "Olympia" (1936) about the Olympic Games in Germany. Her movies contained many new technical elements and other innovations.

"Olympia" was a triumph for her. She was received all over Europe, but when she was in the USA to promote the movie the Kristallnacht took place in Germany, showing the world the true face of nazi Germany. All chances of selling it in the USA were gone and she returned to Germany.

During the invasion of Poland she was photograhed in uniform wearing a pistol and she was in the town of Konskie when 20 civilians were murdered by the nazi's. Later she claimed that she had tried to interfere but that a German soldier had threatened to shoot her.

She had close relations with Hitler and Goebbels and another project, "Tiefland", was financed by Hitler himself but remained unfinished until 1954. For Tiefland gypsies from a camp near Salzburg where forced to cooperate and later some of them were identified as prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Riefenstahl always denied this and claimed that she had met them after the war.

In 1944 she married Peter Jacob, but they divorced in 1947. After the war she was arrested at her chalet in Kitzbühel by screenwriter Budd Schulberg, who served in the US Army. She spent some time in prison, escaped and was re-arrested. When questioned she stated that she didn't know about the concentration camps, but she also said that sometimes she had to do things against her will because she was afraid Goebbels might throw her into a concentration camp. She also stated that she had loathed Julius Streicher, but evidence revealed that they had been on friendly terms. She was transferred to the French military zone and she lived under house arrest in Breisach and Königsfeld in the Black Forest. She was even locked up in an asylum in Freiburg for three months to receive shock treatment, before she was released in August 1947. She was never convicted, but after her release it was impossible for her to make any more movies.

From the 1960s onwards she had a relationship with Horst Kettner, who was forty years her junior. She turned to photography and in 1962 she spent eight months with the Nuba tribe in Africa. Her photographs of the Nuba's were favourably received by many, but Susan Sontag criticised them as 'further fascist aesthetics' by Riefenstahl. When she was seventy she started diving and many documentaries about sea life followed. When she was ninety she joined Greenpeace. In old age she was still quickwitted. In 2003 she finally married Kettner and died soon afterwards, aged 101.

Related persons
• was the lover of Fanck, Arnold
• was directed by Fanck, Arnold
• was criticized by Sontag, Susan
• cooperated with Udet, Ernst

Sources
• Bach, Steven, Leni, The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl, Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, 2007
Leni Riefenstahl
Leni Riefenstahl - Wikipedia

Images

The grave of Leni Riefenstahl at the Waldfriedhof, München.
Picture by Androom (30 Aug 2005)

 

Leni Riefenstahl.
Picture by Jacobi

 


Riegner, Gerhart

Published: 6 Sep 2008
Last update: 14 Jul 2016