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Heimkehr Revisited

heimkehr_titel1,143 words

Translated by Andreas Faust

Vorbehaltsfilme” (conditional films) are National Socialist propaganda films (or films merely perceived as such) which, in Germany, can only be shown in an academic context — a regulation which is quite loosely handled, though. They may not be distributed on video or DVD.

Outside of such screenings, one is dependant on secondary literature or on dodgy pirated copies like those floating around on the internet, a practice fed by an exaggerated, near-superstitious fear of infection and a closely connected hysteria about “proper” historical education. In this way the films are not only unnecessarily demonized, but so too are the critical reflections of the secondary literature severely impeded.

One of the most notorious films of that era is Heimkehr (Homecoming, 1941), a more explicit propaganda film personally commissioned by Joseph Goebbels. Filmed under the direction of Gustav Ucicky, it portrayed the oppression of the “Volksdeutsche” (ethnic Germans) in Volhynia (today in the Western Ukraine, at that time a part of Poland) shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

The action begins in the voivodeship (province) of Lutsk in March 1939, during the first Polish mobilization. The streets are being increasingly controlled by the military, German schools are closed and vandalized, Germans get attacked in the open streets and are later even dispossessed, deprived of their rights, and murdered. Finally, as they are caught listening in secret to Hitler speeches after the outbreak of war, they get interned, together with their women and children, to await execution. Then, at the last minute, the Wehrmacht marches in and saves the day.

The film’s transfigurative conclusion shows the Heimkehr (homecoming) to the Reich, and the resettlement of the Volhynia-Germans in the region of West Prussia, which was reconquered in 1939. The actual resettlement, from an area controlled in fact not by the Wehrmacht but by the then-allied Red Army, took place at the end of 1939. The point of Heimkehr was to belatedly justify not only the resettlement of the ethnic Germans, but also the war against Poland.

For a contemporary audience, Heimkehr presents a topsy-turvy world: a Nazi film that denounces state despotism and the nationalistic suppression of minorities. In one scene, Paula Wessely stands before the Polish mayor of the city, to protest the confiscation of a German school: “To remove the property of others, that is something the State should never allow.” In another scene, an ethnic German who wears a swastika on a chain around his neck is stoned to death by an enraged mob: not just Germans, but also explicit Nazis appear as persecuted victims.

The film’s climax has a nightmarish intensity: cooped up in the most confined, stifling space imaginable, the Germans await their execution. The only light in the prison cells comes from a glaring spotlight, whose beams rove across exhausted, miserable faces, an intentional form of psycho-terror on the part of the Poles.

With this scene especially, there will be scarcely a viewer who will not be reminded of the iconography of the “Holocaust.” The end of Heimkehr ironically follows virtually the same pattern as the Polish 1947 on-location Auschwitz film Ostatni etap (The Last Stage): the female protagonist is to be executed by her oppressors, yet succeeds in giving a burning accusatory speech, making the “message” of the film quite clear, then at the last moment the rescuing army marches in — in this case the Red Army. Both films even have identical shots of the approaching airplanes of the liberators.

This aspect of the topsy-turvy (for contemporary viewers) world was taken up by German film historian Johannes von Moltke in his book No Place Like Home: Locations of Heimat in German Cinema. He points out that there is no atrocity denounced in the film which the National Socialists themselves weren’t guilty of. The difficulty of judging this “poisoned casket” film objectively is revealed by the way in which Moltke not only fails to mention historical events prior to September 1st, 1939, but also declares the attacks on Germans shown in the film to be pure fiction, the invention of propagandists. This is all quite usual in the literature on Heimkehr. If these matters are referred to at all, as they are in an extensive study by Gerald Trimmel, they are relativized, consigned to the margins, or watered down through historic “montage” (by detailed descriptions of NS crimes, for instance).

In actual fact, the repressive policies of Poland towards its minorities between the wars are very well attested to. They were directed not only at Germans but also at Jews, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians (the film conceals this, however — Jews, for instance, are characterised as the stingy and mendacious accomplices of the Poles). Despite all the primitive black-and-white stylization, the attacks shown in Heimkehr are based on historical facts — the aggressive “Polonization” policy and pogrom-like riots which led to deportations, internments, and executions. The film is also accurate insofar as it shows the way in which many ethnic Germans turned to National Socialism as a consequence of the Polish policies towards minorities — and makes an explicit connection between the radicalization of the Poles and the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

In what is probably the film’s strongest sequence, the rising tensions between Poles and ethnic Germans are portrayed with complete credibility. During the Polish mobilization, the protagonists, played by Paula Wessely and Carl Raddatz, visit a cinema, accompanied by an ethnic German friend who has been drafted to the army and wears a Polish uniform. As he speaks German with Wessely he is insulted by another soldier. After a harmless newsreel feature on American beauty contests, scenes of Polish military parades and demonstrations are shown. The audience, stirred by patriotism, rises as one and sings the Polish national anthem. Only the three Germans fail to sing along. They are attacked by the mob, and Carl Raddatz (one of the most popular actors of his day) is fatally wounded. No one comes to his aid.

At the opposite extreme are scenes which count among the worst that propaganda has ever produced. Paula Wessely declaims a histrionic “völkish” creed, with a fervor that would cause apopleptic strokes in today’s Germany, but which can scarcely conceal the emptiness of its phraseology. The character turns into a mere ideological mouthpiece. Here, Heimkehr becomes a National Socialist counterpart to “Socialist Realism,” with its kitsch heroes, cosmetic fabrications, and cardboard promises.

In the final analysis, then, the film is a mixed affair: on the one hand it is evidence of the cynical hypocrisy of totalitarian states, but on the other a reflection of a forgotten historical reality, knowledge of which is necessary for understanding and evaluating the German-Polish War and the huge post-WWII ethnic cleansings of Germans from Eastern Europe.

This second aspect of the film is today suppressed or played down — whether from ignorance, deliberate lies, or opportunism is an open question.




  1. Riki
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    A sober, skilled, concise, well-balanced and thought-provoking piece on that particular period of history of often agitated, manipulated, vengeful and convoluted national/ethnic relations among fellow Aryan Europeans from the unique and rarely-found perspective of national socialist film, truly a product of historical and intellectual excellence that leaves White nationalists of this age a lot of valuable food for thought.

    Personally, while largely sympathizing and standing with the Germans and Hitlerian ideology under that distinctive historical background, and finding it repulsive, despicable and harmful that the self-abasement and intellectual cowardice derived from apology for and pandering to the Jews and a frenzied and pathological denunciation of everything national socialistic which make a majority of post-war German historians and scholars unable to muster a collective spine to engage with each other in honest historical discussions or lead the general public to do so, I also found it highly necessary and imperative for all White European people regardless of nationalities, be they Germans, Poles, Czechs, Belarussians, or Ukrainians and all others, to cast away historical mutual grievances and senses of petty nationalism and actively seek a robust and functioning pan-European and American grand Aryan unity and solidarity in face of ongoing existential threat to the survival of the Aryan White as a race and a civilization-creator from the evil-minded Jews with both their white and colored cohorts.

  2. Heike
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Why do you call it propaganda if it was real and did happen? “In actual fact, the repressive policies of Poland towards its minorities between the wars are very well attested to. ”
    I think I know why…this article is taken from a german newspaper and in germany you may not by law say anything positive about Hitler and national socialist germany or relativize any thing. By law German must be the only one that did wrong. In fact the opposite is true.
    If the true history of WW2 was told,
    the allieds would come off as cowards,
    the poles, czechs and russians are barbarians,
    the germans as holy
    and the jews as the devil!
    My heart goes out to all my german people who suffered so greatly, you will never be forgotten.

    • A commenter
      Posted February 11, 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      If the true history of WW2 was told,
      the allieds would come off as cowards,
      the poles, czechs and russians are barbarians,
      the germans as holy

      Oh, olease, I thought this website would be above this sort of “reverse Semitism”, where the Chosen Ones are holy and can do no wrong. This black-and-white Old Testament view on history is highly un-European (in fact, the only European war treated in this way is WW2, with its Jewish-written history) and alien to us.

      Saying that Germans are holy and should be treated like Jews are in current politics is just lol.

      • kennewick man
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:19 am | Permalink


        There’s something to what you are saying, but I wonder if Heike’s view, although it may be similar to the Jew’s view of themselves that is imposed onto almost everybody via the Jewish-controlled media and education system, isn’t a healthy one. The memoirs of Rudel and Degrelle seem to reflect such a view. And if we as a race, or the various white nations, had such a view would we be cooperating in our own genocide?

        At the same time, the Poles had just regained their independence, and shouldn’t a nation be able to decide who is “not us?” Hitler wanted to negotiate a solution to the disagreements between Germany and Poland, but tragically Churchill encouraged intransigence on the part of the Poles. It is possible that a black and white view of their own historical grievances on the part of the Poles also hindered negotiations to avoid war, so such a view needs to be tempered by awareness of the possible cost of stubbornness.

      • Heike
        Posted February 18, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        I believe in what I wrote above with all my heart and soul.
        I would like to add that as Germans, we do not and never did want world domination nor did or do we want to be anything but the best we can be and it makes us happy to see other peoples be the best they can be. That’s our nature and differenciates us from the jews and many other peoples. We love fair play.
        Dear kennewick man,
        I’m glad to see you interpret what I wrote in a positive way.

    • Petronius
      Posted February 11, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      What “really” happened, is one thing. How the story about it is told and for what purpose is another thing. There is no such thing as a movie that shows you exactly what “really happened”. A movie is art, something articifial, an interpretation, a point of view. And of course there is no such thing as black and white in history, just grey shades all over, especially in any war.

  3. DKD
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    The film can be viewed here:

    German language only.

    • Joseph Bishop
      Posted February 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for that valuable link. I am going to have to explore that site a bit more. Similar films can be downloaded or purchased from the below links.

      NS-era films. Some are subtitled, some have anti-NS commentary tacked on. All are a bit pricey inho –

      Most or all of the NS weekly newsreels, totally free! – (using search term ‘wochenshau’)

      Germany today bans anything that might ‘poison’ or ‘infect’ individuals with National Socialism. Thanks to digitization and the internet, these materials can’t be hidden forever.

      Also the ‘NSDAP-AO’ has a number of NS-era films at reasonable prices. I don’t seem to have the link but a google search should do it.

  4. fnn
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    An example of how state repression can yield beautiful writing.

    • Heike
      Posted February 12, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      I agree, it’s brilliant. And this is only one example of many in Germany. The humor and wit used their writing is so powerful.

  5. M.W.
    Posted February 12, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Both and offer DVD copies of the film. The latter says that their copy has poor picture quality. Has anyone purchased the film from Reichskino? Is it perhaps a better copy?

  6. Leon
    Posted June 26, 2015 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    This is all starting to sound extremely familiar. A minority muscles its way into the towns and cities of another nation, preferring to leave the boorish ethnic peasants on the land, where they can continue to perform the unimportant task of feeding and sustaining the entire country. In the cities, life is good, and the newcomers rather than assimilate into their host’s barbarian ways, manage to recreate the superior culture of their parentland. Perhaps, still they might feel slightly insecure as strangers in a land where they lack the same connection to the soil as the locals, but this is masked by a justified sense of arrogance. So what if they’ve helped to solidify a system where the majority of the population is forced into destitution so that they can occupy a privileged position in the middle? After all, it was they who brought them all the benefits of civilization, when these ungrateful gentiles were still “brutal savages in an unknown [land]”. And if they should reserve these benefits mostly for themselves, well that is their right as the bringers of light unto the less sophisticated nations. Mind you, that does not mean that all they do is for their own benefit. No, no. For you see even the ethnic peasant stuck on his land is enriched by all the great innovations and ideas the settlers have brought into their broken world.

    But as fate would have it, these ignorant subhumans known ‘Slavs’ would show no appreciation for the settlers’ tireless work for humanity. Rather they would resent them, them who already lost so much that they once had! How awfully did these boors treat the weary pioneers, taunting them, jeering them, showing them no trust! Every scuffle became a massacre, every accusation, a nation-wide cry of oppression. Then what should happen one miserable day? The savage Slavs would be granted rule over their own nation! What a thought, to grant such primitives the right rule over the country! Suddenly the confines of the city limits seem a great deal smaller, and the settlers are forced to deal with the humiliation of being second-class citizens. Sure they were still better off than the vast majority of the population, but their privileged position in the economy and high culture is now lost, surely a great loss for humanity as a whole. So they turn to their leaders, who remind them that they are superior, that the entire world is owed them, and that one day they will prevail over the barbarians that call themselves their countrymen. Who can blame them then, if they prefer to wear the symbols of their faith, rather than respect the contrived emblems of the former peasants silly ideas of nationhood? And if this causes their neighbours not to trust them, then this only further proof of their unworthiness to rule over them.

    This tale tells the story of two peoples in Eastern Europe, both of which despised each other, and held contempt for the people on whose soil they set up shop. As Heike above put it, they were holy, and the others were barbarians. How can a responsible White Nationalist, or any kind of nationalist, support this type of thinking? Unfortunately it seems that when a certain controversial 20th Century regime is involved, all standards and logic often melt away. As for the facts, as Mr. Lichtmesz puts it, it’s a fact that the Germans greatly embellished the numbers involved in propaganda surrounding the anti-German ‘pogroms’ in Poland, just as it is a fact that the German regime was directly responsible for provoking many of them, using German minorities in Poland as proxies. It’s also a fact that the Germans were looking for any excuse they could to invade Poland, and it’s a fact that the Germans treated Poles far worse, on a far larger scale when they finally got the opportunity, and more importantly, they robbed them of their sovereignty, believing them unfit to rule themselves. The moral of the story seems to be one which White Nationalists seem capable of grasping in most other situations, that diversity doesn’t work, and that allowing minorities privileged positions breeds resentment on both sides. Of course that means nothing to a ‘holy’ people.

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