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Nazis We Love to Hate

Posted July 20, 2011 to photo album "Nazis We Love to Hate"

In John Madden’s The Debt, a trio of Mossad agents go after a Nazi war criminal, dubbed the Surgeon of Birkenau, who’s hiding out in East Berlin in the 1960s. Played by Jesper Christensen, this character joins a list of Nazi villains going all the way back to 1939.

The Surgeon of Birkenau in The Debt
Franz Schlager in Confessions of a Nazi Spy
Fritz Marberg in The Mortal Storm
Franz Kindler in The Stranger
Madame Anna Sebastian in Notorious
Ilsa in Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS
Eduard Roschmann in The Odessa File
Dr. Szell in Marathon Man
Arnold Toht and Elsa Schneider in the Indiana Jones movies
Kurt Dussander in Apt Pupil
Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List
Karl Ruprecht Kroenen in Hellboy
Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds
Standartenführer Herzog in Dead Snow
Dr. Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class
Franz Schlager in Confessions of a Nazi Spy

Franz Schlager in Confessions of a Nazi Spy

In 1939, Anatole Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy was perhaps the first studio film to take on the Nazis directly, and it did so not by exposing what they were doing in Germany, but by unveiling their efforts in America. In 1938, several members of Friends of the New Germany, a Nazi front group presenting itself as a Germany-American bund, were put on trial for espionage. Warner Bros. sent writer Milton Krims to cover the story and create a script. The resulting film, culled together from Krims’ reporting and from articles by the FBI agent Leon G. Turrou, was Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Germany, once it got wind of the project, quickly put pressure on the Production Code Administration (PCA) to stop the film. Indeed one PCA official, Karl Lischka, hesitated in approving the script, claiming, “Hitler and his government are unfairly represented." Threats from both official and unofficial channels pushed Warner Bros. to create a zone of secrecy around the project, hiding the names and addresses of cast and crew and leaking false information to throw German agents off the track. In the film, an FBI agent (played by Edward G. Robinson) cracks open a Nazi ring operating in New York City which is overseen by Franz Schlager (played with chilling accuracy by George Sanders). In the end, the film was a huge success, so much so that Joseph Goebbels demanded the German film industry retaliate by creating a series of documentaries revealing American corruption and tyranny. Variety wrote in 1939, “Decades from now what's happening may be seen in perspective. And the historians will certainly take note of this daring frank broadside from a picture company." However many took note at the time. The film was banned throughout Latin American and Europe, and Polish theater owners who screened the film were later hanged.