Films from the World War I Era
Defining the Content of our Holdings
With the onset of World War I the German film industry experienced a sudden boom, mostly caused by new restrictions on the import of foreign film productions: German film companies would quickly fill this gap. Soon after the war broke out many civilian and military circles discovered the relatively young medium „film“ as an effective propaganda tool.
Thus it is not surprising that important private film companies, such as the Deutsche Lichtbild Gesellschaft e.V. (later Deulig) and the Universum Film AG (Ufa) were launched during World War I.
The Deutsche Lichtblick Gesellschaft e.V. was founded in November 1916. The private film industry was the initiator but military and governmental agencies provided the funding. The intention behind this formation was to counteract the fragmentation of the German film industry. The Universum Film AG was founded in December 1917, with the aim to overcome the dominance of foreign films on the German market and to increase the potential of German films on the international market.
The idea to deliberately employ the medium film for propaganda purposes played a large role in the founding of these two companies and in the official-military initiatives.
Newsreels have become very important since the outbreak of the war. German productions such as the „Union-Woche“, the „Hubertus-Kriegswoche“ and the „Kinokop-Woche“ replaced the previously leading French newsreels „Pathé“, „Gaumont“ und „Eclair“. However, only the “Eiko-Woche”, which was launched in 1914, and the „Messter-Woche“, launched in October that year, became more significant.
The administration made sure that film production was swiftly institutionalized: The Supreme Army Command’s Quartermaster General, Erich Ludendorff, initiated the “Militärische Film- und Photostelle” [military film and photo office] in 1916, that was renamed „Bild und Filmamt“ (BUFA) [Photo and Film office] in 1917. BUFA’s task was to centralize film propaganda, to produce and distribute military film productions and to supply newsreel production companies and the press with film and photo material. BUFA employed several film teams to fulfill this task.
In particular the BUFA productions included documentary films about war-related events that were shot throughout various locations. Yet directly filming at the front—especially in the early stages of BUFA—remained an exception. The official film crews often had to settle for staged scenes in the war zones, reports from behind the front or pictures of German troops in occupied areas.
In addition to BUFA documentary material there exist also BUFA feature films from the World War I era. Some of these are outside productions that had been commissioned by BUFA (e.g. the film „Der Feldgraue Groschen“by Projektions-AG „Union“ [PAGU]). These productions often used official footage from the front, which makes figuring out the copyrights today quite complicated.
Only a fraction of these film productions is still available today. A large portion—especially from the former Reichsfilmarchiv [Reich Film Archive]—fell victim to World War II. Out of the more than 800 Bild- und Filmamt productions the German Federal Archives only hold 90 titles, some of them only in fragments. The scarce quantity of still existing World War I film material justifies its importance for historical and film studies.
The presented selection of World War I film material from the German Federal Archives collection is based on Hans Gunther Voigt’s thematic inventory „World War I 1914-1918 in film documents“ from the year 2001. The inventory comprises 371 individual titles and a total of approx. 200 hours of film material. The selection criterion was not the subject „World War I“ in film but the endeavor to compile an inventory of films from that particular time for archival use. What mattered was not the actual censorship date but that the material was from 1918 or earlier. The German Federal Archives digitized 110 titles (approx. 20 hours) to facilitate online access, making them available for use and exploitation. All of the material is federally owned, i.e. the Federal Republic of Germany owns the copyrights. The conservatory aspect determined the selection process: qualitative criteria played a role in the selection of analog material and in the archival conservation of the material.
The films were digitized as part of the European project „EFG1914“ (European Film Gateway), thanks to support from the Deutsche Filminstitut they are now online. Streaming files of the films and relevant metadata have been available online since 2013 and can be accessed via filmportal.de, European Film Gateway „EFG1914“ and Europeana.
Presenting films and their metadata on the German Federal Archive’s Digital Film Collection website enables users to order excerpts and stills. Additionally, the website offers advanced search options.
The moving images on this website represent a broad spectrum of medial events from the World War I era: ranging from feature films such as the war bond campaign film „Rentier Kulicke’s Flug zur Front“ [Pensioner Kulicke’s Flight to the Frontline] to footage from various European theatres of war. This website offers shots from the Western front (e.g. „Lille im dritten Kriegsjahr“ [Lille in the third year of war] or „Bei unseren Helden an der Somme“ [With our heroes at Somme]) as well as from the Eastern front (e.g. „Die Befreiung von Bukowine“ [Liberation from Bukovina] or „Der Waffenstillstand von Brest-Litowsk [The Truce of Brest-Litovsk]). In a number of cases only fragments of the film have survived, these are also included on this website.
The website contains BUFA-productions and films and film fragments i.a. with the following provenance:
- Deutsche Lichtspielgesellschaft (DLG), e.g. „Im Flugzeug über Travemünde“ [Flight over Travemunde];
- Other movies with official provenance, such as the Reichsanstalt für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (RWU), e.g. „Deutsches U-Boot auf Kaperfahrt“ [German Submarine on Mission] and Reichsbank commissioned war bond propaganda films.
- Neutral-Film (with the use of Imperial German Army Air Service’s official film material in the war bond propaganda film „Rentier Kulicke’s Flug zur Front“
- Messter-Film GmbH, esp. their newsreels (Messter-Wochen), which provided German cinemas and neutral third countries with frontline footage as early as 1914, as they had been issued a filming permit very early on.
History of our Collection
The documentary and feature films, newsreels, propaganda and war bond propaganda films presented here have come to the German Federal Archives in a number of—sometimes winding—ways.
BUFA productions make up the largest amount of this part of our film collection. The idea behind the founding of BUFA in 1917 was to centralize and intensify government-controlled propaganda.
BUFA was dissolved in 1919 and renamed „Reichsfilmstelle“ [Reich Film Office]. It became a subordinate of the Reichskanzlei [Reich Chancellery]. One of the essential tasks of the Reichsfilmstelle was to make the old BUFA film stock profitable.
A certain amount of the BUFA-stock was leased out to Universum-Film AG (Ufa), which had been founded in 1917. Official film material and footage relevant for war history was excluded from this lease agreement. Instead this material went on to the Reichsarchiv [Reich Archives] in Potsdam, with the Reichsfilmstelle retaining all power of control.
The Reichsfilmstelle and the Reichsarchiv re-released many of the BUFA films—sometimes slightly altered versions-- and presented them to the national board of censorship between 1921-1922. Sometimes it is impossible to identify the (censored) version of a film, especially when the censor card did not survive, when no additional filmographic sources were found or when the opening and closing credits did not provide any information about the producer and/or the contracting entity. This vagueness pertains to many films on this website. Especially when it comes to fragments, which make up a large part of the filmographic remains from the World War I era, the censored version could often not be distinctly identified.
Furthermore, after the war the Ufa re-released a number of BUFA-films (under its own name) and presented it to the national board of censorship. This led to double censorships that look rather confusing to today’s observer making the copyright situation quite complex.
World War II and the German separation meant a further fragmentation of archival records from the years 1914-1918. Official BUFA records partially ended up at the German Federal Archives in Koblenz, but a greater part was first integrated into the collection of the Reichsfilmarchiv Potsdam, which was founded in 1934, and later ended up at the Staatliches Filmarchiv [State Film Archive of the GDR] Non-official film records remained mostly in private hands. Film material that had been re-used via Ufa’s Kulturfilm-department became part of the Ufi-film collection, as part of the coordination („Gleichschaltung) of Nazi Germany. Once the Allied forces had liquidated Ufi the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation was created to manage the Ufi filmstock.
After 1945 both the German Federal Archives and the State Film Archive of the GDR made significant purchases from private sources: the estate of the film pioneer and film producer Oskar Messter and the estate of Ariel Schimmel, a film distributor who also sold cinematographs. The State Film Archive of the GDR received associated film material/censorship records in 1978 and collections in 1980/81. Further contributions came from the estate of the Chemnitz film producer Curt Puhlfürst (company name: CPC-Film: Curt-Puhlfürst-Chemnitz) and the estate of Albert Fidelius, a private collector and son of a film distributor.
Other archives and museums, among them the Foundation Deutsche Kinemathek, the Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt and the Kreismuseum Bitterfeld, contributed “exchange material” to the German Federal Archives and the State Film Archive of the GDR. An exchange of film records from the era of World War I also occurred before 1990 between the German Federal Archives in Koblenz and the State Film Archive of the GDR. After Germany was united the holdings of the State Film Archive of the GDR and the German Federal Archives were consolidated within the Department Film Archives of the German Federal Archives.
Archival Appraisal and Processing
Prior to the digitization process the selected film records, which had been chosen from the German Federal Archives holdings from the World War I era for online presentation, had to undergo vast archival—and sometimes also conservatory—work. We identified all available censorship information of the selected films, whereby we were able to assemble a filmographic documentation of German Federal Archives owned films from the World War I era and determine the content for the master. One of the difficulties we encountered was properly matching the material with the first and second censorship.
Most of the censorship information dates back to the time of nationally centralized film censorship after 1920. The historical censorship decision—meaning the „first censorship“ was often not verifiable, since prior to 1920 films were censored on a municipal level. To create an index of the content we had to match information from the three previous archives, filmographic data and the German Federal Archives filmstock. Our website provides access to basic filmographic information and content information in the form of supplementary metadata, which facilitate detailed access to the contents of each film. We also created indices of persons and of places.
Some of our archival curiosities are fragments and so-called “compilations” that came about from the re-use of World War I era film material in new films after 1918. In both cases we were able to identify the original cinematographic works, thanks to the existing censorship information and by comparing the material. In the few cases where we were not able to do so the fragments were conserved as such and received an archival title. For example „Die österreichisch-ungarische Kriegsmarine im Weltkrieg“ [The Austro-Hungarian Kriegsmarine in the World War]; „Proklamation des Königreiches Polen. Warschau, 5. November 1916“ [Announcement by the Polish Kingdom]; „Weltkrieg 1914-18 (Frontflieger u.a.) [World War 1914-1918 [Airforce et al.]]“; „Erzherzog Joseph auf dem Kriegsschauplatz“ [Archduke Joseph at the Theatre of War]; „Kaiserliche Kriegsmarine“ [Imperial Kriegsmarine].
Right before we went into the digitizing process the technical aspects of the selected films were checked, while conservatory and technical criteria were decisive in determining appropriate master files. This sometimes necessitated additional conservatory work—such as creating copies or fixing spliced elements. The user can access the entire World War I era material from our Digital Film Collection by searching the topic “World War I”.
a) Citation Rule for Streaming Files
[Title of the work], German Federal Archives, Film Collection: [Videolink]
The film “Rentier Kulicke’s Flug zur Front“ (1918) is cited as:
Rentier Kulicke’s Flug zur Front, 1918, German Federal Archives, Film Collection:
b) Citation Rules for Copies (Films, Excerpts, Stills)
The signature, which is relevant for the citation of copies, will be shown in the opening credits of the provided file/the image border of the provided still.
The copy of a film/film clip/film still from “Rentier Kulicke’s Flug zur Front” (1918) is cited as follows:
Rentier Kulicke’s Flug zur Front, 1918, Source: German Federal Archives, Film Collection: F 008533
1914-1922 (1939-1940, 1980)
BARKHAUSEN, Hans, Filmpropaganda für Deutschland im Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg. Hildesheim 1982.
BIRETT, Herbert (Hrsg.), Verzeichnis in Deutschland gelaufener Filme. Entscheidungen der Filmzensur 1911-1920, München 1980.
BOELCKE, Willi, Presseabteilungen und Pressearchive des Auswärtigen Amtes 1871-1945, in: ARCHIVMITTEILUNGEN 9 (1959), S. 43-48.
DIBBETS, Karel (Hrsg.), Film and the First World War. Film Culture in Transition, Amsterdam 1995.
GESCHICHTE DES DOKUMENTARISCHEN FILMS IN DEUTSCHLAND, Bd.1: Kaiserreich 1895-1918, hrsg. von Uli JUNG und Martin LOIPERDINGER, Stuttgart 2005.
GRÜNEWALD, Marion, In Deutsch-Ostafrika während des Ersten Weltkriegs. Aufnahmen aus den Jahren 1914-1916, Göttingen 1976.
GÜNTHER, Walther (Hrsg.), Verzeichnis Deutscher Filme, Berlin 1927.
GÜNTHER, Walther (Hrsg.), Verzeichnis Deutscher Filme, I. Nachtrag, Berlin 1928.
KNUTH, Ralf, Vorgeschichte, Gründung und Entwicklung der Universum-Film-Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa) im Ersten Weltkrieg, unv. Magisterarbeit, Düsseldorf 1993.
KOSZYK, Kurt, Deutsche Pressepolitik im Ersten Weltkrieg, Düsseldorf 1968.
LASER, Kurt, Zentrum für Filmpropaganda. Das bewegte Bild während des Ersten Weltkrieges, in: BERLINISCHE MONATSSCHRIFT 4 (2000), S. 49-57.
LÖHR, Matthias, Filme über den U-Bootskrieg im 1. Weltkrieg im Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv Berlin, in: DAS ARCHIV - JAHRBUCH 2005, S. 26-35
LOIPERDINGER, Martin (Hrsg.), Oskar Messter - Filmpionier der Kaiserzeit. Katalog zu einer Ausstellung des Filmmuseums Potsdam und des Deutschen Museums München, München 1994.
MÜHL-BENNINGHAUS, Wolfgang, German film censorship during World War I, in: FILM HISTORY 1/1997.
MÜHL-BENNINGHAUS, Wolfgang, Vom Augusterlebnis zur UFA-Gründung: der deutsche Film im 1. Weltkrieg, Berlin 2004.
OPPELT, Ulrike, Film und Propaganda im Ersten Weltkrieg. Propaganda als Medienrealität im Aktualitäten und Dokumentarfilm, Stuttgart 2002.
ROTHER, Rainer (Hrsg.), Die letzten Tage der Menschheit - Bilder des Ersten Weltkrieges, Berlin 1994.
STIASNY Philipp, Das Kino und der Krieg. Deutschland 1914 –1929, München 2009.
STIASNY Philipp, Spannung, Tiefsinn, Sensation. Das populäre Kino in Deutschland und der Krieg, 1914-1929, unv. Diss., Berlin 2006.
VOIGT, Hans-Gunter, Der Erste Weltkrieg 1914-1918 in Filmdokumenten, unv. Sachthematisches Inventar des Bundesarchivs, Koblenz 2001.
WILKE, Jürgen, Krieg als Medienereignis. Zur Geschichte seiner Vermittlung in der Neuzeit, in: Heinz-Peter PREUSSER (Hrsg.), Krieg in den Medien, Amsterdam, New York 2004, S. 83-104.
WIPPERMANN, Wolfgang, Die Entwicklung der Wochenschau in Deutschland: „Eiko"-Woche - Kriegsausgabe Nr. 36/1915, Göttingen 1970.
WIPPERMANN, Wolfgang, Die deutschen Wochenschauen im Ersten Weltkrieg, in: PUBLIZISTIK 16 (1971), S. 268-278.
a) Relevant documents from the German Federal Archives Collection
R 9346 Zulassungskarten deutscher Filmprüfstellen [Approval reports issued by German film review offices]
R 901 Auswärtiges Amt [Federal Foreign Office] (Classification group 9.2 photo and film)
RH 18 Chef der Heeresarchive [Chief of Army Archives] (Classification group 188.8.131.52 Subject group 4)
RH 61 Kriegsgeschichtliche Forschungsanstalt des Heeres [Army Research Institute for Military History] (classification group 10 group XIII (Political history of the world war))
R 109 Universum Film AG
b) Additional audiovisual historical records
Picture Archives/Digital Picture Archives of the German Federal Archives The German Federal Archives hold approx. 11 million images, aerial photographs and posters on German history. The earliest photographs date back to the year 1860. The focus of this database is events and persons. The Digital Picture Archives (http://www.bild.bundesarchiv.de/) of the German Federal Archives contain a representative cross section of more than 200,000 images. Federal Press Office owned photos are stored here as well.
BILD 104 Bild und Filmamt [Photo and Film Office] (BUFA)
The holdings comprise approx. 1,100 photos of war-related events and the daily routine during World War I, a part of this collection can be researched via the Digital Picture Archives of the German Federal Archives. After the BUFA was liquidated in 1919 their holdings were taken over by the newly found “Reichsfilmstelle”, whose main purpose was to conserve BUFA material and make it profitable. Later on the military photo collection, which contained approx. 72,000 motifs at the time of BUFA’s liquidation, was signed over to the military districts and military academies for educational purposes. BUFA’s image records came from the collection of the former military archives in Stuttgart, which ceded the collection to the German Federal Archives in the early 1950s. The collection documents war-related events and daily war routine between 1915-1918. These are censored photos, prior to publication clearance was required. The majority of this collection was photographed at the Western front, while only a few photos from the Eastern front have survived.
PH 35: Photo and Film Office (BUFA)
The holdings contain a file with photos from “operation Albion” that had come from a private collection and was given to the military archives, as well as a small collection of photos from Kaiser Wilhelm’s trip to Romania, volume: 40 photos.