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The Many Names of Leni Riefenstahl

Essay 2012 10 Seiten






Triumph of the Will and filmmaking for Der Führer

Post -War




‘I want to become something quite great’- Leni Riefenstahl (Bach 2007, p. 9).

Leni Riefenstahl has been, and still is, a much-discussed person. She has been called many things, and given many labels.

She has been called a liar, a man-eater, a Nazi, an extraordinary talent and a genius.

She was an actress, director, dancer, filmmaker and photographer.

In her career, she has done everything between making Nazi propaganda films, to taking photos of Mick Jagger, to photograph unknown tribes in Africa.

Leni had many talents, but her great passion, and what she is best known for is her great filmmaking.

She was the brain behind the masterpiece of propaganda films Triumph of the Will [1935] , which she made for Hitler and the Nazi Party before World War 2.

She was a close friend to Hitler before and during the war, and as described in Bach (2007 p.388) she is probably best known as “Hitler’s Filmmaker”.

She continued her friendship and collaboration with Hitler long after it was a well-known fact that Hitler was responsible for an unimaginable Genocide.

There have been many speculations on why she stayed close with Hitler, which raises the questions; was Leni supportive or neutral to the regime? Was she forced in any way? Or was she simply loyal to her country, and to her friend Der Führer himself?

To even begin to understand her complex character and her work, one must know her full story. The way from her adolescence in Berlin, until she turned in to be one of the world’s most famous filmmakers and photographers, with the help from her great talent, and of Adolf Hitler.


Leni’s birth name was Hélène Amalie Bertha Riefenstahl. She was born on August the 22,1902, in a district called Wedding in Berlin.

Her father, Alfred Theodor Paul Riefenstahl, was a plumber by profession. Later in life he became a successful businessman (Taschen 2001, p.296).

Her mothers name was Bertha Ida Riefenstahl, and Leni had one younger brother, Heinz (Bach, 2007).

Leni seemed to have a good relationship with her mother, and the two Riefenstahl women often went behind Alfred’s back together. As described in Taschen (2001, p. 296) Bertha and Leni used to secretly go to the cinema together when Alfred was away on hunting trips.

Bach (2007, p.12) shows that there has appeared strong evidence that her mother’s father was Jewish, meaning that Leni herself was part Jewish. Later, Hitler would put a stop to any speculations and rumours about Leni’s family background.

Wedding in Berlin was a hard place to grow up. It was a district in the industrial edges of Berlin, a labour district. Families lived in cramped one-room flats. Death by Tuberculosis and suicide was daily happenings in Wedding (Bach, 2007 p.11).

Leni’s adolescence seems to be very much marked by her father. Alfred was an authority figure who ruled his family with an iron hand and strict discipline.

He never had much fate in his daughter’s skills. As quoted in Bach (2007,p.21) he once told his daughter: ‘Personally I am convinced that you have little talent, and will never be more than mediocre’.

At the age of 16 Leni attended dancing lessons, paid for by her mother, kept a secret from her father. She was very confidant, and determined to do something great with her life. After a while she was dancing in venues all over Germany, and she also got bookings in Prague and Zurich (Taschen, 2001).



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497 KB
2012 (September)
many names leni riefenstahl



Titel: The Many Names of Leni Riefenstahl