Entertainment industry as a means of propaganda

ID: 232
The entertainment industry as an attempt to recreate normal life in Lviv. Cinemas are a place of recreation or a place of propaganda. What films did Lviv residents watch during the Nazi occupation.

This story elaborates on the theme Holocaust Topography, that was prepared as a part of the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

The occupied city lived a life certainly not like a peaceful one, but not like a battlefield either. Various industries, including the entertainment industry, worked in Lviv to create the appearance of a normal life. The most popular entertainment was still cinema, which was used for propaganda and for increasing the commitment and loyalty of the non-Jewish population to the new occupation regime.

On July 13, 1941, Lviv cinemas resumed their work. Among them, there was one of the oldest cinemas in Lviv, "Kopernik". Founded in 1912, it immediately became popular as it had a good auditorium and accommodated 425 spectators. Over years, it repeatedly changed names and owners. At the time of the Nazi occupation the cinema was known as "Kopernik", later it was renamed "Studio"; the previous name was restituited after the war. During the war, Lviv residents used to go to this cinema gladly. In addition to "Kopernik", "Roksi", "Europa" and "Kasino" started working. The ticket cost was 2.50 rubles.

The Ukrainski Shchodenni Visti (Ukrainian Daily News, the Lviv City Administration newspaper), published in Lviv in July-August 1941 (editor Osyp Bodnarovych), in the issue number 6 of July 12, described the resumption of film screenings in the city as follows:


From now on, the German film will indicate the direction of Ukrainian cultural construction, which will have a propaganda and cultural significance for its full development. Until now, Bolshevik violence did not allow German films on the screens of Lviv and Ukraine in general. Now this is over. Soon after the liberation of Lviv by the German armed forces, it was possible to prepare the opening of three cinemas as well as a cinema for soldiers. The first films will be shown on Sunday, July 13. In a series of exciting weekly reports, the population of Lviv will be able to experience the invincible march of the German armed forces and its epoch-making consequences. These historical documents are at the same time a convincing evidence of the German filmmaking, which has now launched its victorious campaign in Ukraine.

The importance of propaganda in "Ukrainian cultural construction" was especially emphasized by the media. The newspaper enthusiastically tells that from now on Lviv residents will receive convincing evidence of the invincible march of the German armed forces, truthful information about the "epoch-making consequences".

That is, the distorted and false information of the Soviet occupiers has finally been replaced by the "true" Nazi one. The newspaper raises the status of cinemas as a place of receiving not only pleasant impressions, but also the truth; it emphasizes the importance of accessibility of cinemas for the population as well.

As of the end of July, two more cinemas for civilian population, “Park” and “Wanda”, resumed their work. In its issue number 15, the Ukrainski Shchodenni Visti describes Lviv cinemas in the following manner:


After the terrible Bolshevik organizational chaos, a new life and order have begun to improve every day in the city of Lviv. The Ukrainian Film Center has also started its work. It has been working since July 2 of this year, and its current head, Mr. Volodymyr Davydovych, makes every effort to help the city's population to enjoy in the cinemas the free minutes of the day that they have after work and to make it possible for them to forget the horrible hours that they survived a few weeks ago. Almost every day, the Ukrainian Film Center opens a new cinema for the public. The first films began to be shown on July 13 of this year in the cinemas "Kopernik", "Kasino", "Europa" and "Roksi". A few days later, the “Park” and ”Wanda” cinemas were opened. In other cinemas, inventory is now carried out, their property being transferred to the appropriate commissioners. It is to be hoped that all cinemas in Lviv will be opened next week and that the Lviv audience will be able to watch the films they have longed for so much for the last two years. Over the past nine days, the cinemas, opened so far, have sold 31,216 tickets, of which 75,047 rubles have been earned. Of that amount, 22,514 rubles are due to the City Administration. Commissioners have been appointed for all the cinemas of Lviv, the best specialists being selected, mostly young and energetic Ukrainians, who guarantee that they will run the cinemas entrusted to them in the best possible way.

The information about cinemas immediately begins with a binary comparison of life under different occupations. Of course, the Nazi one prevails as guarantee of "new life" and "order" in Lviv. Next, the author describes cinemas as a place of pleasant recreation after work, a place of relaxation and an opportunity to forget the "horrors" of the past weeks, which the people of Lviv had to go through (an allusion to the executions by the NKVD in Lviv prisons). The material ends with statistics on ticket sales. The last sentence draws readers' attention to the fact that commissioners have been appointed for all the city's cinemas — the best specialists and mostly "young and energetic Ukrainians". This sentence, among other things, emphasizes the new opportunities that opened up for Ukrainians with the advent of Nazi rule.

In total, more than fifteen cinemas operated in Lviv during the Nazi occupation. Yevhen Nakonechny, a Ukrainian bibliographer, historian and linguist, a witness to the events in Lviv, writes:

War weakens public morale. […] Lviv’s young people were successfully captured by film mania. Cinemas were overcrowded during the occupation. Dubbing techniques were not known at that time, so films for the population of the General Province were produced with subtitles in two languages: Polish and Ukrainian.

Before each film screening, there was compulsory watching of newsreels. It was impossible to miss it. The posters read: "Attention! Entry is prohibited during show."

On July 27, 1941, the cinemas "Kasino", "Kopernik" and "Roksi" indicated on billboards that, before watching films, viewers will see the "German Weekly (A Crusade Against Bolshevism — Terrible Deeds in Lviv)." Among common topics in such weeklies, there were live-action films about Jews.

At the beginning of each show, a film weekly called Wochenschau was shown, beginning with a pathetic exclamation from the announcer: “Victoria! The Germans are fighting and winning on all fronts!” At the same time, the capital letter "V" appeared on the screen. A constant propaganda topic was a video about Jews and the dangers of typhus. It looked like this: at the gate of a house there are five or six young Jews with long sidelocks and in traditional black hats, talking about something lively. The Jews are constantly swaying restlessly or rocking rhythmically, as they do in prayer. A lady, a bright blonde in expensive furs, suddenly enters the gate from the street. The young Jews pay no attention to her and keep talking. To go further into the house to the stairs, the blonde has to elbow her way with a grimace of disgust. After she passed the Jews, one can see, in a close-up, a large louse crawling on her fur. The screen warns: "Lice cause typhus, Jews are carriers of lice!"

In the newsreels, propaganda authors tried to play with various feelings of the audience, in particular, with the feeling of fear of disease in general and typhus in particular. According to the logic of this propaganda film, the Jews were equated with typhus carriers because they were lice carriers. This is just one example of the dehumanization of Jews as a stage on the road to genocide during World War II. In general, equating people with insects or animals is a common action in the history of various terrors.

To increase the influence of propaganda, newsreels were not only shown in the auditoriums, but also described in the press. Thus, the Lvivski Visti, a daily for the District of Galicia, which was published in Lviv in 1941-1944 and was the successor of the Ukrainski Shchodenni Visti from August 1941 (editors-in-chief Hustav Andrashko, Osyp Bodnarovych, M. Semchyshyn), published a note entitled "Typhoid fever: A Film at the Service of Health Propaganda" in the issue dated January 5, 1943.

There is no better means of propaganda among the masses than movies. Therefore, it is used in the fight against typhus.

Such a film was recently produced by the Propaganda Department. A sound illustration is added to the images. The film depicts cemetery crosses, under which German soldiers who fell victim to a terrible disease, typhus, are buried. The second image is a school class. The students sing, one of them catches her neck. This movement is seen by a student next to her. The student caught a louse on her neck. She is embarrassed, the class starts laughing. The teacher explains the dangers of lice to the children.

Then the film leads the viewer through garbage dumps, through rotting dwellings, among a dirty big city crowd. The viewer also sees all the measures taken by the German sanitary authorities to overcome the dirt, which is the first condition for the spread of typhus. In the first place, these measures apply to the Jewish population, which is forcibly deloused and washed and have their hair cut. Typhoid fever is not dangerous for Jews, because only 10% of cases among them are fatal while the mortality rate in the Aryan population reaches 40-50%. The final part of the film presents the work of the Hygienic Institute in Warsaw, which produces a vaccine against typhus.

This example, like the previous one, depicts the Jews as a mortal threat, as they allegedly were carriers of typhus. In this and similar materials they were dehumanized, equating with "lice". Also, the propaganda did not just manipulate statistics but presented outright lies saying that typhus posed no danger to the Jews while being a deadly disease for the Aryans. Thus, the authors of this propaganda material created an image of the Jews as an inferior social group, which should not belong to the human race but must be separated or, still better, destroyed.

In addition to feature films, the viewers were offered documentaries on local topics, which showed how the Ukrainian population welcomed German troops. In one of these newsreels one can hear the announcer’s voice:

Lviv: traces of heavy fighting are visible in the city. The Bavarian mountain infantry, who already seized the city in 1939, have recaptured Lviv. The Ukrainian population cordially welcomes the German soldiers as liberators from the bloody terror of Bolshevism. Before fleeing the city, Jewish GPU agents murdered countless Ukrainian nationalists. Thousands of innocent men and women fell victim to Bolshevik terror. That's where the horrific murders took place. In addition, the killers set fire to the shocking traces of their crimes in a prison captured by the German military. The fire has already been extinguished. And here they are: numerous horrible crimes have been revealed. The murder victims are dug up for identification. Men and women, children and the elderly, no one escaped the terrible inhumanity. The Bolshevik killers murdered these innocent victims with knives, axes, hand grenades and pistols.

While in some films the Nazi propaganda machine equated Jews with "lice" in order to stir up an aversion for them, in others it showed them as brutal murderers of Ukrainian nationalists, women and children, as GPU agents to provoke a thirst for revenge. Thus, one can see that various techniques and methods are used in propaganda here. To reinforce the main idea of guilt and responsibility of the Jewish population for Soviet crimes and, accordingly, the need to punish them, as well as to increase the effectiveness of propaganda, the Nazis used: mixing selective truth (communist terror) and lies (organized by Jewish GPU agents); generalization and distortion of facts (alleging that only Ukrainian nationalists were killed); use of hyperbolization and prejudice, intensifying their message with emotionally coloured adjectives ("terrible inhumanity", "bloody terror", "shocking traces of crimes"); contrasts (children and the elderly) and detailed descriptions of the crime, appeals to fear, repeated repetitions, conditioned reflexes, demonization of the enemy, and so on.

The propaganda affected the consciousness of Lviv residents (Poles and Ukrainians) significantly. What they had before were mostly prejudices; now they were included in a well-prepared scenario of violence against Jews. One of the first steps in it was the Lviv pogrom.

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Vul. Kopernyka, 09 – cinemas Kopernyk, Sans-Rival

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1. "Німецька фільма та її культурно-політичні завдання в Україні", Українські щоденні вісті: Орган Управи міста Львова, 12.07.1941, ч. 6, 4.
2. "Львівські кінотеатри",  Українські щоденні вісті: Орган Управи міста Львова, 23.07.1941, ч. 15, 3.
3. "Плямистий тиф. Фільма на услугах Пропаганди здоровʼя", Львівські вісті: Щоденник для Дистрикту Галичини, 05.01.1943, ч. 3 (423), 4. 
4. Євген Наконечний. "ШОА" у Львові, (Львів, ЛА Піраміда, 2006), 284.
5. Transcripted text of the newsreel "German troops enter Lviv in 1941" http://www.lvivcenter.org/uk/uvd/record/?vd_movieid=1069

Cover photo
Olena Andronatiy
Translated by Andriy Masliukh