Saturday, April 23, 2011

Marlene Dietrich: "The Only Important Thing"

Marlene Dietrich behind enemy lines.
Courtesy of Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.

It was December 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge was raging across the Ardennes Forest of Nazi-occupied Belgium. A woman with a German accent, wearing an American soldier's uniform, sat shivering in the snow in the midst of some American soldiers. German troops were moving in, closer and closer. She fingered the pistol in her pocket. She now had to face the thought she had been trying to avoid ever since she had come back to Europe: would the Germans find her, and if so, what would they do to her?

Her name was Marlene Dietrich. She had been born in Berlin, Germany, in 1901. As a young woman, she had become a stage entertainer and then a successful movie star, first in her native Germany and then in America. Her films were so popular in Germany that in 1937, Adolf Hitler (who owned a collection of her movies) sent personal messengers to Marlene to offer her a very rewarding movie career: she could be the "queen of German film" if only she would return from the United States to Germany and make films for the Third Reich.

She told the messengers that she was currently under contract to make films in Hollywood with her longtime mentor, Jewish-German director Josef von Sternberg, but that she would gladly make a German film if he would be allowed to direct it.

There was a tense silence. Marlene finally broke it. "Do I rightly understand," she asked, "that you refuse to have Mr. von Sternberg make a film in your country because he's Jewish?"

The German messengers began to talk at once. They said that Marlene had been "infected" with false American propoganda and that there was no anti-Semitism in Germany. Marlene knew better. Hitler had drastically altered the Germany of her youth . . .

Excerpt from "Marlene Dietrich: The Only Important Thing" from Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue.

(Author-signed copies can be obtained from the bookstore linked above).

No comments:

Post a Comment