The Censorship Procedure in Austria, the Czechoslovak Republic and Germany (1920-1933) Censorship Regulations in the Republic of Weimar Czechoslovakia Austria

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Censorship Regulations in the Republic of Weimar

A short history of film censorship in Germany (1896-1946)

During the Wilhelminian period film assessment was one of the responsibilities of the police. Cinema owners had to show their programs to the police authorities first, because they were the ones who gave permission to show them to the public.

The situation changed after the World War I. On 12th November 1918 there was a proclamation of the People’s Council: Abolition of Censorship including the censorship of films by power of law (“No censorship will take place…”). As a consequence, a large number of so-called “Sitten- and Aufklärungsfilme” (films about facts of life and sexual enlightenment films) were produced until 1920 [for example "Die Glühende Kammer" and "Freie Liebe"]. Conservative voices raised fierce objections. The National Assembly passed the Reichlichtspielgesetz/RLG (Reich Moving Picture Law), which took effect on 20th May 1920.

According to this law, each film production company (or the importers of foreign productions) had to submit their films as well as photos and posters for approval [application form]. Three new institutions decided on the distribution and the screening of films in the Republic of Weimar:

  • The Filmprüfstelle München (Censorship Office Munich),
  • The Filmprüfstelle Berlin (Censorship Office Berlin) and
  • The Film-Oberprüfstelle (Censorship Headquarters in Berlin).

The censorship institutions did have the same the status as courts. They were Reich authorities with functions of an administrative court in the area of responsibility of the Reich Ministry of the Interior. Committees, consisting of 5 members, usually examined a film: the chairman (a civil servant) and 4 representatives of different groups that were nominated for three years. There were a screening and a hearing, if wanted the committee could also ask experts for advice and then, the committee’s members made a ruling. The verdict was recorded in written form and explained the reasons for permission, for shortening the film or prohibiting it. The so called “censorship decisions” (Zensurentscheidung) were valid for the whole territory of the Weimar Republic. If the producer (or distributor) was given permission to show a film, the censorship authorities issued a registration card (Zulassungskarte [link_cen: 0001_dif] ). A list of examined films (Zensurliste) was published once a week.

The reasons indicated in the Reich Moving Picture Law for prohibiting an admission or insisting on cuts were:

  • Danger to public law and order (content degradation of the state and means of power as there are army, navy, police and civil servants, to cast doubt upon the trust in the pillars of society and professions of public life, aggravation of class and political antagonism, an appeal for class struggle, danger of turmoil and strike, to revolt against laws, to set on the state, endangering of the health of the spectators).
  • Offending religious beliefs
  • Having an immoral or dulling effect (meaning the demoralizing influence on sexual or criminal fields, the satisfaction of basic instincts, the blunting of human feelings with rough behaviour, cruel murders, agony, bloody duels or adultery portrayed as trivial offences, the demonstration of sexual acts, nudity shown in a sexually arousing manner).
  • Endangering of the German reputation or its relation to foreign states

There was several amendments [press article] to the Reich Moving Picture Law. The most important changes dated from 1931: In March a section was incorporated in the RLG § 2 which prescribed that films "against the unlimited showing of which reasons for prohibition exist on the basis of § 1 may be permitted to be shown only to certain circles of people or in limited performance conditions." In October the point “danger for public law and order” was expanded with the phrase “disturbance of vital interests of the state”. Furthermore the Minister of the Interior itself was now authorized to intervene against a film.

The practice of censorship changed fundamentally with the Nazi take over (the “Machtergreifung”) in January 1933: the “Ministry of Enlightenment of the People and Propaganda”, headed by Joseph Goebbels, was founded. This institution then had the jurisdiction for the Censorship Offices and Headquarters.

A new version of the film censorship law, the Lichtspielgesetz / LSG (Moving Picture Law), took effect on 16th February 1934 and the section concerning reasons for prohibition was significantly expanded. Not only the assessment of films, but also the film production was totally under the control of the state. The establishment of the “Reichsfilmdramaturg” that had to examine all screenplays in advance meant that the power of the censorship authorities diminished. The film assessment bodies were abolished by 1938.

A direct consequence of the Nazi takeover was an additional examination. Even very successful films were examined anew - widely unnoticed by public - and some of them were prohibited. In addition there was a new interpretation of the law concerning foreign films [press article] by Goebbels: all participants of a film crew not only had to be in possession of a German passport but had to be of German by ancestry.


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