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Censorship Regulations in the Republic of Weimar

Peculiarities of the Reich Moving Picture Law (RLG)

A fundamental issue to conceive the German film censorship praxis in the Republic of Weimar is to understand in what context the Reich Moving Picture Law passed into law.

Censorship was actually abolished in the first German democratic state. The Reich Moving Picture Law took effect after lengthy discussions between the Federal Government (the “Reich”) and the German states (the “Länder”). There was open conflict not only between left and right-winged politicians but also between the Federal Government and the German States which wanted to maintain control [correspondence].

The implementation of film censorship law was a concession on the conservative part of the National Assembly. The unprogressive faction argued that the idea of social-political control takes precedence over the idea of the politically mature citizen [press article]. The left-wing and right-wing groups often agreed on the assumption of a (more or less diffuse) danger that emanates from the moving pictures - albeit with very different arguments. However, it can be said that some liberal factions tried to make sure that democratic principles would be respected in a law that could inherently contradict the spirit of democracy. Some peculiarities in the statutes of the Reich Moving Picture Law arose from these misgivings:

Firstly the Reich Moving Picture Law did not allow a censorship of content (Inhaltszensur). Only the (supposed) effects of a film on the “average cinemagoer” should be considered for the permission or the ban (RLG § 1 section 2). The concept of “censorship based upon effect” (Wirkungszensur) is the crucial point to the RLG. “The effect of visual signs remains, however, highly speculative in nature“ (Keitz 1999). In addition even in 1932 Wolfgang Petzet queried the existence of something like an “average cinemagoer”.

Secondly the so called “Tendenz-Klausel” - trying to certify the right to freedom of speech - explicitly prohibits the ban of films because of political bias. The clause says that “a permit may not be denied on the basis of a political, social, religious, ethical or philosophical view as such”. In addition “the admission cannot be declined because of reasons outside of the moving pictures’ content” (RLG § 1 section 2). However, the addition “as such” meant that those films could be banned due to the reasons for interdiction mentioned in RLG § 1. The affair POTEMKIN exemplifies that it was quite possible to undermine this clause.

Thirdly the assessment committee consisted of a civil servant and four other members (artists, film producers, welfare officers, educationalists), who were appointed by the Reich Minister of the Interior for the duration of three years on the basis of lists of suggestions (RLG § 9). The composition of the committees varied from case to case exactly to avoid exertion of influence on the censorship authorities. However, if the composition of a specific censorship commission seemed to be “unfavourable”, the applicant could try to postpone the hearing.

Fourthly producers, distributors, the states of the German Reich and even the committee’s chairman (or a minimum of two of its members) had the legal right to object to the permission or prohibition expressed by the two Censorship Offices. Then, the Censorship Headquarters passed judgment on the film and decided as final arbitrator (RLG § 4, § 12, and § 13).

Finally, according to the Reich Moving Picture Law in special cases a film could be permitted only for screenings in closed circles (“Bildstreifen, gegen deren unbeschränkte Vorführung Versagungsgründe aus § 1 vorliegen, können zur Vorführung vor bestimmten Personenkreisen oder unter beschränkenden Vorführbedingungen zugelassen werden”). This kind of limited performance conditions were chosen as a compromise to avoid a ban. Nevertheless a "closed showing" meant in fact a prohibition for public screenings.

Some examples of such cases of restricted screenings are:

ANDERS ALD DIE ANDERN (“Different from the Others”, Germanv 1919, directed by Richard Oswald): The first film in favour of homosexuality was permitted for screenings only for doctors and medical students. In 1927 the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld directed the semi-documentary GESETZE DER LIEBE. AUS DER MAPPE EINES SEXUALFORSCHERS (“The Laws of Love”) which incorporated parts of the ANDERS ALS DIE ANDERN in its last two reels. The fictional parts were now titled GEÄCHTET. TRAGÖDIE EINES HOMOSEXUELLEN (“Outlaw! Tragedy of Homosexuality”). GESETZE DER LIEBE was examined and banned several times in 1927. The film was finally permitted for screenings only for doctors, medical students and those working in scientific and establishments [registration card]. See also: Helga Belach/Wolfgang Jacobsen (1990) and

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (USA 1929/1930) [censorship decision]: The anti-war film produced by Universal Pictures was permitted only to closed circles of firstly veteran associations, associations of war-disabled persons and associations of soldiers’ surviving dependents; secondly associations and working groups devoted to peace among nations, and finally professional organisations and unions or societies devoted to further education.

SEMLJA (Erde, SU 1930): The film, directed by Alexander Dowschenko, was banned for young people and, at the same time, permitted only for employers of the film industry and members of the press by the Censorship Office in Berlin on 11th July 1930.

REICHSPRÄSIDENTENWAHL IN DER HANSESTADT HAMBURG [censorship decision] (Germany 1932): The propaganda film for the election campaign of 1932 was permitted only for events organized by the German Communist Party (KPD).

THE LAND OF PROMISE (USA/Palestine 1936) [press article]: The Zionist propaganda film, distributed in Germany by the "Palästina-Filmstelle der Zionistischen Vereinigung für Deutschland“ and directed by Judas Leman, was permitted for Jewish audiences only. See also Hillel Tryster (1985), Ronny Loewy (n.s.), and


Source Edition urrogat Production Introduction Censorship Regulations Battleship Potemkin Horror Films Conclusion Bibliography