From its earliest days, the Nazi Party staged public events and rituals as a way to build support for Nazi ideology and define who belonged to the Nazis' so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). After coming to power in 1933, Nazi leaders often used these types of propaganda events to promote the false picture that the German population was united in total support of the Nazi regime.1 Because Nazi ideology glorified the idea of personal sacrifice for the greater good of the German nation, Nazi public rituals often involved memorials or ceremonies that honored dead Nazis. These figures were held up as martyrs who had sacrificed their lives to advance Nazi goals.
This amateur film of Nazi memorial sites was recorded in Munich in 1937 by Ross A. Baker, an American chemistry professor. Baker received sabbatical leave from his position at City University of New York in order to study microchemistry at the University of Vienna. Ross, his wife Helen, and their sons traveled to Munich in October 1937 on their way to Vienna, and they captured some of their experiences on film.2 The featured footage shows public Nazi propaganda rituals at sites related to the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, when Adolf Hitler led an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the democratic German government of the Weimar Republic. The Nazis who were killed during this failed insurrection became central figures in the public rituals of the Nazi Party.
The first part of the film shows a Nazi memorial at the Feldherrnhalle (“Field Marshals’ Hall”)3 on Munich’s Odeonsplatz, which is where the Beer Hall Putsch had ended during a shootout with police. Shortly after the Nazi rise to power in early 1933, Hitler ordered the creation of a large memorial there. The regime installed a large bronze monument topped by a swastika and an eagle on the east side of the Feldherrnhalle. It was always decorated with fresh wreaths and watched at all times by an SS guard. The memorial became the site of annual ceremonies honoring the insurrection. The Odeonsplatz in front of the Feldherrnhalle was regularly used for nighttime Nazi Party rallies, and new recruits to the SS swore oaths of allegiance to Hitler here.4
German citizens passing by the memorial were expected to give the Nazi salute, and those who did not were harassed. The film shows pedestrians and bicyclists stretching out their arms in salute as they approach the memorial. People faced pressure to perform this public show of respect for Nazi martyrs, but it still gave German citizens—and foreign observers like the Bakers—the impression that the entire population stood behind the regime. Baker’s wife Helen wrote that “Everyone who passes—on foot, in autos or on bikes, salutes gravely. It is most impressive.”5
But the Bakers’ film does not show those Germans who avoided passing by the memorial altogether. In fact, the short alley behind the Feldherrnhalle became known as “Shirker's Alley” (“Drückebergergasse”) because many German citizens used the lane to avoid passing by the Nazi memorial.
The Bakers’ footage ends with a changing of the guard ceremony at one of the so-called “Honor Temples” constructed on Munich’s Königsplatz to hold the remains of the Nazis killed in the Beer Hall Putsch. The installation of Nazi memorials at important public sites throughout Munich changed the city’s landscape and solidified the reputation of Munich as the so-called “capital of the Nazi movement.” This film provides a glimpse into how the Nazi regime often took over and changed spaces of symbolic importance.6