- (AFP) - Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favourite
film-maker, marked her 100th birthday with the news that German public
prosecutors have opened a judicial inquiry into claims that she has denied
- The prosecutor's office in Frankfurt chose the day to
say it had launched a preliminary investigation following a complaint by
the German gypsies' association Rom.
- Riefenstahl used gypsies from German concentration camps
as extras in her 1940 film "Tiefland," but Rom says her long-standing
denials that any of them were subsequently killed, and that she had seen
them all after the war, are lies.
- It says many of the gypsies ended up back in concentration
camps where they were killed by the Nazi regime.
- Riefenstahl is widely acknowledged as one of the great
film-makers of all time, but she remains hugely controversial because her
two major works were funded by, and intended to glorify, the Nazis.
- They were "Triumph of the Will" in 1934, which
all but deified Adolf Hitler, and "Olympia" in 1936, a record
of the Olympics staged in Berlin that year.
- Denying the Holocaust -- the mass slaughter by Hitler's
regime of millions of people, especially Jews, before and during World
War II -- is a crime in Germany.
- It can range from denying that the Holocaust ever took
place, to claiming that it was not as serious as history has recorded.
- What is not denied about "Tiefland" is that
gypsies were selected from two camps for use in filming. The issue is what
happened to them afterwards.
- In an interview in April, Riefenstahl said she had seen
all of them after the war ended in 1945. "Nothing happened to any
one of them," she added.
- Rom called on her to retract the statement, and when
it announced last week that it was taking legal action, she issued a statement
deploring the Nazis' treatment of gypsies.
- According to her production company then, she is "aware
many gypsies died in the concentration camps, and that the gypsies "suffered
also promised not to repeat her statement that nothing had happened to
- However, the prosecutor's office is legally obliged to
open a preliminary inquiry whenever it receives an allegation of a crime,
in order to establish whether further action should be taken.
- A spokesman for Riefenstahl, who lives near Munich in
southern Germany, said she had already expressed regret and would not be
saying anything more on the advice of lawyers.
- Her films, notably "Triumph of the Will" with
its massed ranks of strapping, torch-holding Aryan youths, are aesthetic
masterpieces but have associated her indelibly with Nazism.
- She has in the past admitted being naively swept along
by Hitler's charisma and his "enormous, hypnotic power," but
never joined his party.
- After the war ended she was briefly interned by the Allies
but cleared by two denazification tribunals.
- Although long shunned in her homeland, the public mood
has softened as she has aged. She has been the subject of positive profiles
ahead of her centenary. She still works, has learned scuba-diving and has
just released a new film, a documentary shot underwater.
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