Hitler's Film-Maker Riefenstahl
Faces Holocaust Denial Probe


(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 Holocaust.
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 under Nazism."
She also promised not to repeat her statement that nothing had happened to the gypsies.
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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