For years I had wondered about the enigmatic Leni Riefenstahl. I
need wonder no more. Frank Deford's The Ghost Of Berlin (Aug. 4)
caught the essence of the Riefenstahl controversy and portrayed the
agonies of a talented film director with perception and compassion.
What a treasure a man of Deford's talents is to SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED, and how fortunate we readers are to have his brilliant
essays and biographical sketches as steady fare. BRUCE BERG
Frank Deford's portrayal of Leni Riefenstahl is gripping, moving
and objective. He takes us through her film work and personal trials
with a sense of respect and sympathy for the unfortunate
circumstances that for 50 years have plagued this proud, strong
Many writers would be afraid to tackle such a sensitive subject,
but not Deford, for he is a man of skill, integrity and humility, and
this shines through his work. He presents his story as she would her
films and gives us an ending that puts a smile on our faces and a
rush in our hearts. Danke, Mr. Deford.
Deford's piece raised one disturbing question about the artistic
sincerity of the film community: Why can't Reifenstahl's Olympia be
judged on its merits as a documentary? Deford suggests the film be
viewed dispassionately, and I am quite certain Riefenstahl would be
content for a chance to have her work viewed at all. The pain and
torment of the Third Reich will never cease, but to suppress art may
be a tragedy of a lesser sort.
I was offended by the article. Leni Riefenstahl is a pathetic,
cold creature who could see nothing but what suited her purposes.
Walter Frentz, ''one of her favorite cameramen,'' said, ''. . . she
was so wrapped up in her work that she perhaps neglected to observe
her duties as a human being.'' That is an understatement. Like many
Germans who were not Nazis, she ignored what was pretty difficult to
miss. As early as January 1933, Hitler began his persecution of the
Jews, then expanded it to other ''non-Aryans'' later in the year.
Many people can live a lie so well that by doing it for a long
time they can even convince themselves. A telling point about this
woman is her short stint as a war correspondent. When she saw dead
bodies for the first time, she was so revulsed that she ''almost
immediately retreated back into her fantasy world.'' She could not
live in reality because it meant she would have to admit the truth --
that she had no humanity, that in effect she had sold her soul for
her so-called art.
Leni Riefenstahl was and is a talented artist. However, her
protestation that ''I didn't know what was happening'' is difficult
to believe. Hitler never made any secret of his plans for the Jews,
the Gypsies, the homosexuals -- the ''non-Aryans.'' Could Leni
actually have been ''fascinated by Hitler'' and not have read any of
Mein Kampf, whose every page bristles with hatred? Did she not listen
to his speeches and those of Goebbels, Streicher and the rest? Did
she sleep through Kristallnacht? Did she not notice that the Jews of
Germany, Poland and the occupied countries were disappearing from the
streets? Even the most humble German could have learned of the
holocaust by looking and listening. It is unbelievable that
Riefenstahl, who knew Hitler, Goebbels and Goring as well, was so
For the past 50 years this woman has led a life of comfort and
freedom. Her great disappointment is in not being allowed to make
more movies. This seems like small penance for her great guilt in
making Triumph of the Will.
When Leni Riefenstahl accepted the task of filming for Hitler, she
made a clear choice, one she must live with. She may have been an
extraordinary filmmaker, but as the director of a Nazi propaganda
film she helped inspire a terrible sequel, a horror show to end all
I have no sympathy for a woman who was filming fairy tales as
millions of innocents perished.
LOTHAR RUBELT Riefenstahl directed Frentz at the 1936 Games.