How Fritz Lang escaped the Nazis

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Fritz Lang explains how his meeting with Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Mad Man of Nazi propaganda, made him flee Germany the very same day.

Director of Metropolis and M, Lang had been called to see Goebbels over his undisguised attack on Hitler in his 1933 film, The Testament of Dr Mabuse - which the Nazis had banned. Instead of the expected interrogation and inevitable incarceration, Doctor Goebbels offered Lang the unexpected position of Head of the National Socialist Film Studios. Goebbels explained that both he and Herr Furher hoped the director would accept. Goebbels then offered his advice on the ending of The Testament of Dr Mabuse, which he had found unsatisfactory. Instead of Mabuse going mad, it would have been better if the mobs had destroyed him with their wrath.

It’s a good story, even if the facts don’t add up. One that’s worth retelling - just to hear Lang build up the dramatic tension with his powers of descriptive narration.


Previously on Dangerous Minds

Tales of the Unexpected: William Friedkin interviews Fritz Lang


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Tales of the Unexpected: William Friedkin interviews Fritz Lang

According to the great director Fritz Lang, it was his meeting with Joseph Goebbels, the Mad Man of Nazi propaganda, that led him to flee Germany the very same day.

As Lang tells it, this fateful meeting came sometime around Goebbels’ ban on Lang’s 1933 film, The Testament of Dr Mabuse, which was outlawed for its veiled attack on Hitler and his vile policies. Amongst the oft quoted similarities between Lang’s film and the insane Furher, was Dr. Mabuse’s devilish plan for a 1,000 years of crime, and Hitler’s desire of a 1,000 year Reich. The unstated connection between brutal criminality and looney-tunes Nazis was there for all to see.

It’s a good story, but one that has little bearing on fact, as it now appears that the meeting never took place. Goebbels’ diaries have no mention of the alleged meeting, and Lang’s escape from the jackboot of National-Socialism didn’t happen until several months after the alleged job offer from Dr Joe.

More damaging in hindsight was Lang’s failure to make any reference to his own Jewish ancestry. His mother, Paula was Jewish, though she converted to Catholicism after marrying Lang’s father, Anton. Instead Fritz described himself as an “Austrian director”, at a time when the persecution of those of Jewish faith was a brutal reality on the streets of Germany. Indeed describing himself as an “Austrian director” could have been construed as aligning himself with the birth country of the Furher.

Later, while living in the safety of the United States, Lang said in his entry for Current Biography - “While many famous Jewish directors had to flee Germany because of the ‘Aryan’ work decrees, Lang, a Christian, fled only because he is a believer in democratic government.”

Okay, so Lang could argue that man made laws had no rule over him, as he believed in the Higher Court of his Christian God. Fine. But why persist in re-telling a fanciful tale forty years on?

Almost everyone tells lies, and the lies are not important. Some people are loved because of their ability to tell great lies, and we listen expectantly for them to tell their biggest and best whoppers. And so it is with Lang, as he tells tale after tale in this entertaining and immensely watchable interview with director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin. From running away from home, to surviving by his wits, to making his classic films Metropolis and M, to meetings with criminals and murderers - one killer kept the hands of victims under his bed, to his meeting with the Nazi Mad Man, to Hollywood and after, Lang, looking rather like Dr Strangelove, describes his hugely fantastic life.

With thanks to Wendy James

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment