Byg Awarded German Order of Merit for DEFA Film Library

Barton Byg
Barton Byg with the Order of Merit

Barton Byg, German and Scandinavian studies, has been awarded the Order of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) of the Federal Republic of Germany for his continuing work as founding director of the DEFA Film Library.

The medal, authorized by German President Joachim Gauck, was presented by Ralf Horlemann, Germany’s Consul General to New England, on April 28 at a ceremony at Hillside, the home of Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

DEFA stands for Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft—German film company. Founded in East Germany (the GDR) in 1946, DEFA grew to comprise a state-run group of coordinated film studios, and the state owned the rights to all films made there.

Horlemann praised Byg for his quick and determined response after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the GDR was being dissolved, to recognize the value of DEFA films “that were lying around somewhere in the GDR Embassy in Washington and were headed for the dumpster.”

Byg got the films, negotiated distribution rights with various institutions in Germany and in 1993 secured funds to set up a film archive at UMass Amherst, marking the DEFA Film Library’s official founding.

Many projects and much scholarship have followed, Horlemann said.

“These are all truly remarkable accomplishments, and the DEFA film Library and Barton Byg and his team are well known for this here in the U.S., in Germany and all over the world,” he said.

Horlemann cited the “outstanding and lasting contribution that Barton Byg has made for the preservation of part of GDR history and of Germany’s film heritage, which is significant also in the context of German unification in general.”

Byg, in acceptance remarks, said cultural connection across borders are more urgently necessary than at any time since 1945. “I am pleased that the DEFA Film Library, in the almost three decades since the collapse of the East German state whose film production house DEFA was, has been able in its small way to contribute to and help deepen those cultural ties between our two countries.”

The DEFA Film Library houses an extensive collection of 35- and 16mm prints, DVDs, books, periodicals and articles and offers a range of services to researchers, teachers, producers and film programmers, as well as the general public, including rentals, collections of film and film journals for researchers, teaching materials, subtitling services, and programming assistance.

Horlemann and Byg both praised the strong team at the DEFA Film Library, in particular staffers Sky Arndt-Briggs and Hiltrud Schulz.

The Order of Merit was established in 1951 to honor people who have helped Germany through their contributions to government, industry, science, culture and society.

Byg is the third faculty member to receive the Order of Merit, following Gerard Braunthal, late professor emeritus of political science, and Sigrid Bauschinger, professor emerita of German literature and adjunct professor of Jewish studies.