The Gleiwitz Case

(Der Fall Gleiwitz)

GDR, 1961, 70 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


The Gleiwitz Case reconstructs in detail the 1939 surprise attack by a Nazi unit on the radio station in Gleiwitz, a German town on the Polish border. This attack was blamed on Polish forces, thus served as Hitler's justification for marching into Poland and starting WWII. It shows how facts and opinions can be manipulated and how people are made to accept lies, murder and war.


To depict fascism, director Gerhard Klein and his Czech cameraman, Jan Curik, use an impressive visual language, assembling groups of people into ornaments and suppressing the individual within the masses. Their insight into the fundamentals of totalitarian power and violence met with disapproval among cultural politicians in the GDR and the film was accused of glorifying fascism. A leading cultural functionary actually commented that a Nazi director couldn't have made the film better himself. The Gleiwitz Case narrowly escaped censorship, but disappeared from theaters after only a few weeks.


Today the film is considered one of the most modern and aesthetically experimental films in DEFA film history.

Press comments

"Highly recommended! One of the finest films from the East German government-sponsored DEFA film library!"
Video Librarian


"... a smartly constructed, almost cubist rendering of the hours leading up to the Nazi invasion of Poland, recounting in minute detail the Germans’ secret plan to fake a Polish incursion into German territory, thereby giving Hitler a pretext for the long-planned invasion. The film is meticulously detailed to great effect, and Klein gives it a hammer rhythm that is very powerful."
The Jewish Week


"…the most Brechtian of GDR movies is Klein and Kohlhaase's 1961 The Gleiwitz Case. A laconic 70 minutes of modernist music, Nazi newsreels, and alienating camera angles, Gleiwitz restages the fake attack that precipitated World War II. Nazi machine men issue robotic commands to the local pod people, orchestrating a fake Polish attack on an antiseptic sci-fi radio station broadcasting light Latin pop from a few miles inside the German border. Back in the day, Gleiwitz's deadpan satire of Riefenstahlian aestheticism was mistaken for Nazi nostalgia—now its icy experimentalism might inspire Ostalgie for a lost German avant-garde."
The Village Voice


“An Alain Resnais art film parading in antifascist uniform… Klein’s montage at times echoes Eisenstein, at others parodies Leni Riefenstahl, or subscribes to the European ’60s code of successively radical changes in shot lengths.”
Boston Phoenix


“…a clever story … an eccentric reenactment of an event from history. The Gleiwitz Case suggests a more starched, controlled Dr. Strangelove crossed with the formal austerity of Triumph of the Will, and its tone falls just short of loco.”
— Felicia Feaster, Creative Loafing


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DVD Bonus Features:
  • Turn Subtitles On/Off
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • DVD-Trailer
  • Critical Essay: "The Case of the Gleiwitz Case"
  • Picture Gallery
  • Conversation with Film Editor Evelyn Carow (from the Film Professions series)

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