Budd Schulberg’s endgame: the apprehension of Leni Riefenstahl

Sara Ben-Isaac's picture
November 5, 2020
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Contemporary History, Film and Film History, German History / Studies, Jewish History / Studies, Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies

Budd Schulberg (1914-2009) was a Hollywood brat, famous by his mid-20s for writing a scathing novel about the studio system, What Makes Sammy Run? (1941).  He went on to an illustrious career in-and-out of motion pictures, notably as boxing editor for Sports Illustrated magazine.  Attaining an academy award for screenwriting (On the Waterfront, 1954), Schulberg was instrumental in the immediate postwar period in apprehending filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who abetted Hitler’s rise to power and was a confidant of Der Führer.  Schulberg, more than anyone else, assured that film was featured at the Nuremberg trials.  Yet despite his ardent and scrupulous efforts, the National Socialist movie industry, and its key players besides Riefenstahl, rarely were brought to account.  This story is part of a larger, mostly unheralded tale of Hollywood Jews’ roles in filmmaking during the Second World War when they willingly accorded Gentiles the top billing.  Prior to Schulberg coming on the scene, writer Leo Rosten—best known for The Joys of Yiddish—was, as an intimate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the secret, leading interlocutor between Washington and Hollywood

This presentation is based on Berkowitz’s work as a William J. Lowenberg Memorial Fellow on America, the Holocaust, and the Jews at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., fall 2016; a Remarque Institute Fellow at New York University, January-May 2017; and with generous support from Dartmouth College for research in its special collections, summer 2018.


Michael Berkowitz is Professor of modern Jewish history in the Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies at UCL and editor of Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (UCL Press).  His current book-in-preparation is Washington’s Secret Hollywood Connection, and two others are in progress on the subject of Jews and photography.  His most recent monograph is Jews and Photography in Britain (University of Texas Press, 2015).  A native of Rochester, New York, he joined UCL in 1997 after having published his first two books with Cambridge University Press.  Author of The Crime of My Very Existence: Nazism and the Myth of Jewish Criminality (University of California Press, 2007), this term he is teaching a MA seminar on the historiography of the Holocaust.




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