19 November 2010 | bkoganbing
Carefully Consider The Source
Watching Ohm Kruger from the somewhat distant perspective of the next century and remembering what kind of ruthless and apartheid state the descendants of the Boer War veterans created after World War II you certainly have a different vision of the film and the time it portrayed and the time and place it was created. Ohm Kruger was a centerpiece propaganda effort for Joseph Goebbels and the German film industry during the Third Reich.
Emil Jannings plays a stout and resolute Kruger who fought at the head of his Boer people for the life of the two Boer Republics, his own Transvaal and the Orange Free State. It's a brilliant performance as good as The Blue Angel or even the films that won him the first Oscar for Best Actor in the American cinema.
The best propaganda will contain just enough truth to make it believable and Ohm Kruger does have some uncomfortable truths in it. Cecil Rhodes was indeed a scheming rogue with big ambitions which were fueled exponentially with the discovery of gold in the Transvaal. Like oil today its discovery excited the British who had already pushed the Boers out of the Cape Colony. Not that his Boers were the simple yeoman farmers. In fact they liked the idea of gold on their turf as much as any British people. The film shows Rhodes and his company looking to buy Boer land, but Kruger wants a law passed forbidding sale of land to foreigners.
What they can't buy they take. Which in a nutshell is the key to the Boer War. Kruger and his Boers fought back, but in the end lost mainly because of a method of war that was introduced by Lord Kitchener the British commander. Round up the civilian Boer farmers, destroy the farms and put them into camps to concentrate them. Hence the term concentration camps, invented by the British in that war.
All this was of course to justify the Nazi use of the same. Those camps for the Boers were no fun, they were not properly sanitized, people did die in them for lack of food and proper care. But what they weren't were systematic death machines used for the eradication of whole different kinds of people. That the Nazis perfected on their own.
In fact like good little Nazis the horrific climax of the film is the wholesale massacre of women and children in one of the camps that was commanded by an actor looking much like Winston Churchill, smoking a cigar with an English bulldog. Churchill was in the Boer War, but as a correspondant and he was captured by the Boers and later escaped to write an exciting book about it. He never was commandant of the camps, in fact was a new Tory Minister in Parliament when this was going on.
We also see a scotch swilling Queen Victoria always supplied with a flask by her faithful retainer John Brown who was already dead by the time of the Boer War. The Germans even when they had a parliament had a strong man minister in Bismarck and a succession of tools after him reporting to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Parliamentary democracy was not a concept grasped by the Germans so they were shown a ruling as well as a reigning Queen Victoria played by Hedwig Wangel. In fact she summons the Prince of Wales from the Folies Bergere in Paris to her deathbed to give her the charge of keep all the nations quarreling else they unite and finish us. And of course that's what Hitler was trying to do unite the nations against the only countries left in the fight against him at the point that Ohm Kruger was released, Great Britain and her Commonwealth partners and former colonies.
In all this very little mention is made of those who made up the vast majority of the population the natives of South Africa. British missionaries come in for their share of dissing when they're shown in one scene dispensing Bibles on one side and rifles on the other while teaching the natives to sing God Save The Queen. Later on Kruger confronts a native chief who has a British rifle. Just how many American westerns were made with the plot of evil white men arming the Indians for some nefarious purpose? But again it's good to remember these are the folks whose descendants instituted apartheid in the true Aryan racial tradition. Speaking of America, it gets barely a mention here, we were not in the war and the Nazis had hopes still of keeping it that way.
Ohm Kruger as a piece of propaganda fulfilled its mission. One will most certainly be reinforced in Anglophobia if one sees it. It's battle scenes and the scenes of the Boers mobilizing as a nation to fight tyranny from outside are impressive technically. It's a brilliant piece of film making, but the source has to be carefully considered.