Titanic (1943 film)

Titanic is a 1943 German propaganda film made during World War II in Berlin by Tobis Productions for UFA, depicting the catastrophic sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912. Despite the fact that there already was a German silent film produced in 1912 just four weeks after the sinking and a British company had released a German-language film about the disaster in 1929, the film was commissioned by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels with the intent of showing not only the superiority of German filmmaking, but also as a propaganda vehicle which would show that British and American capitalism was responsible for the disaster. The addition of an entirely fictional heroic German officer to the ship's crew was intended to demonstrate the superior bravery and selflessness of German men as compared to the British officers.

DVD cover based on the original film poster
Directed byHerbert Selpin
Werner Klingler (uncredited)
Produced byWilly Reiber
Written byWalter Zerlett-Olfenius
Herbert Selpin
Harald Bratt (uncredited)
Hansi Köck (uncredited)
StarringSybille Schmitz
Hans Nielsen
Distributed byDeutsche Filmvertriebs
Release date
  • 10 November 1943 (1943-11-10)
Running time
85 minutes
Budget4 million RM

The film's original director, Herbert Selpin, was arrested during production after speaking out against the Nazi regime – he was later found hanged in prison – and the film was completed by Werner Klingler, who was not credited.

Although the film had a brief theatrical run in parts of German-occupied Europe starting in November 1943, it was not shown within Germany by order of Goebbels, who feared that it would weaken the German citizenry's morale instead of improving it. Goebbels later banned the playing of the film entirely, and it did not have a second run.

The film was the first on the subject which was simply titled Titanic, and the first to combine various fictional characters and subplots with the true events of the sinking; both conventions went on to become a staple of Titanic films.[1]


A proclamation to the stockholders of the White Star Line declares the value of their stock is falling. The president of the Line, J. Bruce Ismay (E.F. Fürbringer), promises to reveal a secret during the maiden voyage of the line's new RMS Titanic that will change that. He alone knows she can break the speed record and receive the Blue Riband, and he believes this will raise the stock's value.[2] Ismay and the board of the White Star Line plan to manipulate the stock by selling short their own stock in order to buy it back at a lower price just before the news about the ship's record speed is revealed to the press.

On Titanic's maiden voyage in April of 1912,[3] First Officer Petersen (Hans Nielsen), the sole German crew member onboard, begs the arrogant Bruce Ismay to slow the ship down, but he refuses and pressures the weak willed Captain Smith to keep up the vessel's record breaking speed. Because of Ismay's recklessness, Titanic hits an iceberg and begins to sink. The passengers in First Class act like cowards, while Petersen, his Russian aristocrat ex-lover Sigrid Olinsky (Sybille Schmitz), and several German passengers in steerage behave bravely and with dignity. With Sigrid's assistance, Petersen manages to rescue many passengers before convincing her to board one of the last lifeboats. He then arranges a seat for Ismay in order for him to stand trial for causing the disaster. As the water ravages through the ship, Peterson finds a young girl, left to die in her cabin by her uncaring capitalist parents. Petersen leaps from the sloping deck with the girl in his arms and is pulled aboard Sigrid's lifeboat, where the two are reunited; the occupants then watch in horror as Titanic plunges beneath the waves.

At the British Inquiry into the disaster, Petersen testifies against Ismay, condemning his actions, but Ismay is cleared of all charges and the blame is placed squarely on the deceased Captain Smith's shoulders. An epilogue states that "the deaths of 1,500 people remain un-atoned, an eternal condemnation of Britain's endless quest for profit."



Most of the film was shot at the German-occupied Polish Baltic Sea port of Gdynia (renamed Gotenhafen), on board SS Cap Arcona, a passenger liner that eventually shared Titanic's fate; it was sunk a few days before the end of World War II by the Royal Air Force on May 3, 1945, with loss of life more than three times than that on the actual Titanic. The ship had been turned into a prison ship and filled with Jewish inmates that the Nazis had put there in hopes that the ship would be destroyed by the British.[upper-alpha 1]

The scenes with the lifeboats were also filmed on the Baltic Sea; some of the interior scenes were shot in Tobis Studios.

Titanic endured many production difficulties, including a clash of egos, massive creative differences and general war-time frustrations. As filming progressed, more extravagant sets were demanded by Selpin, as well as additional resources from the German Navy – these demands were all approved by Goebbels, despite the mounting costs and the drain on the wartime German economy.[2]

After one week of troubled shooting on Cap Arcona, with the Allies bombing not far away,[2] Herbert Selpin called a crisis meeting where he made unflattering comments about the Kriegsmarine officers who were supposed to be marine consultants for the film, but were more interested in molesting female cast members.[6] Selpin's close friend and the co-writer of the script, Walter Zerlett-Olfenius, reported him to the Gestapo, and Selpin was promptly arrested and personally questioned by Joseph Goebbels, who was the driving force behind the Titanic project. Selpin, however, did not retract his statement – infuriating Goebbels, since the Propaganda Minister had personally chosen Selpin to direct his propaganda epic. Within 24 hours of his arrest, Selpin was found hanged in his jail cell, which was ruled a suicide.[7] However, in reality, Goebbels had arranged for Selpin to be hanged and the hanging framed as a suicide.[8] The cast and crew were angry at the attempt to cover up Selpin's obvious murder and attempted to retaliate, but Goebbels countered them by issuing a proclamation stating that anyone who shunned Zerlett-Olfenius, who had reported Selpin, would answer to him personally.[8] The unfinished film, on which the production costs were spiraling wildly out of control, was in the end completed by an uncredited Werner Klingler.

The film cost almost 4 million Reichsmarks (equivalent to 14 million 2009 euros).[9] It is said to be the most expensive film of its time.[3][5]

Themes and propaganda context

The faults of capitalism and the stock market play a dominant role throughout the movie. Titanic makes the allegory of the liner's loss specifically about British avarice rather than, as most retellings do, about hubris. This fits in with other works of anti-British propaganda of the time such as The Maiden Joanna, The Heart of a Queen, The Fox of Glenarvon, Uncle Krüger, and My Life for Ireland.

Undermining the intended effect were the scenes of British and French panic and desperation. Scenes of steerage passengers separated by crew members and desperately searching for their loved ones through locked gates and a chain link fence bore an uncanny resemblance to what was happening in German concentration camps during that time. This contributed to the film being banned by Goebbels inside Germany.[10]


Titanic was to premiere in early 1943, but the theatre that housed the answer print was bombed by Royal Air Force planes the night before. The film went on to have a respectable premiere in Paris in November 1943 "where it was surprisingly well-received by its audience",[8] and also played well in some other capital cities of Nazi-occupied Europe such as Prague. But Goebbels banned its playing in Germany altogether, stating that the German people – who were at that point going through almost nightly Allied bombing raids – were less than enthusiastic about seeing a film that portrayed mass death and panic.[10][3][2]The Nazi leadership was also displeased with the manner in which the fictional character Petersen critiqued his superiors, which they regarded to be at odds with the Führerprinzip which demanded Germans unquestionably obey the orders of their superiors.

Re-release & Censorship

Shortly after the war Titanic, dubbed in Russian and with the opening credits removed to hide its origin, was screened across the Eastern Bloc as a "trophy film." The film was later reissued in 1949, but was quickly banned in most Allied occupied territories until a censored version, deleting the final scene at the inquiry and several other moments of overt anti-British propaganda, was approved for distribution in West Germany. After the 1950s, Titanic went back into obscurity, sometimes showing on European television. A VHS of the censored version was released in Germany in 1992. Same version was later released on DVD in Germany and Italy. The uncut version of Titanic was restored by Kino Video in 2005 and subsequently released on DVD and VHS. A Blu-ray release followed in 2017. The uncut version is not available on home video outside North America.


A Night to Remember

Four clips from the film were recycled and used in the successful 1958 British film A Night to Remember: two of the ship sailing in calm waters during the day, and two brief clips of a flooding walkway in the engine room.[11]

  • The entire film was screened at the BFI Southbank in London as a part of its "Titanic" season in April 2012.
  • Nazi Titanic: Revealed is a documentary on the film which was aired on Channel 5 in the UK on 6 March 2012.[3][5] An extended version was also broadcast on the History Channel in North America under the title Nazi Titanic on April 14, 2012, and subsequently on the Military History Channel at various times since, as on April 15, 2018, marking the anniversary of the ship's sinking.

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. The British documentary hypothesizes that the inmates were placed onto Cap Arcona as part of a larger plot to hide the living evidence of the concentration camp survivors, and to entrap the Allies into bombing the ship. "Tragically, the SS Cap Arcona was carrying around 5,500 concentration camp inmates at the time, most of whom died in the attack. They were mainly prisoners who had been held in various concentration camps in Germany, and who were being deported as the Allied invasion drew closer. More people died in this disaster than the roughly 1,500 who died in the actual Titanic sinking in 1912."[3][5]


  1. Fiebing, Malte. Titanic: Nazi Germany's Version of the Disaster. 2012. Accessed 20 July, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=JcAkAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA127&lpg=PA127&dq=similarities+Titanic+1943+and+1997&source=bl&ots=ipGU3DatvJ&sig=1u8CXebwhS-r-_TL1Pa9Hec5854&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6kM3wopnVAhWBND4KHR-iD0MQ6AEIXDAJ#v=onepage&q=similarities%20Titanic%201943%20and%201997&f=false
  2. Dunbar, John N. (2014) A Critical History of History in Motion Pictures. Author House. pp. 389–91. ISBN 978-1491868720
  3. Marszal, Andrew (5 March 2012). "The strange sinking of the Nazi Titanic". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  4. "Titanic | Deutschland 1942/1943, Spielfilm". filmportal.de (in German). Deutschen Filminstituts. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  5. Zendran, David (May 21, 2012). "Nazi Titanic Revealed" (Video). History Channel. YouTube
  6. Mcgue, Kevin (April 10, 2012). "The Titanic on Film". A Life At The Movies.
  7. Romani 1992, p. 71.
  8. Brian Hawkins (14 April 2012). "The Titanic's last victim". National Post. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  9. Lebovic, Matt (1 October 2013). "Goebbels' 'Titanic' cinematic disaster turns 70". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  10. Romani 1992, p. 69.
  11. "Matte Shot: a Tribute to Golden Era special fx". 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2011-05-26.


  • Romani, Cinzia (1992). Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich. New York: Sarpedon. ISBN 0-9627613-1-1.
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