Veit Harlan

Veit Harlan (22 September 1899 13 April 1964) was a German film director and actor. Harlan reached the highpoint of his career as a director under the Nazi era, especially his antisemitic film Jud Süß (1940) makes him controversial. While viewed critically for his ideologies, a number of critics consider him a capable director, on the grounds of such work as his Opfergang (1944).

Veit Harlan
Harlan (right) with the widow of Ferdinand Marian, at Harlan's court case in 1948
Born(1899-09-22)22 September 1899
Died13 April 1964(1964-04-13) (aged 64)
OccupationFilm director, actor
Dora Gerson
(m. 1922; div. 1924)

Hilde Körber
(m. 1929; div. 1938)

Children5, including Thomas Harlan
RelativesPeter Harlan (brother)
Christiane Kubrick (niece)
Jan Harlan (nephew)

Life and career

Harlan was born in Berlin, a brother to Peter. After studying under Max Reinhardt, he first appeared on the stage in 1915 and, after World War I, worked in the Berlin stage.

In 1922 he married Jewish actress and cabaret singer Dora Gerson; the couple divorced in 1924. Gerson later died at Auschwitz with her family. In 1929, he married Hilde Körber, having three children with her before divorcing her for political reasons related to the influence of National Socialism. One of their children, Thomas Harlan, became a writer and director in his own right. In 1939, Veit Harlan married the Swedish actress Kristina Söderbaum, for whom he wrote several tragic roles which included some very dramatic suicide scenes, further increasing their popularity with the German cinema audience. Harlan had two children with Söderbaum.

Nazi era

Film critic David Thomson asserts that Harlan, having just started directing in 1935, was able to attract Goebbels' attention only because so much directorial talent had emigrated from Germany after the Nazis had taken power.[1] By 1937, Joseph Goebbels had appointed Harlan as one of his leading propaganda directors. His most notorious film was Jud Süß (1940), which was made for anti-Semitic propaganda purposes in Germany and Austria. In 1943 it received UFA's highest awards. Karsten Witte, the film critic, provided a fitting appellation for Harlan calling him "the baroque fascist". Harlan made the Reich's loudest, most colorful and expensive films.[2]


After the war Harlan was charged with participating in the anti-Semitic movement and aiding the Nazis. But he successfully defended himself by arguing that the Nazis controlled his work and that he should not be held personally responsible for its content. In 1949, Harlan was charged with crimes against humanity for his role as director of Jud Süß. The Hamburg Criminal Chamber of the Regional Court (Schwurgericht) acquitted Harlan of the charges. This decision was upheld by the court of the British occupation zone.[3][4]

In 1951, Harlan sued for an injunction against Hamburg politician Erich Lüth for publicly calling for a boycott of Unsterbliche Geliebte (Immortal Beloved). The District Court in Hamburg granted Harlan's suit and ordered that Lüth forbear from making such public appeals. However, the lower court decision was ultimately overturned in 1958 by the Federal Constitutional Court because it infringed on Lüth's right to freedom of expression. This was a landmark decision because it clarified the importance of the constitutional civil rights in disputes between individuals.

Harlan made a total of nine films between 1950 and 1958, dying in 1964 while on vacation in Capri.[5]


Veit Harlan's son Thomas (1929–2010), an author and film director, created a semi-documentary film called Wundkanal (Wound Passage), in which his father, played by a convicted mass murderer, is forced to undergo a series of brutal interrogations into his war crimes.[6] Thomas Harlan's final publication, issued posthumously, Veit, was a memoir in the form of a letter to his father, continuing the investigation into Veit Harlan's complicity in the Nazi regime.[7]

In 1958, Veit Harlan's niece, Christiane Susanne Harlan, married filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who was Jewish. She is credited by her stage name "Susanne Christian" in Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957). She said she was ashamed to come from a "family of murderers" but was relieved that Kubrick's Jewish family accepted her despite her ties to Harlan.[8] They remained married until Stanley Kubrick's death in 1999.

Susanne Körber, one of his daughters from his second wife Hilde Körber, converted to Judaism and married the son of Holocaust victims.[9] She committed suicide in 1989.[9]


In 2001, Horst Königstein made a film titled Jud Suss - Ein Film als Verbrechen? (Jud Suss - A Film As a Crime?).

The documentary Harlan – In the Shadow of Jew Süss (2008) by Felix Moeller explores Harlan's motivations and the post-war reaction of his children and grandchildren to his notoriety.[9]

Selected filmography

See also

Further reading


  1. David Thomson The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, London: Little, Brown, 2002, p.372
  2. Eric Rentschler "The Ministry of Illusion", p. 167. ISBN 0-674-57640-3
  3. Kidney, Gary (26 October 2018). "Jud Suss: The film that fuelled the Holocaust". Warfare History Network. Sovereign Media. Retrieved 7 February 2019. The decision was appealed and the High Court of the British Zone decided to hear the appeal. Norbert Wollheim, a Holocaust survivor had testified against Harlan in the trial but refused to appear for the appeal. Instead, he denounced “post-National Socialist justice” for degrading “the process of cleansing post-Hitler Germany of its criminals.” He felt that the Cold War imperative that the past was indeed past offered too sweeping an amnesty for people who should have been held accountable. In the appeal, the prosecution again had no success. The jury court pronounced Harlan free of all criminal liability in its decision of April 29, 1950.
  4. Cremer, Hans-Joachim (2010-10-11). Human rights and the protection of privacy in tort law: a comparison between English and German law. Taylor & Francis US. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-415-47704-8.
  5. Georges Sadoul; Peter Morris (1 September 1972). Dictionary of films. University of California Press. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-520-02152-5. Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  6. Kaes, Anton (1992). From Hitler to Heimat: The Return of History as Film. Harvard University Press. p. 141. ISBN 0674324560.
  7. Verger, Romain. "Thomas Harlan, Veit. Lettre au père ou l'insoutenable légèreté". Anagnostes. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
  8. "The Real Stanley Kubrick". Haaretz. 2005-11-03. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  9. Rohter, Larry (March 2, 2010) "Nazi Films Still Pains Relatives". New York Times, Retrieved on March 2, 2010
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