Walter Zerlett-Olfenius

Walter Zerlett-Olfenius (7 April 1897 – 18 April 1975) was a German screenwriter, who worked on films for UFA (Universum Film AG), from 1936 until 1945. His most notable project was the 1943 Nazi film about the sinking of the RMS Titanic. The film cost four million Reichsmarks (equivalent to 14 million 2009 €).[1]


After attending schools in Hanover and his hometown of Wiesbaden, Zerlett-Olfenius enlisted with the Fusilier Regiment 80 in Wiesbaden at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. He initially served as a cadet, and (as of summer 1915) was a lieutenant in the later course of the war. Because of his language skills (English and French) in the Intelligence Service (NOB) of the General Staff work, after the war ended in 1918, he served briefly in the protection Regiment Greater Berlin.

In the early 1920s, Zerlett-Olfenius studied with the son of the music director at Berlin's Friedrich-Wilhelm University and attended the Graduate School. At the same time, he made his first professional steps in civilian life in the insurance industry. From 1922 to 1924, he worked as general manager and later as a partner in a Berlin factory. After losing his fortune as a purchasing agent for the British company London General Company of Trade, in 1925, Zerlett-Olfenius joined as Secretary General for German Radio Technical Association (DFTV). Serving the DFTV, Zerlett-Olfenius first worked as a writer (The Origin of the Aurora Borealis), created its press releases, wrote pamphlets (DFTV versus radio interference, electricity industry and radio interference) and was involved in radio magazines. 1933/34 Zerlett-Olfenius served as speaker of the Reich Broadcasting Company, but in 1934 finally moved into the film business and worked various jobs (recording and production), along with his brother, screenwriter and director Hans H. Zerlett.

Active as a screenwriter, since 1935, Zerlett-Olfenius fused the first part of his hyphenated familial name – Zerlett (his mother's maiden name – Olfenius, was his father's name), and began a close collaboration with director Herbert Selpin that would last until he had Selpin reported to the Gestapo during the filming of Titanic. Zerlett-Olfenius authored the templates for all common film genres. Particularly successful in his dramatic stories, including two adventure films and a marriage and travel material, and a Nazi propaganda film, all of them were with Hans Albers.

While filming Titanic, Selpin allegedly made disparaging remarks about how the German officers working on the film were molesting female cast members. Zerlett-Olfenius reported this to his close friend, Hans Hinkel, saying Selpin had uttered "vile calumnies and insults German soldiers at the front and front-line officers". Selpin was subsequently arrested and, while Hinkel and the Gestapo were willing to let him off lightly, Zerlett-Olfenius was not.[2] Two days after refusing to recant, Selpin was killed and his death ruled a suicide.[3][4] After this, UFA GmbH (The Nazi Propaganda ministry had by 1942 centralised all German film making) mostly shunned Zerlett-Olfenius and Goebbels even issued a decree threatening to personally investigate and punish anyone who refused to work with Zerlett-Olfenius [4].

Imprisonment and death

In August 1947, Zerlett-Olfenius was sentenced to five years in a labor camp.[5] Fifty percent of his assets were confiscated. This sentence was revoked in 1949 on appeal. Together with his actress wife, Eva Tinschmann, he retired to Rosshaupten in Bavaria. Zerlett-Olfenius never again worked in the film industry. He died in 1975.


Year Title Production company Notes
1936 Skandal um die Fledermaus Tofa Tonfilm-Fabrikations Writer.
1936 Spiel an Bord Neucophon Tonfilm-Produktion Writer.
1936 Romance (also known as Romanze and Die Frau des anderen) Patria-Film Writer.
1937 Alarm in Peking Minerva-Tonfilm GmbH Writer.
1938 Nuits de princes Les Productions I.N. Ermolieff Screenplay.
1938 Ab Mitternacht Ermolieff Films, Tobis Filmkunst Writer. Dialogue Director.
1938 Narren im Schnee Cinephon-Film GmbH Screenplay.
1939 Wasser für Canitoga Bavaria Film, Bavaria-Filmkunst Writer.
1940 Ein Mann auf Abwegen Euphono-Film GmbH, Tobis Filmkunst Writer.
1940 Trenck, der Pandur Tobis Filmkunst Writer.
1941 Carl Peters Bavaria Film, Bavaria-Filmkunst Writer. Edited into Germany Awake! (1968).
1942 Geheimakte W.B.1 Writer.
1943 Titanic Tobis Filmkunst Writer.
1943 Die schwache Stunde Bavaria-Filmkunst Adaptation.


  1. Lebovic, Matt (1 October 2013). "Goebbels' 'Titanic' cinematic disaster turns 70". The Times of Israel. Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  2. Bergfelder, Tim; Street, Sarah. The Titanic in Myth and Memory: Representations in Visual and Literary Culture. I.B. Taurus & Co Ltd. p. 129. ISBN 1 85043 431 X.
  3. Poley, Jared (2001–2002). "Analysis of a Nazi Titanic". New German Review. 17.
  4. Hawkins, Brian (12 April 2012). "Full Comment: The Titanic's last victim". National Post. p. A10.
  5. Sullivan, Monica. "Movie Review: Titanic (1943)." Shoestring. August. 2004. Accessed 20 July. 2017.


  • Kay Weniger: Zwischen Bühne und Baracke. Lexikon der verfolgten Theater-, Film- und Musikkünstler 1933 bis 1945. Mit einem Geleitwort von Paul Spiegel. Metropol, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-938690-10-9, p. 435.
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