Hitler's Heroines

Stardom and Womanhood in Nazi Cinema

Antje Ascheid
Book Cover

PB: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-984-5
Publication: Jan 03

Ebook: $29.95
EAN: 978-1-59213-843-2
Publication: Jan 03

288 pages
6 x 9
37 halftones

The brightest stars in fascist films

Read the Introduction and an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).


German film-goers flocked to see musicals and melodramas during the Nazi era. Although the Nazis seemed to require that every aspect of ordinary life advance the fascist project, even the most popular films depicted characters and desires that deviated from the politically correct ideal. Probing into the contradictory images of womanhood that surfaced in these films, Antje Ascheid shows how Nazi heroines negotiated the gender conflicts that confronted contemporary women.

The careers of Kristina Soderbaum, Lilian Harvey, and Zarah Leander speak to the Nazis' need to address and contain the "woman question," to redirect female subjectivity and desires to self sacrifice for the common good (i.e., national socialism). Hollywood's new women and glamorous dames were out; the German wife and mother were in. The roles and star personas assigned to these actresses, though intended to entertain the public in a politically conformist way, point to the difficulty of yoking popular culture to ideology.


"Hitler's Heroines is the first in-depth study of the complex role of female stars in Nazi cinema. Ascheid's detailed analysis of three of the most celebrated stars—Kristina Söderbaum, Zarah Leander, and Lilian Harvey—shows the crucial role female stars played within Joseph Goebbels's entertainment industry. Ascheid highlights womanhood as a central area of contestation within German fascism and her work is informed by a wealth of recent critical studies on the history and cinema of the Third Reich." Gerd Gemünden, Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Dartmouth College

"Hitler's Heroines undermines the notion of the Nazi state's total control of public attitudes. It reveals the slippages in the discourses on gender, sexuality and nation that occurred through the film industry's construction of female stardom. In the process, the book breaks new ground in the increasingly well-cultivated terrain of Nazi cinema studies." Robert R. Shandley, Associate Professor of Film Studies and German, Texas A&M University, and author of Rubble Films: German Cinema in the Shadow of the Third Reich (Temple)

"(A) useful and stimulating study...Ascheid's book, well-researched, tightly structured, and—for the most part—well written, is a highly welcome addition to the growing body of sophisticated studies of the cinema of the Third Reich." German Studies Review

"(T)he author's overarching thesis—that images of womanhood in Nazi cinema are ambiguous and highlight a fundamental dilemma of National Socialism between the need to promote political correctness and appeal to consumers—is worth considering and will hopefully draw historians' attention to an important subject about which we know very little." H-Net

"(A) valuable contribution to both Third Reich Film Studies and Women's Studies. Well-researched, informed by theoretical and methodological developments in Film Studies and German Studies, and lucidly written, this volume enriches current understandings both of the Nazi film industry and of the tensions between party ideology and the media's images of women in the Third Reich." Monatshefte

"The author shows Nazi cinema's adaptation of Hollywood's popular cultural forms for its own propagandistic purposes. In Ascheid's analysis, they emerge as complicated figures who reveal both the influence of fascist doctrine and, at the same time, the desires and conflicts of real German women in the thirties and forties....the book is quite convincing in showing how (Kristina) Söderbaum could reveal the tragic components of womanhood particularly in Harlan's state-ordered propagandistic melodramas." Colloquia Germanica

Table of Contents

1. Nazi Culture? National Socialism, Stardom, and Female Representation
2. Kristina Söderbaum: The Myth of Naturalness, Sacrifice, and the "Reich's Water Corpse"
3. Lilian Harvey: International Stardom, German Comedy, and the "Dream Couple"
4. Diva, Mother, Martyr: The Many Faces of Zarah Leander
5. Conclusion

About the Author(s)

Antje Ascheid is Assistant Professor in the Department of Drama and Theater at the University of Georgia.


In the Series

  • Culture and the Moving Image edited by Robert Sklar

    The Culture and the Moving Image series, edited by Robert Sklar, seeks to publish innovative scholarship and criticism on cinema, television, and the culture of the moving image. The series will emphasize works that view these media in their broad cultural and social frameworks. Its themes will include a global perspective on the world-wide production of images; the links between film, television, and video art; a concern with issues of race, class, and gender; and an engagement with the growing convergence of history and theory in moving image studies.