The Amazing Unseen Hitler Films

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

Back when my old comedy group, the Van Gogh-Goghs, used to be in North Carolina, we often met to practice in one of our members basement. The basement belonged to Galen, who was fond of looking for interesting things at tag sales, estate sales, auctions, and the like. One night, after we'd resigned ourselves to the fact that not much was going to get done, Galen pulled out a stack of old 8mm film reels he'd purchased at a recent tag sale.

It being a summer night in North Carolina, and Galen's basement being cool and relatively mosquito-free, we stayed to watch the films. I don't think any of us were really prepared for what we saw.

The films started our innocently enough: vacation films from a well-to-do Chapel Hill family, at the beach, some interesting aerial shots of Chapel Hill, lots of people in fussy clothes and hats looking at the camera and waving. Some were even color, which was a bit surprising.

The next reels got more interesting. The family apparently took a trip to Europe in the early '30s. Shots of snowy alps, quaint chalets, ski lifts, and then, rows of Nazi flags. Handheld camera shots walking down a street, until a brown-shirted Nazi covers the camera lens with his hand. Cut to a Nazi rally, with the camera in the crowd, as the cinematographer raises their hand, along with everyone else in the massive arena, in a Nazi salute. Pan to the stage, small from the distance and central, as a small, familiar figure walks up to the podium, the part of his hair the hypotenuse of his facial triangle, a square cursor of a mustache under his nose, as he then starts to harangue the cheering crowd, silently.

Cut back to a North Carolina basement, with six stunned, creeped-out faces, as they realize they're seeing unknown footage of Hitler. Cheerwine and Mountain Dew are gulped, nervously.

Galen still has these films, and none of us could really figure out what to do with them. Are someone's home movies of Hitler (and Mussolini, If I recall) as valuable as they seem? Or are there a number of these kinds of reels floating around?

The films aren't digitized at this point, but if anyone has any good advice as to what to do with them, I'l pass it on to Galen. Thanks, internet; you always know just what to do.


  1. wow, who konws. call up the university, talk to teh history department, find a european history specialist who could point you in the right direction..

  2. They should be digitized immediately and uploaded to That’s where I put stuff I don’t want to lose.

    Then I would totally sell the crap out of that film.

  3. National Archive?

    Library of Congress?

    Imperial War Museum in London has a huge WW2 film archive..

    This sort of thing should be available to the public

  4. I digitized a lot of super 8 from the 60-80s a few years ago. It’s expensive, but it looks pretty good. The craziest thing about it is looking at video on a computer that doesn’t have sound, but I digress.

    This reminds me of a house I rented in downtown San Jose almost 20 years ago. Moved in, saw a bunch of junk in the garage that had been there forever that was obviously not the owners’, and picked out a couple of skateboard decks I can apparently now sell for over $1000, and a real-life swastika armband, the kind from the old-country. I’ve never been able to figure out what to do with it, but you just gotta snag something like that. I say YT the vid conversions.

  5. I don’t think it has a great financial value (as there have been hundreds of hours of Hitler footage, if not thousands) but it surely has a financial value anyways. It depends if there are exclusive informations of any kind on the film too.

  6. Hit the gun show circuit and talk to the guys selling 3rd Reich memorabilia. Digitize the footage, and make it public once you get your bounty.

  7. Speaking as someone who is sitting in Chapel Hill right now reading this, I have to say… wow. What if the neighbors are Nazis?

    All I know is that the local historical folks, NPR station, etc, would flip out over this. I’m sure WUNC would love to talk about it.

    I’d start by contacting the university library… – they have all sorts of special collections, archived media, etc. They’d know what to do, and would probably transfer it for you.

  8. I really have to advocate for making these public. Part of the reason (and a constant source of frustration for me as a history major) that educational channels play so many documentaries about WW2 is because all the footage that they’re using is public domain, whereas most of the footage of say, Martin Luther King Jr. is privately owned. Privately owned = too expensive for most documentary film makers to bother with, and so far too much good historical footage goes unseen by the public.

    If you don’t want to foot the bill for digitization yourselves, try setting up a fund. The internet is generally pretty good at delivering on things like that and I would definitely contribute. Even after that I’m sure some collector will still buy the film from you if you’re determined to flog it on Ebay.

  9. I don’t have any idea how valuable such films would be, but digitizing old films is always a good idea, especially when they’re in color and liable to shift and fade. Try talking to the people at Moviestuff–they have some experience in archival digitizing of 8mm and 16mm film.

    Be sure to store the films away from moisture or extreme heat, and don’t watch them too often; every time you run the film through a projector, especially an old one, it will be further damaged. This is another good reason to have the film digitized.

  10. I remember this happened a few years ago – they ended up taking the footage and turning it into a documentary, with a voiceover from the ‘little girl’ in the footage, now 80. Lots of shots of German streets with waving flags. That holiday involved going on to Poland to see her Jewish relatives (cue waving farmers). As they’d come via Germany, they advised the relatives to get to the USA or UK ASAP, but they decided to stick it out. Cue footage shot from back of car as waving farmers recede into the distance.

  11. Great Anti-Godwinian Galoot (#4)!

    You’ve just let a thread about Hitler and the Nazis deteriorate into a thread about civil liberties.

  12. Offer to sell them to German TV stations or the magazine “Der Spiegel”, there is quite a bit of that stuff on TV over here, so I guess they’d be interested.

  13. I’m with JONCRO. Make this film public, library of congress, smithsonian, etc. Put it up on youtube. Of course, as soon as it’s up on youtube there will be the inevitable remixes.

  14. I would be really careful when attempting to digitize these rolls yourself. Considering the age they might be made of actual celluloid which becomes extremely combustible with age. If they really contain what you say they do, you should take them to the national archives who would know how to handle them properly.

  15. Lack of Digitization = Entropic Death
    Wherever they end up, they should be digitized.

    History doesn’t get worse with more evidence and information, it gets better. Think about your current feelings and apply them to something you now treasure that was made before you were born.

  16. Don DeLillo’s Running Dog is a novel that deals with the existence of AH footage taken in the Bunker during the final siege of Berlin by the Russian Army. Pr0n content is alleged. “Who would want to see this sort of thing”, the question is asked. This book is marvelous also for predicating exactly the sort of reverence/hatred for the twin towers that made them an obvious target for a terrorist attack, pub 1978.

    Personally, i think the world has quite enuf pix of the little dictator, so I suggest you burn the stock and be sure to invite some jews and some gypsies and definitely a pole or two to the party. After the fire, piss on the ashes in a collective exhaltation of human dignity.

  17. For the reading comprehension challenged, specifically Galoot #4 and Mr. ARtichoke #9.

    From the article: “Handheld camera shots walking down a street, until a brown-shirted Nazi covers the camera lens with his hand.”

  18. You’ve just let a thread about Hitler and the Nazis deteriorate into a thread about civil liberties.

    Heck, might as well not even comment on this – Little John’s already won.

  19. i believe there is a screening of this at nuremburg this weekend. hitler’s diaries will also be on display. there is a lucky door prize too – a signed copy of Mein Kampf

  20. I’d get this to an expert immediately. Each viewing of an 8mm movie will cause it to deteriorate.

    It’s not just valuable because Hitler was in it, but the other people on stage, the location, etc., will all aid historians in one way or another.

  21. The sort of thinking where you destroy symbols of the past because they’re considered to “wrong” or immoral led to great holes in the world’s history, the destruction of millennial buildings and records of who knows how many civilizations. Even worse, would be keeping those in the hands of private owners as you attach a prize to what is a worthless piece of film.

    At that time, people saw Adolph Hitler as a popular leader with a bit of media phenomenon attached so the existence of this film is plausible. Making us believe otherwise is fooling our shared history to make us feel better.

    Don’t attempt to digitize the movie yourself. Contact the National Film Preservation Foundation:

    I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to restore and digitize what is a somewhat rare video (even if it’s a fake), and hopefully making it available to research for reasons much more interesting than that puny man at the bottom. If it’s real then there is footage of buildings destroyed by a horrible war. People whose only record of existence remains in this video. If it’s fake then there is a story behind it that should be explored.

  22. FTW IMHO it’s a tie:

    Even Hitler let tourists film in public. by Galoot

    You’ve just let a thread about Hitler and the Nazis deteriorate into a thread about civil liberties. by Little John

    wirtes @ #13 said:

    “I’d get this to an expert immediately”

    I totally agree. Find a museum or such that either has or can afford to rent something like this:

    Flying spot film scanners are not cheap, but they are what pros use to scan film stock prior to editing. They don’t use cogs or teeth to move and pull down the film frame by frame like a projector, so they are particularly effective and gentle with old and/or damaged film. and the resolution and colour fidelity is unmatched.

  23. I think they did a segment on “History Detectives” about a film like this with similar content – it turned out not to be amateur film, but professionally done films designed to be shown to small audiences, hence the 8mm format. Still it might be historically significant.

  24. Talk to reliable academic historians, librarians, and archivists and take their advice. #13 and #16 also have good points. Maintain the films in a secure, climate-controlled place.

  25. Are there any universities in you area with good film archives? might be good place to start poking around.

    If the films are genuine. every time you put them though a regular projector risks total destruction.

    On the other hand, digitizing it right, might easily cost into 4 figures.

    If it was me, I’d be very tempted to just shoot off the screen in a very dark room with a decent HD camera and post the results online, but that is probably horrible advice.

  26. A fascinating find. Please come back and tell us what Galen decides to do and how it turns out.

  27. Full disclosure: I am a film archivist. I agree with comments #13 and #14, you are going to want to take this film to a trusted professional to digitize it. I would also contact the Library of Congress and the National Archives explaining the situation. The longer the film sits in the basement, the more likely it will deteriorate. (Or worse, depending if it is cellulose acetate, combust.) You can also contact the Society of American Archivists ( ask them that they recommend. They may want to put you in touch with a local university archive that has the facilities to digitize. If you are in the Chapel Hill area, UNC has one of the top library schools in the country and it might be worth contacting them as well.

    You have some amazing footage on your hands, hopefully an archive will scoop them up and preserve and digitize it.

  28. Jason,

    I have forwarded this article to a buddy of mine who is the Vault Leader at the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center. I’m sure they might be interested in helping preserve your film. The thing you really want to take notice of is that film from that time is *highly* flammable. I mean “burns underwater” flammable. Be careful.

  29. Unquestionably, make these things available to the public. Items of such historical importance should not be sold off to the highest bidder.

  30. Whether it’s historically significant or not, I truly hope you enlist the help of historical and/or movie experts to help make sure that these are preserved.

    Destroying this sort of thing only helps those who claim that none of it ever happened, and we as a race cannot afford to ever forget that it did.

  31. You’ve just let a thread about Hitler and the Nazis deteriorate into a thread about civil liberties.

    “Deteriorate?” Wait a minute, is that a joke? (After all, WHAT could HITLER possibly have to do with civil liberties?”)

    Anyway– I am 100% for the preservation of the footage, for the same reasons as TAKASHI @14– from the distance of history we see Hitler the man as HITLER the symbol, not as just another politician/demagogue who was originally a popularly an elected official. Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it– cliche or not it’s still valid.

    Although the idea of burning the footage with a group of Jews and “Gypsies” (Rom) and Poles does sound tempting.

    Besides, I’m sure a lot of us here would like to see the footage too.

  32. Flammable Nitrate stock went out of production at Kodak in 1927 (hence the term “safety film” on ‘modern’ film boxes). Although smaller manufacturers might have still have used that base in the mid-1930’s. I doubt if it’s flammable.
    Get the film properly and professionally transferred. Also, spend a few dollars and get it color corrected (even black and white). It’s amazing what details can be restored.

  33. #24 (Ill Lich) I’d like to point out that Hitler was never “elected” in the first place, but that didn’t stopped him from being popular, what’s the case in point.

  34. I have a bound copy of The Illustrated London News from 1936, that I picked up when our local library discarded it a few years ago. Features include: the recent elections in Germany (99% for the Nazi Party); the Italian campaign in Abyssinia; comparisons of the relative strengths of the U.S. and Japanese Pacific fleets; sketches of the recently launched Queen Mary with the Hindenburg to show scale; a formal full-page portrait of Herr Hitler with a German Shepherd dog at his feet; ads inviting readers to tour the USSR this year, and so on. All with a reassuring sense of distance from the comfortable world of their readers. None of this conveys the sense of horror we feel in hindsight.

    My favourite picture is from the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The Canadian competitors are shown giving the Nazi salute as they march past Herr Hitler (the paper is punctilious about the “Herr”).

    Destroying these papers or the films would be destroying the valuable lesson they teach.

  35. If your friend is still located in the Chapel Hill area, a good local resource is Wilson Library at UNC. The Southern Historical Collection ( might be a good fit — and they definitely have the ability to professionally digitize and store the film in a way that will preserve it for generations to come. They’d certainly be interested in the rest of the film that deals with area history.

  36. #38, Takun: Super-8 film stock is basically just slide film in a different physical format, and has the same lifetime expectancies. Most manufacturers claimed a one-year shelf life.

    In the case of consumer color film, that actually involved manufacturing the film so color drift as it aged brought it through the ideal color balance around the middle of that time; film packaged for pros started properly balanced (more predictable, but got worse faster if it went unused).

    Refrigerating film can stretch those times, but you have to accept that if you use it much beyond the one-year point the sensitivity won’t be exactly what you expect it to be. With prints you may be able to compensate and get results that look reasonable; with transparencies, what you get is what you get unless you want to deal with copying (which can lose resolution) or digitizing and fixing it there.

    Of course I agree with the others that if this *might* be a new artifact it should be reviewed by an expert. History is history, and should be preserved, even (especially) when it’s discomforting… and it’s worth reminding ourselves that in the early days of Hitler’s rise most folks saw only the inspiring leader and had no suspicion of what direction he would lead people in.

    Yeah, if I was in your position I too would still be trying to pick up my jaw after it hit the ground. Even if it did turn out to be a commercially produced propaganda piece, it’s still an amazing find.

  37. thanks Techno, I’ve got a few time capsules of exposed film that was wondering about.

    As to the find, I think it should be preserved by all means. Those who cannot remember the past.

    How would one preserve old film in the field before taking it to an archivist? Would air-tight bags filled with inert gas be a good idea? What’s a hacker’s household supply of inert gas?

  38. Airtight bags filled with inert gas you say?

    (glances over at the balloons and the helium tank)

  39. As a media collections curator and member of the Assoc. of Moving Image Archivists I can confirm that these films are valuable. Very similar home movie footage – in color no less- which was taken by a wealthy doctor on vacation in Europe was shown to a stunned crowd at our conference several years ago. Please encourage your friend to contact any of the fine organizations mentioned above. I’m sure they would be glad to assist.

  40. yup, that’s a good one, should be able to get helium and ziploc baggies easily. Any suggestions for argon or nitrogen? Also, would the real archivists please comment: what are we supposed to do to preserve film until the professionals can take over?

  41. Christopher Browning is a very well-known and very well-regarded historian (expert in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust) at North Carolina: Chapel Hill. I imagine he’s a bit hard to contact, but I second those saying contacting both UNC’s history department and library school.

  42. Don’t run them in the projector again. They are very rough on film, and could potentially break or damage the film.

    If you are Los Angeles, contact Pro8 in Burbank, and get an HD video transfer of the material, with these specs:

    HDCAM 23.976PsF
    1440×1080 Pillarboxed Aperture

    This is the highest quality digital HD copy you can make.

    I would then archive the footage in a temperature and humidity controlled vault.

    You might have some footage that would be licensable, and it certainly is of historic interest. It is worth having an archival quality video master of it. If you would also like to take this professional video tape, and have a computer file of it, I would be more than happy to do that for you for free.

    c r m 1 1 4 [at] g m a i l [dot] com

  43. Quoth Dr. Jones, “This belongs in a museum!” Whatever archive and archival format you choose, you need to have this preserved immediately. Great find.

    You said the trip is from the early ’30s: if this were somehow before Hitler’s accession as Reichskanzler in ’33, then I would imagine this would be super valuable.

  44. Some people here are posting incorrect information.

    Consumer formats such as 8mm and 16mm are not combustible, no matter how old they are.

    There is no need to worry about such films spontaneously bursting into flames.

  45. Years ago I was in my hometown, visiting the parents, and went to my late Uncle’s to help cousins with cleaning out the house before selling it.

    My Uncle was a theater buff all his life, attended acting school, would up participating in local theater groups and supporting local professional groups financially. He had 4 file cabinets full of articles, programs, photos, etc. Thousands of discrete artifacts!

    My cousin and I were going through the cabinets, and suddenly she was holding a scarlet flag with white circle filled with black swastika! We both gasped, the hair went up on my neck!!!

    My father was upstairs with other cousin, chatting. He told the story. Granddad took his family to Europe to visit family and do grand tour the summer of 1938. Two parents, 4 kids from 12-23 or so. My Dad was youngest male, 15 at the time.

    They crossed on a German liner, took family Oldsmobile, strapped trunks all over it, drove all over western Europe, visited Granddad’s family in Switzerland. My Granddad had wire-rim glasses, crewcut, wore shirt/collar/tie every day. Some times when they crossed borders, small children threw small stones at them, because the big gray car and family group just looked German to them.

    My other Uncle was collecting a flag from each country they visited. In Vienna, they were visiting just a few days before Herr Hitler’s triumphal parade after Austria voted overwhelmingly to join the 3rd Reich. The city was filled with banners on every building and flags on every streetlight, all scarlet with white circles and black … you get the picture.

    One evening Dad and Uncle boosted other Uncle up a streetlight to pick up a flag from Austria. Other Uncle rolled up the flag on it’s little staff and pushed it down his pants leg. Just then 4 jackbooted storm trooper brownshirts came around the corner. I have no doubt if other Uncle had been a little slower stashing his flag I nor my cousins would have come to exist.

    Interesting family story. The grand tour in the shadows of the oncoming world war. They were in a movie in Britain when the film was stopped and the radio broadcast of Chamberlain’s speech about peace in our time was put on….


  46. If I shot or had 8mm film, I agree that Pro8 is the number one commercially available lab.
    I would also suggest considering the Prelinger archives if your goal is to make the footage available for open source public domain purposes. More about that archives mission can be found here:

  47. Ah yes- finding a valuable item at a tag sale and reselling it at a huge profit- people will always be mesmerized by the idea of getting something for nothing.

    If it’s as significant as you think it is, get it into the hands of reputable archivists.

  48. As someone whose father escaped Poland in 1939, whose father’s grandparents and more were exterminated in the genocide, I ask that you consider turning it into art. Handing the footage over to experts is one way, and a fine way, but maybe there’s art to be made. Maybe humanity can be elevated with your artistic expression.

  49. @#15 posted by Anonymous:

    I remember this happened a few years ago – they ended up taking the footage and turning it into a documentary, with a voiceover from the ‘little girl’ in the footage, now 80. Lots of shots of German streets with waving flags.

    Do you mean the film under discussion or a SIMILAR tourist film? Try for clarity.

  50. I have gigantic Nazi flag given to me by my father. He served under Patton. I also have a Mauser with the date 1941 and a small swastika stamped on the metal. I’ve been told the gun was never fired and that it’s in good condition. As for the date, I was told that by the end of the war they were making guns so fast that the date 1941 means nothing. I’ll be keeping the gun forever, mainly because the swastika is hard to see. I once looked into selling the flag on ebay, then realized that it might find itself being flown proudly by some whacko if I ever sold it. But even giving it to some archivist somewhere won’t gaurantee that it will be treated with the proper disrespect that it deserves. I’ve come close to destroying it, which frankly is the only correct fate that it warrants.

  51. North Carolina State University in Raleigh has staff that specializes in film preservation. They have a climate-controlled vault and the appropriate equipment for digitization.

    They’re also well-connected to staff at Duke and UNC, among other institutions. If you give them a call, they’d be excited I’m sure to help you decide what to do with it and connect you to all the appropriate people/institutions you may want to talk to.

    Contact Info:

  52. A handheld camera in the early 1930’s?
    that film cannot possibly have been shot
    on a handheld. film cameras in the 1930
    were huge .have a look at picture from the Berlin
    olympics, the first to be shot on film.
    Huge collosusses of cameras. Gigantic. Imagine
    American ueber- dad to have scored the first handheld
    in 1923 to film the hitlerputsch live from Munich?
    More likely the film is a TV production from
    socialist Germany, the word DDR is visible
    in the picture of the filmroll. Probably a worthless
    leftover from some failed socialist drama bout
    american plantation owners funding Hitler .
    Handheld camera, Nazi stopping filming.
    A case for the EFF!
    how much weed were u smoking at practice?

  53. Re inert gas sources: most wine stores / higher end liquor stores sell aerosol nitrogen for $5 – $10 intended for saving the second half of an expensive bottle of wine (by squirting some nitrogen into the bottle to displace the not-so-inert air before putting the cork in).

  54. Definitely agree about digitizing and putting this in the public domain, but if they are going to give it to a museum with the intention of having them digitize it, don’t turn it over carte blanche. They should try to find a place that has shown a commitment to digitizing materials and making them available online. They should make sure their gift is specific: that the film must be digitized within a certain time and must be made available online ( as someone else mentioned). Just get everything in writing.

    A museum tends to be the best place for the care and preservation of the physical artifact, but the industry on a whole doesn’t have the best track record about allowing the public access to collections or publishing their collections data online.

    There’s also the question of rights and reproductions. Found ephemera like this, as interesting as it might be, probably wouldn’t be put online by a museum like the U.S. Holocaust Museum because they don’t have a way of getting the reproduction rights from the creator. It’s out in the vortex of orphan works, so while a private citizen could probably digitize this and put it online with a minimum of fuss, a larger museum more than likely would not because they don’t want a lawsuit.

  55. I work for a museum and am a historian. So, obviously, I think you should get thyself to a proper facility and donate them asap! Let the pros take care of conservation. Right now, there are amazing things rotting in cardboard boxes in leaky attics because people want them to stay in the family, or just can’t let go of them.

    The Nazis were great at keeping video and photographic record of themselves. There are thousands of hours of Hitler speeches. BUT! The kind of video you are talking about- a video filmed by an American family is a different animal. It tells a different story than the Nazi videos.

    But if you are looking to make some money, some museums and archives may buy them from you. But I recommend you doing the right thing an donating them. You will want to make a digital copy, first. Just in case. That way you can still show friends at parties and creep them out. THen you still have the opportunity to put in on the web.

    When you sign over your ownership of the movie, make sure you still retain rights publishing rights to your digital copies. Museums/archives don’t really like for digital copies of their stuff to roam the internet without their permission. So, if you may consider using it in an artistic project down the road, posting on the internet, ect., make sure that you retain publishing rights of your material.

    Great find! Good luck and post an update!

  56. As an archivist, I absolutely agree with posters who recommended contacting the Library of Congress, National Archives, Prelinger Archives, or best of all – the Film and Video Archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

    There is no question that the film is historically valuable and should be donated to an archive.

    Digitizing a film makes it accessible, but does not preserve it. Stored in the right conditions, film can last for a very long time.

    Someone inquired how to care for film outside an archive or museum – film should be stored in a cool, dry place, never in your attic or basement. As another poster mentioned, projectors can damage film. For more info about caring for your home movies and other film, a great resource is

  57. I’m just as curious about the footage as footage of prewar Europe, and buildings that may have been destroyed since then. If you can identify the neighborhoods that were filmed in, their own archivists might be interested in that footage.

    Also, I’m a bit troubled by the idea that it’s somehow important to disrespect any Nazi flags we might find; it kind of reminds me of the flag-burning debates of the 1990s and demonization of the Confederate flag around the same time, in that it affords more power to a symbol than it deserves. To the guy who hesitated to sell his Nazi flag on eBay because some skinhead might display it proudly, think closely about what each side gets out of the exchange: you’d get that flag out of your house and be $X richer; the neo-Nazi would be $X poorer and have an antiquated symbol of a dead regime to idol-worship in vain, and have to spend more time and effort keeping an old flag in presentable form, that could otherwise be spent conspiring or cooking meth.

  58. #64 (Anonymous)

    If you don’t destroy the flag, I suggest as strongly as I can writing a letter explaining what it is and why you have it, and keeping the letter stored with the flag.
    I say this as someone who found some very disturbing historical artifacts in my deceased grandmother’s attic–things we’re always going to wonder about.

  59. This thread is getting discussed on the Association of Moving Image Archivists list.

    Knowledgeable members near the film’s owner can be found by contacting AMIA:

    From a historical point of view:

    Who were the people that shot the film? Can its current owner back track to the people who had the yard sale, and identify where they got it? And then back up the chain to the original photographer?

    If the sellers were the OP or surviving family members, what can they tell the film’s current custodian about their family, the photographer, the trip, and their background.

    The cultural aspect of home movies can be very revealing, and having this kind of background improves the historical value of the film, along with potential cash value of the film and licenseability.

    There are also things that can be learned from being able to examine the film and the container it came in… and some of the other material sold with it.

    Date codes, film manufacturer and film type, condition, camera original or copy among them.

    These are useful things for historians and film preservationists as detectives, and as observers of the science involved in film manufacture and preservation.

    From a film preservation viewpoint:

    This film is 76 years old. Treat it like a respected parent or grandparent.

    See for storage details and other recommendations.
    Some of the other suggestions… Home Movie Day, Center for Home Movies are valid and valuable.

    Until you make decisions about what to to, keep the film in a cool, dry place.

    DON’T run it through a projector again until it has been safely transferred.

    Have it transferred by people who know how to safely and properly handle film and have verifiable experience doing so.

    Shrinkage may be an issue and requires knowledgeable handling.

    Do you get a whiff of vinegar when opening the can at arm’s distance? The vinegar smell is an indication that deterioration is taking place.

    Be safe!

    Don’t first put your nose up against the reel to check, because the vinegar (acetic acid) fumes are potentially harmful to you. And there’s a potential for mold to be present, especially if the film was stored in a humid environment.

    Transfer in HD at 1920 x 1080 pixels, progressive, with a 1:1 ratio of film frames to video frames. Don’t worry about whether it looks too fast at the time of transfer. It can be slowed down to a “natural” speed after the transfer.

    DO transfer to an UNCOMPRESSED file format to preserve picture details and color fidelity that would be lost with compression. Use a transfer system and file format with at least 10-bits of digital resolution.

    These two steps will preserve the images, ability to analyze what’s in them and the marketability of the film as a whole, and as licensable content.

    Screener or viewing copies can be made in HD or SD on disc or tape.

    The safest transfer systems are continuous motion devices that don’t use sprockets.

    The new flashscanHD also from MWA Nova in Berlin has no sprockets, treats film gently and can accommodate shrinkage that may make it hard to play on other systems.

    See more at

    If the film ran through the projector without problems the last time seen, it likely can also be transferred on a high-end Cintel or Thomson Spirit telecine without problem (or damage.)

    Special gates are required and they are not common.

    and, there are things unique to 8mm and Super8 that not all facilities with these machines are accustomed to handling smaller gauge film.

    As for transfer labs: Pro8 in Burbank would be a good resource. They specialize in small gauge and use flying spot scanners from Cintel, which may have a timing sprocket involved.

    Brodsky and Treadway at are also very experienced in handling aged film, and have a lot of experience with 8, Super8 and 16.

    KEEP the film intact after transfer, using appropriate and safe storage techniques.

    There may be better transfer systems that come down the pike in another 20 years, and if this film is still in reasonable condition, transferring again could improve the quality of the results.

    I hope this post and the links therein help correct some of the mis-information in other posts.


    (I am the US/Canadian distributor for MWA Nova products including flashscanHD, and a member of AMIA)

  60. These films have *high* historical value and should be placed at an institution where they will be properly conserved while being available for study, etc. If they stay in your basement or are sold to a private party they are/will be effectively lost.

    My vote is for the film collection at the George Eastman House.

  61. @ 63 and anyone else who advocates destroying original Nazi paraphernalia or turning a hitherto unknown historical record into “art” (shudder): There is simply no excuse for destroying historical artifacts, even if they’re from organizations or people that you disagree with. Clearly the Nazi party was blight on civilization, but it was also part of our collective history and any remaining artifacts need to preserved.

    Remember that the Taliban thought they were totally in the right when they destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan.

  62. What an amazing find, and yes, it absolutely has to be preserved and made public. But DO NOT try to digitize it yourself; it’s too old and you don’t have a backup.

    I’m with the first poster, who said call your local university and find a European history specialist. They’ll know how to assess it, and they’ll be able to put you in touch with archive and preservation people who’ll be able to give it the care it deserves. They might also be able to figure out who made it and when, so it’ll have historical context.

    Of course, by doing this, you’ll be giving up the opportunity to profit from it, like so many in this thread are telling you to do. But think of the service you’re doing to history–not to mention the fantastic story you’ll have to tell for the rest of your life.


  63. “none of us could really figure out what to do with them.”

    You put them online. PUT THEM ONLINE. Then contact a history interest group or a museum.

  64. You put them online. PUT THEM ONLINE. Then contact a history interest group or a museum.

    Err, no: contact a film archivist immediately. Take every necessary step to preserve the film. Then worry about reproducing it, housing it, selling it, etc. The recent embarrassment with the NASA moon landing tapes should be argument enough against making copies without safeguarding the original.

  65. There have been lots of mentions of “Super 8” in these comments, but please note: Super 8 wasn’t released until the mid-60’s. If these films are 8mm, they would be what is now usually referred to as Standard 8, or just 8mm film.

  66. Kodak movie film can be manufacture dated by “edge codes” on the film. Search “Kodak edge codes” and guides to dating even 8mm film can be found.

    If the the date is something after the events depicted you can presume yours is, at best, a copy of something else.

    But a date in the proper range would be promising.

  67. Anonymous @ #66 said:

    A handheld camera in the early 1930’s?
    that film cannot possibly have been shot
    on a handheld. film cameras in the 1930
    were huge.

    The Cine-Kodak Eight was introduced in 1932 and sold for around $35 (USD)

    Anonymous @ #66 also said:

    have a look at picture from the Berlin
    olympics, the first to be shot on film.

    The 1936 Olympics was the first to be broadcast live on television

    And yes TV cameras back then were huge.

    Here is a film clip from the first modern Olympics in 1896:

  68. @57 If the film’s genuine, it was definitely recorded after the nazi takeover in ’33, since there are orderly rows of nazi flags in the streets.

    Please have this film digitized professionally and donate it to a museum/archive. Like others have pointed out, amateur footage is highly valuable to historians since it often shows aspects of daily life we never see in ‘official’ films.

    Do not sell it to the highest bidder.

  69. @46 Well, to be fair the 1936 election should be called “elections”. Only one party allowed.

  70. I’m an intern at the Museum of Tolerance out in Los Angeles, CA. We have a research department at the Simon Wiesenthal Center which is also located in Los Angeles. I would get into contact with them if there is anything they can help you with.

  71. I always think it is bizarre that people will sometimes block a camera being aimed at a clearly public event. If it was a parade I’d think they’d want people to see it?

  72. OMG. German reader here.

    I can’t believe that there can be a question about the value of these little films. I can tell you from watching television every evening in Germany that authentic footage is very rare. There is always the same stuff.

    Especially footage from a non-Nazi camera is very interesting. Not only were they wetting themselves when Eva Braun’s home video footage was finally released, even some parts in color what is VERY rare, but also does it tell something about tourism of that day. I think it’s highly unique material!

    Ask some organization for digitalization. But please don’t give the rights to some museum. Please don’t. I want this footage to be free :/

  73. I suggest contacting the Smithsonian. They have the experience, technology and other resources to conserve the film properly. In any case, they will surely advise your friend of the best thing to do it with it. I also agree that he should maintain the distribution rights himself.

  74. You should contact a university with a notable film archive. They probably would have funding and proper equipment for restoration, archival preservation, and digitization. Tom Gunning runs a big ‘early film’ archive at the University of Chicago. He probably could help you or at least introduce you to someone appropriate. You can look up his email online. If you can’t reach him, the chair of any film department at any top-notch university will be very glad to hear from you and will surely help you out. It’s likely that if you’re willing to surrender or sell them the original film, you can negotiate for open distribution of the digital versions. As an academic film archive, their central interest will be in the prestige of retaining the original–not the profits from digital distribution.

  75. Burn them!

    Every last frame; throw them into the fire, as Hitler did with as many books and media as he and his henchmen could.

    The last thing this world needs now (as yuppie-ized ‘smiley face fascism’ rises) is more Hitler footage fodder for the clamoring NWO-‘Banksta’ fascists. When does history education turn into predictive programming?

    Yes, yes, it’s all so historically important… A medieval torture, where people are dunks underwater upside down (now referred to as “water boarding”), has also been deemed important too.

    Be careful what you ask for, because…

  76. After you (hopefully) digitize them, sell them on eBay. Whoever beats out the other bidders will probably take good care of them and have a specific understanding of their historical significance.

  77. @ #66 (Anonymous) – Cameras in general were bigger back in the 1930s than they are today, or were in the 1960s. The cameras used to film the Olympic Games in Berlin used 35mm stock and were certainly too bulky to be hand-held. However, this is a reel or two of 8mm film being discussed, and this was intended for hand-held cameras. The cameras used were a little heavier than a high-caliber handgun, and had a structure on top shaped like Mickey-Mouse ears for the reel of film and its take-up reel, but they were portable. These became smaller, lighter and easier to manage in the 1960s, as 8mm film becan to be packaged in a square cartridge with a built-in take-up reel (This allowed one to change the film in broad daylight without risking overexposure) and plastics replaced many glass or metal components.

  78. I’d call Sothebys and/or Christies. If it has value, they would know, and would be able to advise you.

  79. I have seen home movie-esque Hitler footage. He was frolicking with Eva Braun on the porch of some alpine cottage. He looked like a kindly uncle. Which made him all the more terrifying seeming.

  80. While home movie footage of major political events like a Hitler rally represent very obvious historical interest to the public, the uniqueness of all home movies makes them potentially invaluable as cultural artifacts. For instance, even if these films did not include the Nazi rally and actual footage of Hitler, but “merely” footage of German cities and countryside in the late 1930’s, you can well imagine that it would still be of interest to all sorts of historians and individuals who have an interest in that region.

    Just so, all home movies have the potential to further understanding of the cultures that spawned them, and even if they don’t seem sensational enough to devote a BoingBoing article, they are worthy of care and preservation.

    TedL’s post (#75) provides a great deal of accurate information, and anyone with home movies in the 8mm / Super8 / 16mm formats would do well to consult the site he mentions.

    It is unfortunate that a few of the other voices here are incorrectly warning that acetate film is dangerously flammable. This is untrue. It is Nitrate film that possesses the infamously combustible chemistry that leads to intense and unextinguishable blazes if ignited. Nitrate was used for 35mm theatrical films until 1951, never for the small-gauge “home” formats of 8mm/16mm/Super8.

    You can rest assured that small-gauge films are *not dangerous to store in your homes*, however old they may be — they are no more “flammable” than your LP records. (For that matter, even 35mm nitrate film rarely “spontaneously combusts”, and only under very particular conditions — it should most certainly be treated with respect, but not alarm).

    The Center for Home Movies encourages the preservation of all home movies, ideally by urging families to care for their own films through storage in a cool, dry environment and by having them transferred to modern media (dvd’s etc.) for viewing. Storing some documentation along with the films identifying dates, people and places is also a very useful bit of foresight — imagine how useful such notes would be in the case of these Hitler films — what were the circumstances and experience of the photographer? Wouldn’t we like to know!

    The original films should always be regarded as the most precious, the “real” version, and as TedL points out, can be returned to over time as new media come into use. If they begin to exhibit warping or a vinegar smell, further strategies for preservation can be explored, including re-shooting onto longer lasting polyester film stock, or planning for a long-term digital strategy. (DVD’s are a very poor strategy for long-term preservation, no better than VHS tape).

    With regard to these Chapel HIll ‘Hitler’ films, we would encourage you to regard them as important historical materials and consider providing for their survival by collaborating with one or more of the archives / universities already mentioned here to ensure their preservation. As another poster mentioned, it would be appropriate for you to ask any such organization what they will do with the material and exactly how they will make it available to the public, if that is a priority in your mind. Any donation arrangement should certainly be in writing. The copyright status of Orphaned works has indeed been an obstacle for archivists wishing to make their collections available, but there are significant efforts afoot to overcome these hurdles.

    I hope you will do something with these films that gives them the best chance to be seen both this year *and* in 50 or 100 years.

    Albert Steg
    Co-Chair, AMIA Small-Gauge Interest Group
    Board Member, Center for Home Movies

  81. @#89 posted by andigopow


    If I had to throw my two cents into the three ring circus that this thread seems to be becoming (because, after all, who doesn’t love a thread about Hitler?) I would have to say that in my opinion – old footage is worth transporting to modern media regardless of content. When my grandmother passed away some years back at the ripe old age of 101, we found some old reel to reel film. I cant say if it was 8mm or what, as being only 27 now I’ve only really ever worked in digital or equivalent.

    Either way – what we found was footage of my father, at my age, just after the war, playing tennis with my late grandfather, as well as playing with my grandmother, grand aunt, and their dog. It not only brought back memories for him, but also conjured up some feeling in myself – seeing my father in a totally different light. Seeing a photo of someone when younger is one thing, but seeing actual footage is amazing.

    Anyway – we took it to a camera / film company who’s name I cannot remember. All I know is that whether Hitler is in it or not (and assuming its what it purports to be) its moving, unscripted images of a time and a place. Irregardless of its historical relevance – it is something to be treasured.

    Seek out a company. Get it digitized or protected or something. Don’t just leave it in a basement. At the end of the day … a short piece of footage of Hitler at a rally inst going to answer any of life’s questions, or solve any of the queries as to why he did it. Whats interesting – and what I would love to see – is the street scenes, the American family in Germany, the banners and unscripted general footage. The apparent denial of civilian filming and so on. (If anyone has seen documentary “Taking Liberties” you’ll know what I mean!)

    If I were the owner of this footage, I would stop reading BB this very minute, and start trying to save this slice of history. And with any luck, maybe we’ll see this clip on youtube or the History Channel some day soon!

  82. Your story reminded me of Lisa Lewenz, finding her grandmother Ella’s films from the 1920s and ’30s.

    “A Letter Without Words”

    In 1933 Germany made private film-making illegal. Ella Lewenz kept filming.

    If you get a chance to see this film, I recommend it. It is an eye-opening experience in many ways.

    “Ella was born into a family of wealth, privilege and culture, and was deeply devoted to pacifism and a united Europe prior to Hitler’s rule. Her social position enabled her use of a movie camera to document her startled realization that no matter what contributions her family had made, that like all Jews, they had become the scapegoat for their nation’s insecurity after World War I. Her rare footage from the 1920s and 30s recorded a carefree family life; elaborate Nazi spectacles; and notable figures who would soon become exiles, such as Albert Einstein, Rabbi Leo Baeck, and Brigitte Helm. Ella filmed Palestine in 1935 while exploring potential homelands if emigration became necessary.”

    But the film also makes clear that, at first, as proud Germans, she was happy to be documenting the recovery of her country after World War I… and through her eyes, you can see the cities go from rubble and soup-lines to gleaming and clean and modern. It gives you a little more of an idea about the rise of the Nazis, from inside the country.

  83. another goddamn picture of AH, another fucking ‘authentic’ svarshticker flag, oh, my those nazi are so fabulous! I dont think it is a crime against History (whatever that is) to trash this garbage. do you really think that you are on the cusp of proving something about that regime that isnt already known? do you really have a real and true fragment of the True Cross? look at all of the trouble and effort that snood of turin has caused. Burn, baby, burn!

    nb: I am not a librarian.

  84. Contact the George Eastman House ( ). They are adept at archiving (with an environmentally-controlled vault), film restoration (Selznick School), projection (their Dryden Theater has one of a few nitrate-safe projectors in the world and shows films regularly), they have contact with all kinds of other organizations, and most of all, they’re generally accessible to your average Jo[e]. I guess I’d start with The Gannett Foundation Photographic Study Center, listed on their Motion Pictures page at (585) 271-3361 ext. 459.

  85. You may well know this already, but what you need to transfer film to digital video is a telecine facility. Just use Google and find your local telecine place. That said, telecine is an expensive process – although it’s quite possible that a museum, historical library or someplace similar will pay to have the telecine done for their own archiving anyway.

  86. When and if your friend has it digitized, make sure it’s to an uncompressed digital format. Then make a compressed version (HD) for distribution.

  87. You should get an estimate for a quality digitization, then raise the money at (a site where you can get community funding for a project – its really great) and promise to publish the videos to and send each contributor a high quality digital video copy. then give/sell the reels to a good organization as advised above

  88. I was gonna point you to, but canetoad (#37) and Albert (#105) beat me to it.

    As for you, Mr. Brown (#110) it is quite clear you are neither a librarian nor a historian. The power and value of these films lies not only in the documentation of a specific time and place… but also in their context. The sandwiching in of a nazi rally with other tourist views seems surreal and impossible. My friends, that was a normal tourist visit to Germany in the 1930s.

    Preserving the entire film is not a glorification of nazi culture or politics. Destroying the evidence does nothing but erase the context within which these dangerous people came to power.

  89. Get them to an archives. They are likely nitrate film which can be very dangerous to handle as it ages. It can ignite from simply viewing the film with the projector. Once lit it burns intensely and water won’t do the trick to put it out.

    A film archive will know how to safely digitize it. And I’m sure it is of great worth.

    This may help for identification and management:

  90. Hey- donate them to a museum. There are various Holocaust museums in the US. You could sell them too- but most museums, especially in this economy don’t have the budget to pay much for stuff. Still you could get a tax right off for the value if you donate. Then again, I know that the Holocaust Museum tries not to collect Nazi paraphernalia, but this film probably doesn’t count as that. They are interested in propaganda and German culture during Nazi Germany. Interesting find!

  91. I didn’t read all of the comments, but I want to add another vote for making this footage public and in the hands of professionals ASAP.

  92. Eh, come on people- it’s not that hard to read all the comments before spewing your own opinion out, is it? You just look dumb if you say something that’s already been refuted by a clear expert.

    Now, for MY two cents’ worth: Listen to the commenter who suggested making a deal with a museum to do the digitising (uncompressed, as mentioned before) in return for the originals. You get a nice raw copy, they get the film. Don’t give up your own rights to broadcast or license the footage, though- it’s not worth it.

    Then upload the digital to so the whole world can see it. Those who advocate giving the film to an institution like the Smithsonian etc. forget that most of us have no access to those places and once something goes in there, it never comes out.

    The people who keep ranting about flammable film make me LOL, tho.

  93. Got to see this home movie for myself today at the NCSU Home Movie Day held at the Archive Museum downtown Raleigh, NC. I admit if I were one of those guys down in that basement the first time this was viewed, I would have been freaked out as well. The footage was amazing! Scary, but amazing and everything should be done to preserve this film. Also explains why Hitler was on my movie bingo card..ha ha.

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