Serving colonial revisionism

The report of the Leipziger Volkszeitung, one of the official dailies run by Germany’s social democrats, gives an idea of how a Ross lecture catered to those longing for the restoration of Germany’s colonial past.

In contrast to the Vienna lectures that accompanied the screenings of Die erwachende Sphinx (see The weak white), no written or audiovisual records of Ross’s appearance in Leipzig1 have come down to us. But on the basis of a great number of reviews from Hamburg, Berlin, and Leipzig, the dominant drift of the lecture can be reconstructed. The Leipzig screening was staged as a special event, probably because it is the city where Ross’s book publisher, the Brockhaus company, resides. The cinema was transformed into an “ethnographic museum” with exotic props and a “real negro” to welcome the guests.2

Ross apparently accompanied the screening with a strong colonial mission in mind. The Leipzig review, after complimentary remarks regarding the information density of the images, critically summarizes the entire event. Besides lambasting the musicians’ lack of professionalism (for playing unsuitable music or reinforcing nationalistic and colonialist overtones by playing “Wacht am Rhein” and “Deutschland über alles”), the reviewer’s main source of disappointment is Ross’s changed attitude towards Germany’s colonial past. Instead of showing an “ethnographic” film and reiterating the criticism on German colonial aspirations (colonialism being “the fate of the white race”), Ross, and with him the film company, support “imperialist propaganda”.

At the other end of the political spectrum, however, this was certainly welcomed. A review of the Berlin premiere stressed the cohesion between film and lecture and the positive change in Ross’s political position (with an unmistakable negative hint to his republican past). Moreover, it appropriated the entire performance for its revisionist ideas: “What is the fate of Africa and will Germany play a role in this fate? Film and lecture answered the last part of this question with ‘yes’” Given the film’s rather nostalgic depiction of Germany’s heroic colonial past, Ross must have lend support to colonialist ideas.

Katalin Teller

Anonymous. [Die erwachende Sphinx]. Leipziger Volkszeitung. Jg. 34, Nr. 231. 1927 Oct 3; [8],

Topic: Colonialism
Case: Speaking engagements

See also


1 See Library for extensive coverage of the premieres in these cities.

2 Sf. Das Kino als Völkermuseum. Film-Kurier. 1927 Oct 12;  241: [n.d.]. The Hamburg premiere featured an entire “Somali tribe”, courtesy of Carl Hagenbeck, the biggest German subcontractor of circuses and zoos at the time, see Anonymous. Lessing Theater. Hamburgischer Correspondent: 1927 Aug 6; 197 (363 Morgen-Ausgabe); [24]. See Library.

3 Die erwachende Sphinx. Berliner Lokalanzeiger: 1927 Nov 24; 45 (556): 2. See Library.

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