Propaganda Films for the Marshall Plan and Soviet Counter-Propaganda

"Me and Mr. Marshall" and "Brigade Anton Trinks"

Term Paper, 2012

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Stuart Schulberg, the ECA, and Hunger

3. Me and Mr. Marshall

4. Soviet Counter-Propaganda
4.1 A Short Introduction
4.2 Brigade Anton Trinks

5. Comparison
5.1 Parallels
5.2 Differences

6. Conclusion
Works Cited

1. Introduction

In the aftermath of WWII, Europe lay in ruins – the cities were devastated, the economies paralyzed, and the life of the population was ruled by hunger and poverty. To help Europe, the United States initiated the European Recovery Program (short ERP), commonly known under the name Marshall Plan. Named after the Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who had demanded technical and financial aid for Europe in an address at Harvard University in 1947, the plan focused on ‘help for self-help,’ providing money and goods to support the reconstruction of Europe (cf. Berlin Film Festival 2004, 8). In 1953, Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize for his actions (cf. BFF 2005, Kosslick 4). The plan was in operation for four years, starting in April 1948.

During the Marshall Plan years, the aid program was advertised in a large-scale propaganda operation through posters, brochures, exhibitions, radio programs, and films (cf. BFF 2004, Rother 7). Documentary film units were put into place throughout Europe in order to promote the plan and instill hope in European people, but also to prevent the spread of communism from the Soviet Union. Over 300 short films were produced in total, ranging from films aimed at the re-education and re-orientation in the early post-war years to films propagating the Marshall Plan. In Germany, these films were shown both commercially and non-commercially, the latter by touring units with projectors at town squares, in cultural institutions, schools, or discussion clubs (cf. Schulberg 207 ff.). As a reaction to these movies, the German Democratic Republic produced counter-propaganda films to promote Soviet ideals.

All of these films had been buried in archives, e.g., in the National Archive in Washington, D.C. or in the German Federal Archive-Film Archive (cf. BFF 2004, Kosslick 4). Consequently, the films had fallen into oblivion for decades until their re-screening began in 2004, following the initiative of Sandra Schulberg, daughter of Marshall Plan film producer Stuart Schulberg (cf. BFF 2004, Kosslick 4). The Berlin Film Festivals in the years 2004 through 2006 offered three film series under the titles “Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1947-1955,” “Winning the Peace,” and “Friendly Persuasion.”

All Marshall Plan films sought to educate and to re-educate; educating in the sense of training and preparing the youth of Europe for democracy, and re-educating with the goal of implementing unbiased attitudes regarding race or class, changing beliefs and behaviors, and ‘teaching democracy’ (cf. Mehring, “Re-Education”). This notion is somehow problematic as it solely focusses on the agency of the sender and excludes the agency of the recipient (cf. Mehring, “Re-Education”).

This paper will have a closer look at one film produced initially for the re-education program and Marshall Plan promotion in West Germany, Me and Mr. Marshall (1949), and one Soviet anti-Marshall Plan film, Brigade Anton Trinks (produced in the German Democratic Republic in 1952).

To provide some framework for the discussion of Marshall Plan films, chapter two will focus on the supervisor of Me and Mr. Marshall, Stuart Schulberg, his first film for the program, Hunger (1948), and the work of the ECA (Economic Cooperation Administration). The third chapter will then offer a summary and interpretation of the very successful Me and Mr. Marshall. Chapter four consists of a short introduction to Soviet counter-propaganda and an analysis of Brigade Anton Trinks. The following chapter will then give a comparison of the two films. Thereafter, a short conclusion will be provided.

2. Stuart Schulberg, the ECA, and Hunger

Stuart Schulberg was born in Los Angeles in 1922 and went to school in Switzerland where he learned to speak French and German fluently (cf. BFF 2004, 13). In 1947, Schulberg produced the movie The Lessons of Nuremberg (known in Germany under the title Nürnberg und seine Lehre) for OMGUS (Office of Military Government, United States), a film about the Nuremberg trials against Nazi war criminals. For OMGUS, Schulberg also produced films for the German re-education and re-orientation, such as Hunger (1948) and Me and Mr. Marshall (1949). In 1949, he became head of the Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section, which belonged to the ECA (Economic Cooperation Administration) (cf. BFF 2004, Schulberg 6). In this position, Schulberg coordinated Marshall Plan films for all over Europe from the headquarters in Paris.

In his article “Of All People,” Schulberg described the scope of the documentary films produced in Germany like this:

The U.S. documentary program is designed primarily, of course, for the political, social, and economic reorientation of the German people. A secondary aim, however, has been the re-orientation of German short-film producers. Here, as in so many other fields, we have bumped into the traditional German lack of political and social initiative. Too many of our licensed producers are still dedicating themselves to "Schoenheit über alles," a propensity which brings forth "Kulturfilme" rather than documentaries. On behalf of these licensees, it must be said that the Nazi years have left them with a high distrust of films with "Tendenz" or political tendencies, be they left-wing, right-wing, or straight-down-the-center (208).

He explained that several interesting documentary films, for example, about the German Revolution of 1848, were being produced then. As a consequence, he recognized the American role in “[planting] the seed of documentary” in Germany (Schulberg 208).

As already mentioned, Stuart Schulberg produced his first movie Hunger for the de-Nazification and re-education program in Germany. In a narrower sense, it is not yet a Marshall Plan film. It opens with a montage of hungry people in different cities. What the audience would suppose is Germany, are actually cities in various European countries. The unpleasant footage aimed at showing German people that they were not the only ones who had to suffer, but that people all over Europe were starving. The film suggests that the Nazi machinery of war is to blame for the whole situation (cf. Mehring, “Propaganda”). Schulberg used old footage of the German Wochenschau, showing marching troops of the Wehrmacht and Nazi politician Hermann Göring stating his well-known phrase “Kanonen statt Butter” (“Cannons instead of butter”). These extracts caused a furor: The audiences showed enthusiasm for the troops, rather than condemning Göring’s statement. The viewers shouted “Hermann would not let us starve!” and “We want Hermann!” (cf. BFF 2004, 23).

The movie was pushing its message too fast and too hard for the German audience at that time, and this also shows the need for sensitivity on the part of the filmmakers (cf. BFF 2004, 9). As Frank Mehring states, “showing audiences the horror of the past and the misery of the present proved to be counter-productive” (BFF 2006, 36). The film was heavily criticized by the German population, which was fast to list a number of other accusations against the film and policymakers: Germans argued that they did not get enough money to pay the prices for food, that their best agricultural land had been given to Poland after the war, and that the Americans should rather spend time on bringing food than on making propaganda movies.

Only four weeks after its release, Hunger was pulled from distribution after having been shown in only a quarter of the cinemas in the U.S. zone (cf. BFF 2004, 23). In the future, only extracts which would not lead to such emotional outbursts as before would be shown to the German public (cf. Mehring, “Propaganda”).

In conclusion, Hunger was a complete failure. Schulberg did not find the right tone, agenda, or audiovisual techniques that would work with a newly de-Nazified German audience. Talking about the right propaganda technique, Schulberg later acknowledged:

Taste and subtlety are important elements of propaganda technique. An unwritten ECA law stipulates that the Marshall Plan – and other informational objectives – will not be mentioned more than twice in a one-reeler and three times in a two-reeler. If Americans, seeing the English-language versions of ECA films, feel that the ‘message’ is under-played, let them remember that Europeans have still not recovered from the sledge-hammer blows of Herr Goebbels” (BFF 2005, Schulberg 14 ff.).

German people were still very sensitive to direct propaganda because of their experience with minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels during the Third Reich. Therefore, a direct indoctrination had to be avoided (cf. BFF 2006, Mehring 36).


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Propaganda Films for the Marshall Plan and Soviet Counter-Propaganda
"Me and Mr. Marshall" and "Brigade Anton Trinks"
Free University of Berlin
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marshall plan, propaganda, me and mr marshall, brigade anton trinks, berlinale, schulberg, hunger, film, documentary
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Kathrin Hoffmann (Author), 2012, Propaganda Films for the Marshall Plan and Soviet Counter-Propaganda, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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