YouTube Bans Anti-Nazi Documentary From 1938 For Violating Hate Speech Policy [Updated]

Screenshot: March of Time

“Inside Nazi Germany” is one of the most important anti-Nazi documentaries in history. First released on January 20, 1938, the 15-minute movie became one of the first explicitly anti-Nazi newsreels to play in U.S. theaters and provided an early glimpse into the Nazi atrocities that would only become fully known to Americans years later. The film, part of the legendary “March of Time” newsreel series, was even chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress in 1993 because it played such an important part in U.S. history. But YouTube recently deleted my upload of the video because the company says it’s in violation of their hate speech policy. Seriously.

On July 27, 2019, I posted the newsreel to YouTube because it seemed like an important historical document. I’m currently writing a book about the movies the U.S. presidents watched while in office, and I discovered that President Franklin D. Roosevelt watched “Inside Nazi Germany” at the White House. I went searching for the film, and when I finally tracked it down, I decided to upload it to YouTube, figuring that more people should be allowed to see it.

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But YouTube apparently had other plans, deleting the video with a stern warning: “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on hate speech. Learn more about combating hate speech in your country.”

Hate speech against whom? The Nazis? This isn’t some old pro-Nazi movie that we might debate about keeping online for educational value. You can still find clips from vicious, anti-semitic Nazi films like The Eternal Jew (1940) on YouTube, and while they’re flagged as sensitive, they’re not pulled down under the theory that they can be an educational artifact demonstrating how fascism and bigotry go hand in hand.

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Screenshot: March of Time

“Inside Nazi Germany” is an explicitly anti-Nazi movie that provided Americans with a look at the horrific injustices the Nazis were perpetrating against Jews and others who dared to question the Nazi regime. It was produced by Americans using footage smuggled out of Germany to show the public what was really going on. It’s not terribly graphic, violent, or otherwise visually disturbing, beyond the anti-semitic signs and Nazi marches we see on screen. Kristallnacht was still many months away, and the average German could still believe the lie that the concentration camps were only for criminals and other deviants.

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I reached out to YouTube to ask why the video had been pulled and the company, which is owned by Google, sent me two paragraphs about how they have “clear policies” about what gets pulled and said that if they make a mistake they’re always quick to correct it.

From YouTube:

We have clear policies that outline what content is not acceptable to post and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged to us. But, we may make exceptions when otherwise hateful content is presented with sufficient educational or documentary context. The context needs to be prominently clear when watching a video. Uploading policy violative content without sufficient context will be removed from our site because our policies apply to all creators equally. If someone were to see these videos without the added context, the videos would still serve their underlying purpose - inciting hate - regardless of who shared them.

With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we also make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it. We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content once notified.

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I appealed the decision almost immediately after my upload of “Inside Nazi Germany” was removed in July and I haven’t heard anything since then. The video is still marked as banned.

What does the video actually deal with? The rising tide of fascism in Europe, which was being supported in the U.S. by Nazi sympathizers who called themselves the German-American Bund. You’ve likely seen footage from the 1939 Nazi rally that took place at Madison Square Garden, a shocking thing to see on American soil.

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Plans for a Nazi summer camp in the U.S. seen in the 1938 film “Inside Nazi Germany”
Screenshot: March of Time

The film opens with the narrator explaining that Germany looks fairly normal, all things considered.

The show window of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany today is its capital city, Berlin. The casual visitor may be surprised by the air of prosperity. The well-dressed crowd and by the abundance of rich foods served in its cafes and terraces. Nowhere does the visitor see privation or hunger.

Berlin parks and playgrounds are filled with groups of plain, cheerful people who show no signs of dissatisfaction with the fascist dictatorship which controls their lives. No apparent resentment against the government whose campaign of suppression and regimentation has shocked the world’s democracies.

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The film warns that there are bad things happening in Germany that we can’t even see.

Only those who get behind the scenes know that this outward cheerfulness is the creation of Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Paul Joseph Goebbels. In the most concentrated propaganda campaign the world has ever known, Minister Goebbels has in five years of Nazi rule whipped 65 million people into a nation with one mind, one will, and one objective: Expansion.

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Screenshot: March of Time

One of the most illuminating things about this film for American viewers in early 1938 would have been the segments where we can see the hatred directed at Jews. German diplomats to the U.S. had successfully killed Hollywood movies in the mid-1930s that dealt with the Nazi persecution of the Jews. But newsreel producers had leeway to report the truth, which is precisely what they did, however modestly, with this film.

Still going on as perilously that did five years ago is Goebbels persecution of the Jews. Signposts at city limits bear the legend, “Jews not wanted. Jews keep out.” Even in parks if Jews are allowed at all special yellow benches are set apart labeled “For Jews.”

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The Germans even protested the following year when the Warner Bros. movie Confessions of a Nazi Spy was released, but there was nothing the Hollywood censors could do to stop it. The story was true, and therefore the studio heads had every right as Americans to make the film without the government claiming it might damage relations with Germany.

YouTube has a tremendous impact on the way that people see the world in the 21st century. And it’s good that the company is cracking down on extremist content. But this film is an important part of our shared history. And far from celebrating the Nazis, the movie warns of the fascist menace that can be lurking just underneath an otherwise normal-looking veneer.

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In short, this film is needed today more than ever. And I really hope YouTube wakes up to that fact, rather than muddying the waters with promises that it will clean up extremist white nationalist content, only to ban the videos that take a definitively anti-Nazi stance.

Update, 2:20pm: YouTube just reinstated my video but didn’t tell me why. You can watch the entire documentary here.

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog