The Ecphorizer

Creative Journalism

Issue #29 (January 1984)

It is June, 1940. After a six-week blitzkrieg, the Nazi war machine has crushed the armies of Luxembourg, Belgium, Holland and France. The British Expeditionary Force has fled the continent. In a railroad car parked by the town of Compiegne, fifty miles northeast of Paris, Hitler is re-enacting on the same spot the scene that ended the first World War. But this time, instead of Germany signing a humiliating armistice it is the French who are capitulating.

Hitler is immensely pleased with himself. While a newsreel camera captures the moment, he strides happily from the car. In front of the camera he dances a ludicrous little jig, as the dazed French remain behind at the surrender table.

The conqueror's impromptu waltz became an indelible image of the times. It was shown on every movie screen in the free world. Frame shots appeared in every newspaper. Headlines proclaimed "Nazi Dictator Dances for Joy at French Humiliation." Hitler had been graphically exposed as an utter barbarian. The only problem with this brilliant piece of journalism is that it was completely fake.

The truth came out in 1958. While walking across the railroad yard, Hitler had stumbled or hopped - today no one is sure what happened as the camera ground away. John Grierson, the documentary film maker, was working in the Allied laboratory that received a print from the Germans. Before sending the print on its way, he spent several hours copying and splicing the few frames of that stumble, until he had expanded and reduplicated it into a madman's minuet.

Today we would be incensed at such trickery. But things were different in 1940 (even in 1958). Hitler was a monster, and deserved everything he got. It was lying, to be sure, but... lying in a good cause. 

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