The British Surrender at Saratoga, 1777

2021-10-20T12:28:15-05:00October 20, 2021|HH 2021|

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” —Romans 5:3-4

The British Surrender at Saratoga,
October 17, 1777

Historians look back into history to find an event that tipped a war in the favor of one side or the other, and when they believe they’ve identified that moment, they tend to call it the “turning point of the war.” Hence, we hear about Gettysburg or Vicksburg in those terms, or Midway in WWII. A consensus has developed over the years to call the Battles at Saratoga, New York, the major turning point of the War for American Independence. The American general that brought about that victory was one of the best produced in the war, Benedict Arnold.


Saratoga Battlefield, as it appears today, now part of Saratoga National Historic Park,
in Stillwater, New York

The War had already dragged on beyond the experts’ forecasts. 1776 and early 1777 had brought many American defeats and a few victories, but no real end in sight. The British held the ground they stood on and that was about all. Washington’s army remained in the field and other forces in New York and the South awaited the next move by the British forces. An ambitious plan was hatched to divide New York Colony (now calling itself a State) by the conjoining of three red-coat armies to isolate New England, secure New York and the Hudson River Valley, and watch Washington’s army wither in scattered departments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


General Sir William Howe (1729-1814)


General John Burgoyne (1722-1792)

The campaign began in June of 1777 when General Barry St. Legar was tasked with invading western New York from Canada, following the Mohawk River into the interior. General William Howe would leave his cozy billets in New York City and move up the Hudson, taking out American strongholds like West Point, while General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne would march from Quebec into the regions of the northern Hudson River region to link up and capture Albany. The ambitious campaign foundered from the first.

General Howe decided he would prefer to seize Philadelphia, and embarked on a campaign to capture the rebel capital, instead of joining his erstwhile subordinates in long marches into the wilderness of New York, preferring the comforts and advantages to which he had become accustomed. St. Legar’s command of 700 Loyalists and Regulars and 800 Indians—mostly Senecas—laid siege to the American Fort Stanwix, defended by militia from New York and Massachusetts, for about twenty days, without success. Skirmishes occurred daily, but in the end, the British commander withdrew, never linking up with Burgoyne’s forces.


General Philip Schuyler (1733-1804)


General Horatio Gates (1727-1806)

Burgoyne, unaware of the extent of the perfidy and lack of perseverance of his confederates, continued his campaign into August and September, fully confident of success. He recaptured Fort Ticonderoga in early July and reoccupied Fort Edward. The American army slowly retreated westward into New York, led by Phillip Schuyler and then Horatio Gates, a Congressional favorite. George Washington, although having to deal with Howe’s formidable forces, sent his best fighting general, Benedict Arnold, to help Gates as well as forces under Benjamin Lincoln, a favorite with New Englanders, and five hundred riflemen under the Virginia commando and all around tough guy, Daniel Morgan. Washington’s decisions would prove decisive in the comeuppance of Burgoyne.


Daniel Morgan (1735/1736-1802)


Major General Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)


Major General Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810)


Freeman’s Farm of the Saratoga Battlefield, as it appears today

The climax of the campaign came in a series of engagements: September 19th at Freeman’s Farm, October 7 at Bemis Heights, and the final surrounding of Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga on October 9. At Freeman’s Farm, the Virginians under Morgan picked off almost all the officers of the foremost regiment with their long-range rifles. In the fight that ensued, Burgoyne suffered more than six hundred casualties; the Americans about half that many. All the men and officers of the American forces that day credited Benedict Arnold with leading them to victory. General Gates, who remained far from the field, hated Arnold and took all the credit for himself, getting in a shouting match with Arnold and removing him from command.


Saratoga Battlefield Monument

By October, the British were low on ammunition and supplies and down to about 5,000 fighting men. Gates now had 12,000 and was in a good position to finish off Burgoyne. At Bemis Heights, the two sides fought a ferocious engagement in which Arnold, against orders, returned to the field and led the charge that captured the main British redoubt and finished the fight. He was wounded and his horse killed in the attack. He later said he wished he had been killed and would then have been a martyr to the cause.


The October 17, 1777 surrender of the British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga

On October 17, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army. Gates gave them the “honors of war” and agreed to allow them to sail for home. He was overridden by Congress and the British army was incarcerated for the war. Congress declared the first national Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer and rewarded Gates with further commands and accolades. Gates saw to it that upon Arnold’s recovery from his wounds, no credit would accrue to him, although Washington gave Arnold the choice of postings. He took West Point, which he attempted to sell out to the enemy and went over to their side, becoming one of the great traitors of American history. His glorious success at Saratoga is memorialized in a monument with just his boot visible, exposing the part of his anatomy that shed blood for independence.


A monument on the Saratoga Battlefield, commemorating the wounding in the foot of Benedict Arnold

The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis, 1809

2021-10-20T10:16:32-05:00October 13, 2021|HH 2021|

“For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” —James 4:14b

The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis,
October 11, 1809

Meriwether Lewis received little or no formal schooling until after the age of thirteen. He matriculated in the woods of rural Virginia, hiking, hunting and fishing, living out of doors, and analyzing and admiring the created world. After a rudimentary education which included reading, writing, and “scientific Latin nomenclature,” he served in the militia and army. Thomas Jefferson, a neighbor and now President of the United States, commissioned Lewis to lead the Corps of Discovery as co-captain with William Clark, and became one of the greatest “pathfinders” explorers and heroes of American history, beginning in his own day. Three years after the “Lewis and Clark” Expedition, at age 35 and serving as Governor of the Louisiana Territory, he was shot to death while travelling alone along the Natchez Trace, near Hohenwald, Tennessee, still an unsolved mystery.


Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) American explorer, soldier and politician best known for his leadership of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803-1806)

At the age of twenty, Meriwether Lewis joined the army for the campaign against the “Whiskey Rebellion,” and liked the discipline and hardship well enough to remain in the ranks after the emergency was over, rising to the rank of Captain. He was serving as paymaster in February of 1801 when he received a letter from Thomas Jefferson inviting him to become the President’s private secretary and live with him in his home. In his memoir of Meriwether Lewis, Jefferson wrote in 1813 describing Lewis as possessor of:

“courage undaunted, possessing a firmness & perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction . . .steady in the maintenance of order & discipline, intimate with the Indian character, customs, and principles, habituated to the hunting life. . .”


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)


The extent of the land acquired during the Louisiana Purchase is shown in white, overlaid on a modern map of the United States

As is so well known to history, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the Louisiana Territory, 828,000 square miles of land that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, to the United States. President Thomas Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis to assemble a team of hardy explorers to map the geography of the purchase, establish commerce and peaceable relations with the native inhabitants, and note the flora and fauna of the lands as well as the culture of the inhabitants. Lewis accomplished this amazing commission between May 1804 and September 1806, with the loss of but one man.


Reconstruction of Camp Dubois in Illinois, where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter of 1803–1804 while awaiting the transfer of the Louisiana Purchase to the United States

 


The Corps of Discovery encounters Chinooks on the Lower Columbia River, October 1805

As Governor of the new Territory, Lewis wrote articles for the Missouri Gazette, founded the first Masonic lodge in the West, made many appointments of territorial officials, laid the geographical foundation for the State of Arkansas, and established an intelligence network to help keep the peace among the various tribes that inhabited the vast mountain and prairie realm of the Missouri River watershed. He was opposed on almost every hand by U.S. Army officers who ignored Indian treaty obligations, and by local militias who caused trouble wherever illegal settlements sprang up in the new lands. British agents also tampered with the natives, stimulating conflict wherever they could. Political enemies in Washington cast aspersions on Lewis’s honesty, although those who knew him considered his character without blemish. The Governor was not without his faults—he tended to drink to excess, was fond of gambling, and was undisciplined in his personal finances.


Map of the Missouri River basin


Map of Lewis and Clark’s Track, Across the Western Portion of North America, published 1814

Thought by some to be suffering from illness and fever, Governor Lewis began the long journey to Washington to clear his name and meet with President Madison. In company with Major James Neelly, Chickasaw Indian agent, and a few servants, Lewis joined the Natchez Trace near modern Houston, Alabama. The trail extended from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi winding through Chocktaw and Chickasaw lands, interrupted occasionally by rude log-cabin “stands” where shelter and food could be gotten for modest price. The Trace, known by some as “the Devil’s Backbone,” harbored masterless men hidden in thickets, renegades from regions which had laws, and frontier-dwellers of all sorts.


A replica of Grinder’s Stand at the Meriwether Lewis Park on the Natchez Trace

What is known for sure of the fate of Meriwether Lewis is that he stopped by a place known as “Grinder’s Stand,” seventy-two miles from Nashville, and was armed with a rifle, two pistols and a tomahawk. According to Mrs. Grinder (her husband was working elsewhere), she furnished the Governor some supper and later heard him pacing and talking to himself. In the early morning hours of October 11, Mrs. Grinder heard the loud report of a firearm, a loud thud, and a second shot. She heard her guest crying out for water, which she was too frightened to give him. In the morning it was discovered that Meriwether Lewis had been shot in the side and in the head, according to Mrs. Grinder, by his own hand.

It is unknown when James Neely rode up to the inn to find Lewis dead, and to quickly bury him nearby. He reported to Jefferson from Nashville that Lewis had killed himself, and so it was reported nationally, and no further inquiries came from the government. Local people in Tennessee, however, believed it was murder. Testimonies by people claiming to have been there or nearby contradicted one another, as did each version by Mrs. Grinder, herself. Some of Lewis’s stuff disappeared also, including his weapons. As one of Lewis’s biographers stated in 1965:

“Was Lewis murdered? YES
Is there proof of his murder? NO”

Life on the frontier was always precarious, just ask Meriwether Lewis who explored 10,000 miles of inhospitable terrain among wild animals, hostile tribes, and the mortal dangers of rivers and cliffs, to die in a lonely cabin along the Devil’s Backbone.


Meriwether Lewis National Monument and Gravesite on the Natchez Trace Parkway

Resources for Further Study

  • Meriwether Lewis: A Biography, by Richard Dillon (1965)

 

 

The Battle of Lepanto, 1571

2021-10-19T18:39:44-05:00October 5, 2021|HH 2021|

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
—Psalm 90:12

The Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571

The 16th century is often called The Age of Reformation by Protestants or the Age of Spanish Conquest by others. In the midst of all the conflicts that plagued both of those powerful movements, a threat loomed in the Mediterranean Sea that could have jeopardized them both—the all-out assault by the Islamic champions of the Levant, the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Pope Pius VI created a coalition known as the Holy League, whose fighting naval captains knew a thing or two about sailing, and met the Ottoman fleet off the coast of Greece at Lepanto.


A fresco depicting the Battle of Lepanto which is displayed in the Hall of Maps,
Vatican Museums, Rome

In the middle of the 16th century, the Ottoman Turks became a major power, controlling the Balkans, the Middle East, the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. The Grand Visier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha realized that his ambitions to thwart the Portuguese designs on the Red Sea and Indian Ocean required the conquest of the island of Cyprus. Held by the Venetians, the island offered a safe haven for Christian corsairs raiding Muslim shipping and threatening maritime communications with Egypt, the richest province of the Ottoman Empire. After a long siege by the Grand Visier’s naval and land forces in 1570, Cyprus was captured. The captured Venetian officers were beheaded in retaliation for executing Muslim prisoners.


Grand Visier Sokullu Mehmed Pasha (1506-1579)


The extent of the Ottoman Empire in the 16-17th centuries

In response, the combined fleets of the Papacy, Spain, Venice, Genoa, Tuscany, Savoy, Urbino, Parma, and the Knights of Malta formed the “Holy League,” assembled 200 galleys, 100 ships, and 50,000 infantry to take on the Ottoman forces. The fleet was led by Don Juan of Austria, the 23-year-old brother of Phillip II of Spain. The barbarity of the Muslim massacre united the diverse Catholic forces and put them in a mind for vengeance. On October 7, the coalition forces united near the Gulf of Lepanto, slightly outnumbering the Ottoman forces 1,334 guns (artillery) to 741 and 225 galleys and galleasses to 205, with 64,400 soldiers and sailors to 77,700, although many of the rowers in the Muslim fleet were Christian slaves


The standard of the Holy League—as flown by Don Juan of Austria aboard the Real—which displays the crucified Christ above the respective coats of arms of Pius V, Venice, Charles V, and John of Austria, all linked by chains symbolizing the alliance


An artist’s depiction of the Battle of Lepanto, showing Don Juan of Austria
at the bow of his ship, the Real

Although the Ottoman commander Mehmed Suluk broke the left flank of the Holy League, reinforcements sent in by Don Alvaro de Bazan counter-attacked and destroyed the entire right flank of the Turks. A ferocious melee broke out between the fleet flag ships—Don Juan’s Real and Ali Pasha’s Sultana—in the center of the battle-line, with some of the Turkish soldiers able to board the Real. Fighting for their lives and bringing superior firepower to bear, the Holy League ships prevailed in the center of the line, although a late attack by the surviving Ottoman ships on their left flank had some success. The Turkish fleet commander was killed in the action and his head lifted on a pole. The Ottoman ships broke for open water, thirty escaping.


This painting is near-contemporary, but it shows an “imaginative interpretation” of the battle, as well as detailed depictions of the various ships involved, identifiable by their standards

The League lost 33 ships and about 23,000 dead and wounded; the Ottomans, about 25,000, with 84 ships destroyed and 127 captured. The League failed to recapture Cyprus but Venice was saved, along with the Island of Crete and, although the Ottomans rebuilt their fleet within a year, the loss of skilled Muslim sailors took decades to replace. Islamic ambitions to control the Mediterranean and overrun more of Europe would have to wait until the non-military swamping by millions of immigrants in the 21st century.


The Victors of Lepanto, an anonymous painting depicting Don Juan of Austria (1547-1578), Marcantonio Colonna (1535-1584) and Sebastiano Venier (1496-1578)

The Battle of Lepanto is always included in books with titles like The Fifty Greatest Battles of HistoryThe Seventy Greatest Battles of HistoryThe Hundred Greatest Battles of History, as well as the classic Military History of the Western World by J.F.C. Fuller. Seventeen years after Lepanto, the Spanish fleet turned on their other nemesis, England, and sent their greatest battle fleet in history, the Armada, to destroy the Protestant champions. However, the dons discovered they needed the combination to Davy Jones’s Locker rather than the accolades of the Pope, as 30% of their huge fleet was destroyed by English fireships and ferocious storms, sending the remainder limping back to Spain before a single soldier landed.

The Death of Daniel Boone, 1820

2021-10-19T18:35:57-05:00October 1, 2021|HH 2021|

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
—Psalm 90:12

The Death of Daniel Boone, September 26, 1820

Explorer, frontiersman, professional hunter, Indian fighter, surveyor, merchant, land speculator, hero, and legend, Daniel Boone strode the stage of American history with few peers, numerous enemies, and headlines that made him famous in his own times. Seeking “elbow room” on the frontier with his longsuffering wife, their ten children, and eight children of deceased relatives, Boone became the epitome of the self-made pioneer of the American dream and the tip of the spear of Manifest Destiny.


In Emanuel Leutze’s painting Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, America’s westward expansion is idealized, capturing the spirit of Manifest Destiny where many were convinced that Americans were destined to spread across the continent

 

The sixth of eleven children of first-generation persecuted Quakers who came to Pennsylvania from England (father) and Wales (mother), Daniel lived in a one-room log cabin with his siblings on the cusp of civilization, still in contact with Indians. He became a crack shot by his teens, with little formal education (“let the girls do the spelling and let Dan do the shooting”). After Dan”s two oldest siblings married outside the Quaker communion, his father was expelled from the church, and soon moved his tribe to North Carolina—a stepping stone to the burgeoning American frontier in the South.


Daniel Boone (1734-1820)

Daniel Boone”s first war-time experience occurred as a twenty-year-old waggoner in the ill-fated Braddock expedition along the Monongahela River at the beginning of the French and Indian War in 1755. The following year he married Rebecca Bryan, a girl from a neighboring farm in the Yadkin Valley. He saw action with the local militia in the “Cherokee Uprising” in 1758. Boone supported his growing family through hunting, trapping, and the fur trade, making long treks into the wilderness of western Carolina and into Kentucky in 1767. Ever a debtor, Boone paid some of his creditors by selling off parcels of his land and moving further westward into the Yadkin Valley.


Braddock’s Expedition in 1755 was a failed attempt by British military forces to capture the French Fort Duquesne (now Downtown Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War. The expedition was eventually defeated at the Battle of the Monongahela on July 9. The image above depicts the retreat of the mortally wounded Major-General Braddock and his troops.

He “resigned my domestic happiness,” and left home for a two-year hunting trip with five companions in 1769 “to wander through the wilderness,” thoroughly exploring Kentucky. Captured by a hunting party of the Shawnee who stole all his pelts, Boone was told that the Ohio-based tribe claimed Kentucky as their own hunting grounds, and to leave, never to return. He continued to explore and hunt in Kentucky over the next several years, packing up his family in 1773 and building a settlement with fifty other Carolina frontiersmen and their families.


Boone’s First View of Kentucky, by William Tylee Ranney, 1849


Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap

Three Indian tribes colluded to drive the interlopers out of Kentucky, killing Daniel”s brother and several others of the immigrants. The rest fled back to Carolina. After the conclusion of the war that ensued (Lord Dunmore’s War), the Shawnee abandoned Kentucky by treaty and Boone forged a new trail through the Cumberland Gap, later known as “The Wilderness Road” into central Kentucky, and founded Boonesborough on the Kentucky River.


Depiction of the abduction of Daniel Boone’s daughter Jemima by an Indian war party

With the coming of the War for American Independence, the fighting in Kentucky heated up again, resulting in many white hunters and settlers returning to the states. The Boones, however, remained. The Shawnee captured three girls, including Daniel’s daughter Jemima. He chased the natives all the way to Ohio and rescued the girls, perhaps the most daring and renowned action of Daniel Boone”s adventuresome life. British officials in Canada unleashed the Shawnee on Kentucky again and wounded Boone in an attack on Boonesborough. He was saved by another frontiersman of note, Simon Kenton.


Fort Boonesborough was made up of individual cabins that shared a common outer wall stockade


American artist Howard Pyle’s 1887 depiction of the Defenders in Siege of Boonesborough

Boone was later captured again by the Shawnees while making salt for the colony. He was taken to their capitol at Chillicothe in Ohio and made to run the gauntlet, an incident recorded on a historical marker just outside the city of Xenia today. He was adopted into an Indian family and renamed “Big Turtle.” Daniel eventually escaped, returned to North Carolina to retrieve his family and returned to Kentucky where he continued the war against the Indian allies of the British, serving as a Lieutenant Colonel of militia. He had become so respected and famous for his exploits, Boone was elected to a term in the Virginia General Assembly in 1791.


Boone’s ritual adoption by the Shawnees

In the last year of the century, Boone moved his extended family to St. Charles, Missouri where he lived out the last twenty years of his life. A book recounting the history of the settlement of Kentucky made Daniel Boone a national celebrity. While other frontiersmen accomplished similar feats and were just as colorful and tough, the eastern press latched onto Daniel as the quintessential American frontiersman. Many myths and stories relating to his exploits burnished his reputation, and some of his more questionable activities and problems fell between the cracks of history.

Daniel Boone died on September 26, 1820, age 86 at the home of his son in Missouri. There is still contention over whether he is buried in Missouri or Kentucky. There are dozens of places named after Daniel Boone, as well as songs, television programs, documentaries, and books. For those who were raised on the tales of Daniel Boone and the Disney portrayals, Old Dan was relatively short, unlike the actors that have portrayed him, and did not like coonskin hats, he found them too itchy and “uncouth.”


An engraving by Alonzo Chappel (c. 1861) depicts an elderly Boone hunting in Missouri

The Death of Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, 2003

2021-09-06T16:19:08-05:00September 6, 2021|HH 2021|

“Whatsoever the LORD please, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” —Psalm 135:6

Hurricane Katrina, August 29, 2005

In the 20th Century, the impact of filmmaking became as important, or more important in recent years, than the printed word. The development of movie-making and the entertainment industry can rightly be termed revolutionary in guiding how people use their leisure hours, how they think, behave, and understand the past and present. Film has been used by governments to manipulate and guide the thoughts of their populations—it has proven one of the most effective propaganda tools of all time. Most of the Hollywoodization of the world has been developed by men, but not altogether. An elegant German female filmmaker in the 1920s and 30s could likely boast that she was the most influential female film director, photographer and actress in the 20th Century—Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl (1902-2003).


Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl (1902-2003)


Leni behind the camera in 1940

Born in Berlin to a successful businessman, Leni resisted her father’s plan for her to take over his business interests when she reached her majority. Leni “fell in love” with the arts and athletics at an early age and was encouraged and supported by her mother, who seems to have recognized her “motivated abilities” and desires for the entertainment world. At sixteen, Leni—already a proficient gymnast and swimmer—determined to learn dance, and her mother surreptitiously paid for lessons with a well-regarded studio in Berlin, where she became a star pupil.

In the heady days of avant-garde theatrics and improvisational entertainments following the disastrous First World War, Riefenstahl became a headline performer. Foot and knee injuries curbed her enthusiasm for dance and she began attending movie theatres, sparking a powerful interest in film. Upon meeting a famous actor and a director, Leni persuaded them to try her for a part in an upcoming film. Upon appearing in several films, she came to the attention of the cinema world outside Germany, and was invited to Hollywood, an invitation she rejected. As an actress, she studied the art of filmography and direction. One of her fan-boys was the up-and-coming leader of the National Socialist Party, Adolph Hitler, who claimed that Leni Riefenstahl was the perfect model of Aryan womanhood, and arranged to meet her.


Leni as a girl in 1914, with her brother Heinz (1905–1944)


Leni meeting Adolph Hitler, 1934

After performing in two joint German and American films, both of them successes, Hitler contacted Riefenstahl again with a directorial offer. Riefenstahl attended several National Socialist (Nazi) Party rallies and was mesmerized by Hitler’s powerful rhetorical style. Through Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, Riefenstahl received funding to make a one-hour film of the Nuremberg Rally of 1933, titled “The Victory of Faith” (Der Sieg des Glaubens).


Riefenstahl and her film crew in front of Hitler’s car during a parade in Nuremberg

Hitler liked the results and conceived a plan for a major picture based on the same rally, the following year. Riefenstahl and Hitler’s friendly relationship resulted in her most powerful work Triumph des Willens, “Triumph of the Will.” More than a million people attended the Nazi rally and Riefenstahl captured it all—the hundreds of red and black flags, the marching cadences, the music, the sharp uniforms, the adoring crowds, and, of course, the stem-winding nationalistic speech by the Fuhrer himself. Not a few historians consider the film the most successful and grandest propaganda film in history. It sold the Nazi brand to the world. It gave Riefenstahl international status reserved for the very few.


Riefenstahl behind the camera while filming Triumph of the Will

In 1935 she made a twenty-eight-minute film on the German Army, who believed she had short-changed them in Triumph of the Will. The propaganda value boosted their morale and helped bring in new recruits. Hitler invited Leni to film the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where he hoped that his Aryan super-men and women would dominate the world in athletics. Her film Olympia became an international smash hit, and, although Germany won the most medals, the film included American sprinter and long-jumper Jesse Owen, winning four gold medals. Although the Olympic Committee commissioned Riefenstahl to make the film, it was secretly paid for by The Third Reich.

Riefenstahl receiving congratulations from Adolph Hitler at a showing of her film, Olympia, documenting the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games

Riefenstahl embarked on a grand publicity tour of the United States, and in an interview with the Detroit Free Press stated that “Hitler is the greatest man who ever lived.” She negotiated with Louis B. Mayer, the Hollywood impresario, was wined and dined by Henry Ford, an admirer of Hitler also, and given a tour of the studios by Walt Disney.


Riefenstahl in uniform and wearing a pistol, speaking with Nazi troops during their campaign in Poland, September 1939

Leni was on hand when the German army marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, dressed in a uniform and carrying a pistol. She witnessed the execution of Polish civilians and later claimed she was shocked, appalled and threatened when she tried to intervene. She filmed Hitler’s triumphal motorcade in Warsaw, the last Nazi film she ever made, though she tried to shoot other films during the war years but unrelated to politics.


Riefenstahl directing the filming of Olympia, 1936

In the immediate post-war era, Leni Riefenstahl was arrested and escaped a number of times from the Allies, and was finally tried in court for her cinematic pro-Nazi films, and released. She published several books of photographs taken in Africa in the 1970s, filmed the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, along with several film collections of entertainment celebrities. She died in 2003 at the age of 101, recognized for her innovative film techniques and for producing what became a cinematic historical record of great influence in its day.


Riefenstahl examining film reels for editing


Riefenstahl with a cameraman and assistant, pioneering new and unique filming techniques, such as track shots, that would become standards of cinematography

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