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17 December 2012

Kristina Söderbaum

Swedish-born German film actress Kristina Söderbaum (1912 - 2001) was considered the prototype of an Aryan woman during the Third Reich. The blonde, blue-eyed star played the lead in several Nazi propaganda films directed by her husband Veit Harlan. After the war this would damage her career. As two of her characters in Harlan’s melodramas committed suicide by drowning, the public gave her the nickname ‘Reichswasserleiche’ ('most prominent water corpse in the Reich').

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A 3321/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Haenchen / Tobis.


Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3613/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Baumann / Ufa.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A 3237/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Haenchen / Tobis.

Nobel Prize Comitee
Beata Margareta Kristina Söderbaum was born in Stockholm in 1912 as the daughter of professor Henrik Gustaf Söderbaum, secretary of the Nobel Prize Comitee. (During WW II she would become an honoury student at Uppsala University.) After her graduation she went to Paris to learn French and by chance got a role in the short instruction film Hur behandlar du din hund?/How to Handle Your Dog (1934, Arne Bornebusch). In 1935, she studied art history in Berlin and attended acting classes with actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Her first film in Germany was Onkel Bräsig/Uncle Bräsig (1936, Erich Waschneck). Then she met director Veit Harlan, and the two fell in love.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3472/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Baumann / Ufa. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Kristina Söderbaum
German Postcard by Film Foto Verlag, no. A 3790/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Foto Baumann/Ufa.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Das Programm von Heute, Berlin/Ross Verlag. Photo: Tobis. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Inner Circle
Kristina Söderbaum skyrocketed to fame in Jugend/Youth (1938, Veit Harlan) and she automatically joined the inner circle surrounding propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. With Veit Harlan directing and another prominent Nazi sympathizer, Thea Von Harbou, supplying the screenplays, she played the typical modest and selfless maiden in government-sanctioned melodramas such as Die Reise Nach Tilsit/The Trip to Tilsit (1939) and Das unsterbliche Herz/The Immortal Heart (1939). The worst of their films was the anti-semitic historical melodrama Jud Süß/Jew Süss (1940). After that she starred in the pompous Der grosse König/The Great King (1942), the hugely popular melodrama Die goldene Stadt/The Golden City (1942), Immensee (1943) and Kolberg (1945).

Frits van Dongen, Kristina Söderbaum
Italian postcard by Pizzi e Pizio, Milano. Photo: Majestic-Tobis / Mander S.A. Noleggio Film. Publicity still for Die Reise nach Tilsit/The Excursion to Tilsit (1939, Veit Harlan) with Frits van Dongen.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3472/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3613/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3840/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Baumann / Ufa.

Interesting Come-back
Kristina Söderbaum's popularity remained somewhat intact in the early post-war years but she reportedly refused all offers because her husband was banned from working by the Allied occupation forces. Acquitted three times for collaborating with the past regime, he was finally allowed to resume work. Although they continued to make seven more films, the couple was definitely past their prime. After Harlan's death in 1964 Söderbaum established herself as a portrait and fashion photographer in Germany and wrote her memoirs, Nichts bleibt immer so (Nothing remains the way it is)(1983). She incidentally appeared in a film, and made an interesting come-back in the arthouse production Karl May (1974, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg) with Helmut Käutner as Karl May. Her last film was the low-budget thriller Night Train to Venice (1994, Carlo U. Quinterio) starring Hugh Grant. In 2001, she died in Hitzacker, Northern Germany, aged 88. Veit Harlan and Kristina Söderbaum had two children, Kristian and Caspar.

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 386. Photo: Wesel / Zeyn / Herzog Film. Publicity still for the film Hanna Amon (1951, Veit Harlan).

Kristina Söderbaum
German postcard. Photo: Domick / Herzog-Film. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Kristina Söderbaum
Photo. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Sources: Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Hans J. Wollstein (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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