Directors: Benjamin Cantu, Matt Lambert
Since Steven Spielberg broke the Hollywood taboo about exploring the Final Solution on screen, films about the Holocaust have been numerous. 1997 movie Bent became the first to depict how Nazi Germany murdered gay men en masse, but now, Netflix documentary Eldorado zooms in on a clutch of real life stories, including that of one of Hitler’s most trusted officials.
In the years following World War One, Germany’s Weimar Republic became a liberal and permissive society where art, culture and personal freedom flourished. Berlin became a city of emancipation and for LGBT+ people, they experienced their first taste of Gay Liberation. Over a hundred gay nightspots opened, of which Eldorado was one of the most famed. It was frequented by Queer people from across Germany, including celebrities such as actor Manasse Herbst, tennis player Gottfried van Cramm, trans painter Toni Ebel and famed sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who had formed the world’s first LGBT+ Rights organisation. At the club, they partied, drank, danced, mingled and enjoyed the freedom of this laissez-faire society.
Also in attendance was Ernst Röhm, a prominent member of the Nazi Party. His close relationship with leader Hitler saw him skyrocket up the ranks to become one of his most trusted advisors. When the Nazis came to power, Röhm was appointed head of the SA, affording him the second most powerful job in Germany. Hitler “tolerated” Röhm’s sexuality, but when falsified evidence was presented by the SS, the Reichsleiter was arrested and murdered as part of The Night Of The Long Knives. And with Röhm dead, the floodgates holding back the Nazi vitriol toward LGBT+ people were finally opened.
The documentary follows several of the clubs regulars as Eldorado is shut, its proprietors arrested and those who had crossed its threshold eventually rounded up. Some fled. Some managed to avoid detection. Others were taken to concentration camps, where they were systematically murdered by the regime. Using a compilation of photographs, original recordings and testimony from historians, the lives and deaths of these LGBT+ pioneers are brought to vivid life on screen. And these are complimented by a series of recreated scenes so that we can witness first hand not just the horrors of the camps, but also the effervescent exhilaration of the lives they briefly led in freedom before.
Most interestingly of all, we hear extracts from letters written by Röhm to his friends. We hear first-hand from a person complicit in the Nazi regime but was also gay. The stories of trans people are also given a face, which I believe is a first for Holocaust cinema.
In giving the story of Queer people in the Holocaust a focus, this documentary surmounts the scale of the Holocaust by giving it a clutch of human faces. It subsequently feels like a personal history, witnessing the horrors of the Nazis on an individual basis, just as it would have been felt on the ground. It perhaps doesn’t go as far as other films in depicting the atrocities of the genocide, but it does a very solid job of carving out the significance of the LGBT+ portion within it.
UK Release: Out now to watch on Netflix