Many would agree that Adolf Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 marks an acutely tumultuous time in Germany’s history. Using ‘emergency’ laws to eliminate his political opponents and to curtail the freedoms promised to the German people by the constitution. Against such a backdrop, it may appear surprising that the leading actress of the time opposed this regime with defiance.
Marlene Dietrich, already a world famous and well-respected actress, by the 1930s was known to have a strong political will and, perhaps more importantly, an eagerness to express this. In 1937, she gave up her entire salary for Knight Without Armour ($450,000) to help refugees escape Germany. This led her to create a fund with Billy Wilder, and several other exiles, to help Jewish people and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, Dietrich was approached by the Nazi regime and asked to star in propaganda films. Supposedly, Hitler himself personally requested that she support the cause. Staunchly opposed to the Nazis, she refused.
They branded her a traitor and two years later she renounced her German citizenship and applied for U.S. citizenship. When the U.S. entered the Second World War in 1941, Dietrich was one of the first public figures to promote selling war bonds. Touring America from January 1942 to September 1943, she was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star. Her work throughout the war included morale-boosting and propaganda for the Allied forces. At the end of the war, Dietrich was reunited with her sister Elisabeth, who had been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
America took me into her bosom when there was no longer a country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German - German in my soul.