Monday, June 25, 2007

Film in Staten Island basement sets off a real furor

Monday, June 25th 2007, 6:04 PM

Rare movie footage of Adolf Hitler hanging out with his buddies has been discovered in a Staten Island basement - and investigators are probing why the film was made.

A reel of film plucked from the wartime rubble of a German opera house shows Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler enjoying a Richard Wagner music festival before the start of World War II.

The film, sent home by U.S. serviceman Walter Ladziak, was found 10 years ago after Ladziak's brother-in-law, who received the package, died.

But it had never been viewed - until Ladziak's nephew sent it to PBS' "History Detectives," who have been working to prove its authenticity.

"In the basement was a chest, and inside were films, one of which had a handwritten note stuck to it saying in German, "The Fuhrer in Bayreuth," said Ladziak's nephew, Francis Cardamone, 58, of Port Richmond.

"My uncle said, 'Oh, my gosh, the films.' He'd totally forgotten about them."

Ladziak, now 85 and still living on Staten Island, told Cardamone how he had found them in 1945 in the bombed ruins of the Old Opera House in Bayreuth, the Bavarian hometown of Wagner, who was idolized by Hitler.

He sent them to his brother-in-law because he had a film projector. But, by the time Ladziak returned to Staten Island, he had forgotten about them.

Contacted last week, Ladziak said he no longer had any interest in the films and had given them to his nephew.

But the reel was fragile and Cardamone didn't have a projector capable of showing it.

"I had no idea what was on it, but it's been at the back of my mind for 10 years now," said Cardamone.

"Eventually, I got in touch with the "History Detectives" to see if they would be interested."

Gwen Wright, a Columbia University professor and the show's host who investigated the film, confirmed it showed Hitler and his right-hand men arriving at the festival.

But she said its authenticity as a home movie made by the Fuhrer's entourage couldn't be confirmed until the show aired.

"The exciting thing about it was that it seemed to give a glimpse at Hitler in a social setting," she said.

"There's not much out there that shows that. He didn't really have a family, and we were excited to see if it showed something about the world that surrounded him."

Her study took the 16-mm. film reel to Nazi propaganda experts at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum, and film historians at the Library of Congress Film Archives.

"I can't tell you what we discovered, but I can say that it was surprising," she said.

"The History Detectives," which starts its fifth season on PBS today, is set to air the episode Sept. 3.

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