Information about the Historical 1938 Film from Germany

The 16mm original of this 1938 film from Stendal, Germany was brought to the United States from Europe after World War II by my father, Duane Thompson (Sr.), a medic with the 75th Medical Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 5th Armored Division. My brother has extensively researched our father's history and activities in Europe during the war. He learned that dad's unit was in Stendal in mid-April 1945, and it is presumed he came into possession of the film about that time. It was used as a family plaything and for decades, stored with other memorabilia until early 2005 when I decided to investigate.

I had the film cleaned, repaired, and digitally copied onto a DVD. With the digital copy I could closely examine individual frame images where it appeared to me that the film was more professionally made than a simple home movie. The detective work then began which led to my discovery, via the internet, of images of buildings seen in the film but known to be located in Stendal, Germany (about 60 miles west of Berlin). From there the trail quickly led to the school in Stendal that is now known as the J. J. Winckelmann Gymnasium.

Thanks to the efforts of Hans Basner and the Circle of Friends of the Winckelmann school many more details have been learned about the event recorded on this film. It shows previously unknown moving images of a parade through the town on Saturday, 29 October 1938 celebrating the 600th year of the school that, on 7 April 1938, was named in honor of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), a celebrated archaeologist and art historian, alumnus of the school, and one of the city's most famous citizens. Students and faculty are seen in costumes from past centuries, so despite the presence of NSDAP symbols and insignia, it was not just a Nazi Party parade.

Simone Habendorf, an archivist for the City of Stendal wrote that, "in 1938 the grammar school of Stendal celebrated [its] 600-year-long existence. The school had been founded as an urban institution - therefore independent from the church - and belongs to one of its oldest in our region. Stendal had been a wealthy trader's town back then, belonging to the Hanse-Federation like Hamburg and Lubeck." She continued, "The naming was connected to the anniversary celebrations, that found their pitch from October 28th till 31st in 1938." She said the film represents an important document of the history of their town; history that was lost during the war or destroyed after 1945.

Hans Basner learned that these events were originally scheduled between 30 September and 2 October 1938 but were delayed, most likely because of the political events surrounding the Munich Accord at that time. The continuing efforts of Hans and the Circle of Friends has generated quite a bit of excitement and information. On August 26-27, 2005 they sponsored celebration activities to reopen the beautiful school building that has been extensively renovated. Finding an image of that building on the internet is one of the primary clues that led me to discover the origins of this film.

The film is the original 16mm double-sprocket, positive emulsion, acetate stock that was actually exposed in super-16 capable cameras creating a type of wide-screen image. It is black and white, silent, approximately 190 feet in length (7 minutes, 45 seconds), with a speed of 16 frames per second. The maker(s) of this unique historical document are still unknown and the scenes in the film do not seem to be in the actual chronological order of the procession.

As mentioned, I had the original film material cleaned and repaired. Additionally, I had restored preservation copies prepared by the CinemaLab, a film restoration and preservation firm located in Englewood, Colorado. Their work included (1) creating an inter-negative with a wet-gate contact print process to remove scratches. They used a special piece of equipment specially designed and made for the older, shrunken 16mm film. From this they (2) made an answer print to correct exposure and aged film fading problems, from which they (3) made their release prints. I also (4) made a new digital copy of the restored version which I have (5) put onto DVD's.

In October of 2005, on the 67th anniversary of the filming of this celebratory parade, I made a trip to Stendal, Germany. At that time I returned the film in the form of carefully restored and preserved copies (on film and DVD), and it was received with much pomp and ceremony. I absolutely enjoyed visiting this beautiful town and learning a bit about its rich history. I even had an opportunity to meet someone that actually participated in the 1938 parade. During that trip the original film material was also deposited with the German National Film Archives (Bundesfilmarchiv) in Berlin.

Here are some of the news articles about the film, its research, and its return.

Duane S. Thompson, Centennial, Colorado, USA