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DEFA newsreel “Der Augenzeuge“

"Der Augenzeuge" was the weekly cinema newsreel of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and both an information and propaganda medium. In over 2,000 issues between 1946 and 1980, it reported on important events, topics and personalities from the fields of politics, current affairs, society, culture, business and sport, and contained numerous contributions from all over the world.

Before television sets became a common sight in private households, newsreels were an important medium of information but they also served as a propaganda tool, especially in times of war and in totalitarian states. They were shown in cinemas as a supporting programme before the main film.

"Der Augenzeuge" (The Eyewitness), was the newsreel of the Soviet Occupation Zone and later of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The first edition ran in German cinemas on 19 February 1946. It was the first ever DEFA production. The newsreel was given its name by Marion Keller, who was editor-in-chief of "Der Augenzeuge" from 1947–1948.
DEFA produced over 2,000 issues of "Der Augenzeuge" which had a running time of about 15 minutes and ran weekly between 1946 and 1980, except for three years between 1957–1960 when it was the only newsreel in the world with two issues per week (Tuesdays B issues, Fridays A issues). However, since only a few cinemas showed both editions, the weekly model was reinstated in 1961.

Despite the censorship by the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD), "Der Augenzeuge" abided by its motto "You see for yourself, you hear for yourself, you judge for yourself", which was conceived by its first editor-in-chief Kurt Maetzig. The motto appeared at the top of each newsreel from the 13th issue onwards. After the division of Germany and the founding of the GDR in October 1949, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) increasingly exerted its influence on reporting: the slogan was abolished, and the newsreel was mainly used for reports on SED policies.

At the suggestion of children’s author and screenwriter, Erich Kästner, issues 12/1946 to 132/1948 all began with the moving appeal "Children seek their parents", whereby over 400 children found their parents who had disappeared in the turmoil of the war.
In terms of content, the GDR newsreel was broadly diverse and typical of the genre, reporting on political, social and cultural events as well as sports, technical innovations and miscellaneous topics from all over the world. By means of bilateral agreements, "Der Augenzeuge" exchanged contributions with newsreel producers from other nations - including Western countries such as the USA, Great Britain and France. There was also an intra-German exchange with the newsreel "Blick in die Welt", which was produced in the French occupation zone and later the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) between 1945 and 1986 - and the "Neue Deutsche Wochenschau", which was produced in Hamburg between 1955 and 1970. This intensive exchange is reflected in the large number of reports from almost all over the world.


Production period

Number of films
approx. 2,000 (complete collection)

Running time
10-22 min

35mm | mainly b/w

politics, current affairs, society, military, economy, art, culture, sports, technology, Cold War

Filming locations
Worldwide: Germany (Western Allied Zone; 1945-49), Germany (Soviet Zone; 1945-49), Germany (East), Germany (West), France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Austria, Swiss, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, USA, South America, Cuba, Asia, Israel, Africa, Australia

Browse collection DEFA Newsreel

Der Augenzeuge (1973)Der Augenzeuge | 1973