Action required

Since the German Reunification, the Bundesarchiv’s destruction policy deprived us of more than half of all nitrate film artifacts. Unless films have, by chance, survived in foreign archives, the consequences are irreversible.

At the international level, the calamity of this practice has been widely acknowledged years ago. It is unacceptable that the Bundesarchiv holds on to an obsolete archival practice until the historical substance of film heritage has been completely eradicated.

In order to prevent this, the following action should be taken:

1. an immediate moratorium on nitrate film disposal by the Bundesarchiv. Nitrate films must only be discarded if they are decomposed to a state of uselessness.

2. the termination of the restrictions of use imposed on the film depot in Berlin-Hoppegarten. These restrictions imposed by the the Amt für Arbeitsschutz und Sicherheitstechnik / State Office for Industrial Safety and Safety Technology oblige the Bundesarchiv to reduce its nitrate holdings systematically. The termination of these restrictions would allow Hoppegarten to serve its purpose as long-term depot for Germany’s nitrate film heritage.

3. a legislative initiative to reform the Explosives Act. According to the legal opinion delivered by Winfried Bullinger this is not a mandatory prerequisite for the abolishment of the Bundesarchiv’s destruction policy since the law, contrary to assertions, does not require nitrocellulose to be destroyed. Nevertheless, to ensure legal clarity, the Explosives Act must be complemented by a general exemption for historical moving-image and photographic material.

4. a general proscription of the disposal at least of pre-1945-film documents, regardless on which carrier they exist. Being only remnants of what is irretrievably lost due to the effects of the Second World War and post-war reduction, film documents from this era should be treated with regard to sustained research interest and according to a principle already established in the field of paper archives: their surviving collections should not be decimated any further.

Even though institutional constraints and considerations have so far hindered a broad alliance of experts, I know from personal discussions that most colleagues, be it historians or film scholars, do not approve the Bundesarchiv’s destruction policy. However, such an alliance as well as media support are urgently required if only one of the demands formulated above is to be efficient. If you want to support them, please contact me at DirkAlt[at]gmx.de.