The actors who did the reenactment scenes in “Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate” must have had quite the party playing the patrons of Berlin’s preeminent gay club (there were actually a few “Eldorados” scattered around the city) during the waning days of Weimar Republic. Berlin had become the queerest city on earth with a world-renowned reputation. Any self-respecting gay already knows this courtesy of Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” (1939) and the resulting movie “Cabaret” (1972). Those were the final years of liberty (1929-1932) before everything came crashing down in 1933 as Hitler and the Nazis seized power.
I must admit that I was not expecting that much from director Benjamin Cantu’s Netflix documentary, but although it’s poorly structured, has very little to say about lesbians – although two trans women are central characters – and leaves a few unanswered questions – we are never told who owned or financed the club and whether they were gay or straight – the beauty and the tragedy of the stories keep you watching. Cantu introduces you to people that you may not have heard of before. And those that you have, such as Hitler’s right-hand man Ernst Rohm and respected sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld – shown sitting just feet from one another, although it is anyone’s guess if they were ever formally introduced – are discussed at some length and some depth by a bunch of intelligent and insightful queer and transgender scholars (German, American, and English) who have made it their life’s work to make sure that this period in queer history is never forgotten. Among the fascinating stories:
- One of the first couples to have male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Charlotte Charlaque, an American Jew, and her partner, the German painter Toni Ebel (not Jewish), both had several surgeries between 1929 and 1931, around the same time as “The Danish Girl,” Lili Elbe. They stayed in Germany during the Thirties despite the dangers of their unconventional union and Charlaque’s Jewish heritage, finally fleeing the country in 1939 and then……
- Tennis player Gottfried von Cramm, ranked number one in the world in 1937, managed to get his Jewish lover, movie actor Manasse Herbst, out of Germany to Palestine in 1935. Openly critical of Hitler, he was imprisoned under the new anti-gay laws (the infamous paragraph 175) after returning to Germany post-Wimbledon (he lost). Because paragraph 175 remained on the books in Germany until 1969, he never played at Wimbledon again. Something omitted in the film – he was heiress Barbara Hutton’s sixth husband (out of seven) from 1955 to 1959.
- Then there is the Amazing Robert Arlen, who is 100 years old and, it seems, lives just a few blocks from me in West Hollywood. As a Jewish teenager in the 1930s, he fell in love with another Jewish boy. He lived in Vienna, and although his father was arrested by the Nazis after the Anschluss, he managed to escape to America and became a composer, eventually moving to LA. He and his partner of over 60 years were married in West Hollywood in 2015. As for his teenage love, who lived in Budapest……..
Between five and fifteen thousand gay men died in concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and many, like the protagonist in the movie “Great Freedom”, were taken directly from the newly liberated camps to prison because of paragraph 175. If anything, this documentary is a warning that our newly found freedoms can be taken away from us at any time. How precious they are.
NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX