Movies about Nazis are quite common in American cinema. Hollywood produces one a year on average. These movies tend to be block busters that are distributed for international markets. A few widely aired or syndicates TV shows also broach the topic of Nazis, even for just one episode.

Germany and France, due to historical reasons, have very strict laws regarding Nazi Imagery. Enough that even having a recreation swastika banner could merit jail time. Other countries also have similar laws for similar reasons, such as Austria and Poland.

How are these movies changed or handled when screened or broadcasted there? Are they censored? Edited? Simple content warnings?

I assume that a tv show episode could simply be skipped (this happens for American tv shows with topically sensitive episodes, mainly revolving around terrorism bombings that may coincide with real events), but movies are much less able to be separated without significant changes to their content.

  • 3
    We have a similar law in Poland, because of, well, the same historical reasons. However our law forbids you to propagate totalitarian symbols (of fascism, nazism and communism), not completely forbids usage of it. This would be rather stupid as you wouln't be able to use it in historical works, art and fiction (like movies). Of course one might argue that a particular work of fiction or piece of art propagates totalitarism, but such cases can always be decided in court. I cannot speak for Germany and France, but I'd assume their law is similar. Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 7:56
  • @tautologist I'd be glad if you could answer it based on Poland, since the rules and treatment would be similar enough. I didn't mean to limit it to just France and Germany, those two are just the most vocal about those laws
    – cde
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 10:25
  • I'm veeery sure we had this exact same question asked quite some time ago already.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jan 31, 2016 at 14:06
  • @NapoleonWilson I checked every question with the word nazi in it. Nothing.
    – cde
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 6:59
  • I specifically remember an answer with posters of Inglourious Basterds but there is none in the inglourious-basterds tag specifically, so it must have been more general.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 10:53

2 Answers 2


Situation in Germany

It is not forbidden to show Nazi symbols in movies. They are shown regularly and not edited out. They are also used in local productions.

The situation was different a few decades ago. Jurisdiction had a stricter approach to the legal situation and assumed that any depiction of Nazi symbols was illegal. This lead to cuts, blurs, or edits. E.g. the computer game Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was edited and depicted iron crosses instead of swastikas (a quite common approach). The computer game Wolfenstein 3D was put on the index 1994 for showing Nazi symbols (and not for the depiction of violence). The Star Trek TOS episode Patterns of Force premiered on German Free TV just in 2011 for the same reason, it wasn't shown when the series ran for the first time. This is not the current state of interpretation of the legal basis.

The legal reason is § 86a StGB (Article 86a of the penal code) Verwenden von Kennzeichen verfassungsfeindlicher Organisationen (Usage of symbols of unconstitutional organisations) in combination with Artikel 5 des Grundgesetzes (Article 5 of the constitution). The constitution allows free speech, explicitly including images (paragraph 1). As with every right there are borders (paragraph 2), namely common laws, laws for protecting the youth, and the right of personal honour. Paragraph 3 names some exceptions to the borders (Schranken-Schranken, border-borders) in paragraph 2, namely for art and science.

§86 forbids the public usage, production, storage, import, and export of symbols of certain unconstitutional organisations. Those are specifically most former Nazi organisations plus some Neo-Nazi organisations. It includes symbols, uniforms, flags, greetings, phrases and more.

§86 StGB defines an obvious border in the meaning of Artikel 5 paragraph 2 GG.

The main legal discussion was whether movies and TV episodes are "art" in the meaning of Artikel 5 paragraph 3 GG. For decades they were seen as "trivial entertainment" and not art so not eligible for the border-border in paragraph 3. Today the definition of art is more lenient so the exception in paragraph 3 applies to them, movies and TV episodes can depict Nazi symbolism. Of course this doesn't apply for works of propaganda which are disguised as art. There are some works where the state is dubious but that is not a common problem. So works like Operation Walküre (with Tom Cruise) can display Nazi symbolism even when shown in Germany today.


As explained on Wikipedia WRT Austria (but similar exceptions are present in other countries for obvious reasons):

There are legal exceptions for works of Art (including books, films, Theatre Performances, computer games, and educational/memorial public exhibitions, etc.), these however do not apply if the respective work promotes National Socialism (as this is generally prohibited in Austria).

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