There’s a scene in Goldfinger, the third James Bond movie, where Bond lures Auric Goldfinger into a bet by wagering a bar of “lost” Nazi gold. It’s unclear if this is supposed to hint that Goldfinger has a Nazi past. In any case, Gert Fröbe, the German actor who played him did.
When the nation of Israel discovered this, it banned the film. Two months later, it lifted the ban after confirming that Fröbe had helped a Jewish woman and her son during World War II.
Before Goldfinger, Fröbe had mostly appeared in German films like 1958’s It Happened in Broad Daylight, in which he played a child murderer. He landed the role of Goldfinger opposite Bond star Sean Connery despite not being able to speak English. As a result, almost all of his lines in the movie are dubbed by the English actor Michael Collins. Even so, Fröbe and the film earned critical praise when it premiered in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1964. It was a commercial success as well, and is still one of the highest-grossing Bond films, adjusting for inflation.
A Murky Nazi Past
Goldfinger was initially popular in Israel, too, when it debuted there in the fall of 1965. Then in December, the London Daily Mail ran a story about Fröbe with the headline, “Of course I was a Nazi!” It’s not clear how the subject of his Nazi past came up, but Reuters reported that a journalist had asked Fröbe—who was playing the Nazi general Dietrich von Choltitz in an upcoming film—whether Fröbe would have made the same decision as Choltitz to refuse Adolf Hitler’s order to burn Paris.
Whatever the reason, Fröbe told the press he’d joined the Nazi Party in 1929 when he was 16 and then later helped a Jewish woman during the war. Fröbe said he’d grown up in the depressed Saxony coal mining village of Zwickau, and become a Nazi because he thought Hitler could improve the economy, according to the German news magazine Der Spiegel. Even then, the Nazis’ promise of economic prosperity that Fröbe found so appealing was anti-Semitic; Hitler blamed Jewish Germans for the country’s economic woes and sought to uplift “Aryans” at Jewish people’s expense.
Screening films that might contain former Nazis was already a concern in Israel, which was why it banned many German-language films until 1967. When West German film started up again after the war, “all the cinematographers, all the directors, all the editors, all the stars had played some kind of role in the Third Reich,” says Tobias Hochscherf, a media professor at the Kiel University of Applied Sciences in Germany. So even by the early 1960s, most German films “were made with stars or actors from the Third Reich.”
Israel's Brief Ban of 'Goldfinger'
Israel responded to Fröbe’s admission by banning Goldfinger and all of his upcoming movies, including Is Paris Burning?, the film in which he would portray Choltitz. In addition, the Ministry of Justice said that if Fröbe visited Israel, it might prosecute him as a former Nazi Party member, the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported.
But Israel lifted the ban only two months later, in February 1966. The Israel Film Censorship Board made the decision after receiving evidence that Fröbe had left the Nazi Party in 1937, two years before Hitler invaded Poland, sparking World War II. There were also reports that his conscription as a Nazi soldier later in the war was “a punishment for helping to distribute anti-Nazi pamphlets,” according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
Another factor was that Fröbe’s claim about helping a Jewish woman during the war seemed true. After Israel banned Fröbe’s films, a Jewish man named Mario Blumenau told the Israeli Embassy in Vienna that Fröbe had helped Blumenau and his mother obtain a version of food stamps during the war. “I think he was a decent person, but not a hero,” Hochscherf says of Fröbe’s actions.
In addition, The New York Times reported that several film producers made appeals to Israel to lift the ban. Many Israelis wanted to see Goldfinger, then an internationally popular feature, and Hochscherf notes that public demand may also have contributed to the decision to bring the movie back to Israel.
James Bond Controversies
Fröbe’s Nazi past is not the only controversial aspect of Goldfinger. Before its American premiere, a U.S. censor threatened to ban the the movie over a dispute about “Pussy Galore,” the name of Honor Blackman’s character.
In the decades since the film’s release, Bond’s behavior has also received criticism, particularly his treatment of women and sexual assault of Galore. Despite all the controversy, Goldfinger remains one of the most famous movies in the Bond franchise.
After all, it contains one of the most recognized quotes in film history—spoken by Goldfinger, mouthed by Fröbe and voiced by Collins: “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”