Herbert Selpin

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Herbert Selpin
Herbert Selpin.jpg
Born (1904-05-29)29 May 1904
Berlin, Germany
Died 1 August 1942(1942-08-01) (aged 38)
Berlin, Germany
Occupation Film director and screenplay author

Herbert Selpin (29 May 1904 – 1 August 1942) was a German film director and screenwriter. Selpin was a successful director of light entertainment during the 1930s and 1940s. He is best known for his final film Titanic during the production of which he was arrested by the Nazi authorities and later found dead in his prison cell.

Life and career[edit]

Herbert Selpin was born on 29 May 1904 in Berlin. After his medical studies in the same city, Selpin worked as a dancer, boxer, librarian, and art seller before he obtained, in the mid-1920s, an internship at the UFA film studios. Among other assignments at UFA, he worked on the set of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's Faust (1926). Selpin was subsequently employed by the European subsidiary of the Fox Film Corporation, where he held several positions, including—in 1927—that of director's assistant to Walther Ruttmann on the set of Berlin. Sinfonie einer Großstadt.

After several positions as editor, Selpin received an assignment as director for Chauffeur Antoinette, released in 1931 by Excelsior Films. In the following two years, Selpin ran into conflict with the National Socialists for his sympathetic portrayals of the British. From 1933 onwards he was making propaganda films for the UFA studios, which was by then under the control of the Propaganda Ministry. After several propaganda films that were not well received (Schwarzhemden in 1933, Die Reiter von Deutsch-Ostafrika in 1934, and Alarm in Peking in 1937), Selpin was successful in 1941 with Carl Peters, an anti-British film. This was followed by another propaganda film Geheimakte W.B.1 in 1941–1942.

On the set of Titanic in 1942, Selpin made several remarks critical of the military. He was denounced by his fellow screenwriter and personal friend Walter Zerlett-Olfenius, and—upon failing to retract his statements during a subsequent meeting with Joseph Goebbels—was arrested on 31 July 1942.


The day after his arrest, Selpin was found dead in his cell, having hung himself with his trouser suspenders. A rumor circulated that he had been murdered on the orders of Goebbels, as the Gestapo had taken an interest in the matter and Goebbels considered it more prudent to sacrifice the director than spar with the Gestapo.[1] According to the rumor, around midnight on 31 July – 1 August 1942, two guards entered Selpin's cell:

and hanged him from the bars of a ceiling window, using his trouser suspenders as a noose. For the records, Goebbels had the death scene secretly photographed and filed away. He then sent a terse letter to Selpin's wife notifying her of her husband's suicide.[1]

Despite Goebbels attempt to conceal the truth, Selpin's brutal death quickly spread to Berlin's film colony who were deeply angered at Zerlett-Olfenius.[1] Goebbels retaliated by issuing a proclamation decreeing that anyone shunning the screen writer would answer to Goebbels in person. It also ordered that Selpin's name not be mentioned on the Titanic set.[1]

The production of Titanic was subsequently completed by an uncredited Werner Klingler.


  • Die Abenteuer eines Zehnmarkscheines (1926) – director's assistant
  • Ariane (1930/31) – editor
  • So lang' noch ein Walzer von Strauß erklingt (1931) – editor
  • Opernredoute (1931) – editor
  • Eine Nacht im Grandhotel (1931) – editor
  • Die Sache August Schulze (1931) – editor
  • Der ungetreue Eckehart (1931) – editor
  • Chauffeur Antoinette (1931) – director
  • The Marathon Runner (1933) – editor, director's assistant
  • Camicia Nera/Schwarzhemden (1933 documentary) – director of the German version
  • Zwischen zwei Herzen (1933–1934) – director
  • Mädels von heute (1933) – director
  • Kleiner Mann – was nun? (1933) – editor, screenplay, director's assistant
  • Der Traum vom Rhein (1933) – director
  • The Riders of German East Africa (1934) – director
  • Der Springer von Pontresina (1934) – director
  • The Green Domino (1935) – director
  • An Ideal Husband (1935) – director
  • Der grüne Domino (1935) – director
  • Game on Board (1936) – director, screenplay
  • Romanze (1936) – director
  • Die Frau des Anderen (1936) – director
  • Die rote Mütze (1937) – director
  • Alarm in Peking (1937) – director, screenplay
  • Water for Canitoga (1938–1939) – director
  • Sergeant Berry (1938) – director
  • Ich liebe Dich (1938) – director, writer
  • Ein Mann auf Abwegen (1939–1940) – director
  • Trenck, der Pandur (1940) – director
  • Carl Peters (1940–1941) – director, screenplay
  • Geheimakte W.B.1 (1941–1942) – director, screenplay
  • Titanic (1942) – director, screenplay


  1. ^ a b c d Hawkins, Brian (12 April 2012). "Full Comment: The Titanic’s last victim". National Post. p. A10. 
This article is translated from its equivalent on the German Wikipedia