Hitler's Film-maker Leni Riefenstahl Celebrates 101st Birthday

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BERLIN - Adolf Hitler's film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, the last of Germany's famous Nazi-era figures still alive, turned 101 on Friday struggling with illness after a life battling controversy.

Riefenstahl, whose films of a Nazi party rally and the 1936 Berlin Olympics brought her pre-war fame and postwar notoriety, has been too sick to give interviews or make media appearances in recent months.

Her birthday looks set to be quiet compared with her centenary last year when she released an underwater documentary - her first in 50 years - and was threatened with a lawsuit claiming she lied about the fate of gypsies from Nazi camps who were used as extras in her movie "Tiefland" in 1940-42.

A gypsy group accused her of Holocaust denial after she told a newspaper none of the gypsies taken from Nazi concentration camps to feature in the film died in camps. It said she failed to prevent them being sent back to the camps, where many died.

Frankfurt prosecutors dropped their investigation into Holocaust denial, a criminal offence in Germany, late last year.

"She was feeling far better last year than at the moment," Riefenstahl's assistant Gisela Jahn told Reuters before the celebrations. "She will spend her birthday quietly at home, without visitors and only with her family."

Riefenstahl's life has been anything but quiet.

She won awards at the Venice and Paris film festivals in the 1930s for her "Triumph of the Will", a documentary highlighting the meticulously choreographed, eerie grandeur of the Nazi Party's 1934 Nuremberg Rally.

She was then commissioned to make the official film of the 1936 Olympics."Olympia" pioneered techniques such as mounting the camera on electric cars on rails to follow races.

Ever since the war, those films have haunted her, and she remains a villain to many for failing to apologize for them. Critics have accused her of failing to own up to being associated with the Nazis.

She always denied political involvement with the Nazi party or any romantic link with Hitler, although she admitted admiring him and seeking him out for a meeting in 1932.

After Germany's defeat in the World War Two, Riefenstahl was jailed by French occupation authorities for helping the Nazi propaganda machine.

Blacklisted as a film-maker, she fought for rehabilitation as an artist by turning to still photography, producing acclaimed picture books of Nuba tribesmen in southern Sudan.

Undefeated by age, she took up scuba diving at 72.

Jahn did not say what Riefenstahl was suffering from but said she could still move around her lakeside house in the Bavarian Alps. "It's sure to pass but at the moment she absolutely needs and wants quiet," Jahn said.