The Berlin Film Festival, which prides itself on promoting liberal values and tolerance, has been shaken by research confirming that its first director lied about having opposed the Nazi regime and was an “eager paramilitary man” who worked with Joseph Goebbels.

Alfred Bauer, who ran the Berlinale from its launch in 1951 until 1976, was a key adviser to the Reichsfilmintendanz, the steering body of Nazi film policy, a study by the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History revealed. It also said he was a member of the Nazi party, the Sturmabteilung (SA) paramilitary wing known as Stormtroopers, the National Socialist German Student Union and the National Socialist Lawyers’ Association.

The film festival commissioned the study in February after Die Zeit revealed that Bauer had been a high-ranking Nazi and quoted a Nazi party official in his home town of Würzburg as calling him an “eager SA man”. Bauer’s Nazi role had not previously been mentioned in the official annals of the Berlinale.

Bauer lied about having opposed the Nazi regime and was an “eager paramilitary man” who worked with Joseph Goebbels.

In January the festival scrapped its annual Alfred Bauer Prize. Critics said that the festival management should have acted sooner, given that documents incriminating him were available in public archives. Mariette Rissenbeek, the festival’s director, described the findings as startling. “They constitute an important element in the process of dealing with the Nazi past of cultural institutions that were founded after 1945,” she said.

After the war Bauer, who died in 1986, displayed “audacity and obtrusiveness” and “ambitious, almost unscrupulous opportunism” in furthering his career, the historian Tobias Hof, who wrote the study, said. Bauer made false statements, half-truths and assertions about his role in the Third Reich in proceedings after the war, he added.

In 1950 Bauer proposed the idea of a film festival to the mayor of Berlin and the Allied commanders of West Berlin. It was intended to bring glamour to a city still clearing away the rubble of the war, and to provide a showcase of western culture in the enclave surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca was the opening film.

David Crossland is the author of The Jewish Candidate