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January 15

January 15, 1943 – Education for Death is Released to Theaters

“He sees no more than the party wants him to; he says nothing but what the party wants him to say; and he does nothing but what the party wants him to do.”

Surely the grimmest film the studio produced during World War II, Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi, was premiered in theaters on January 15, 1943. Based on the bestselling book by Gregor Ziemer, the short was directed by Clyde Geronimi and principally animated by Ward Kimball. It was narrated in English by then-popular radio personality Art Smith; however, the dialogue in the short is in German. This helps to provide a sense of distance between the viewer and the characters, further heightening the fear of the Nazi doctrine in Americans. Disney Legend Joe Grant said that by making the short, the studios hoped to make it “visible to people what was going on. And you couldn’t do it in a better way than with the graphics in a cartoon. It wasn’t a cartoon, it was actually an editorial. I think it did the job.”

The story centers on a young German boy named Hans, and how he grows up in this new Nazi order, becoming a brainwashed believer of the Nazi ideology. The story begins with Hans’ parents standing in front of a soldier, registering their child’s birth. They present birth certificates dating all the way back to their great-grandparents, proving that they are pure Aryan. The mother wishes to name her child Hans, which, fortunately, is not on the forbidden name list (which includes Franklin and Winston as its top two forbidden names). The parents are then given a hereditary passport, with twelve lines, giving them “a subtle hint that Germany needs soldiers.” As a reward for giving birth, the couple is given a copy of Germany’s bestseller, Mein Kampf.

The hereditary passport: note Hans' name at the top, with more room for future names. His mother was expected to produce a large family for Germany's sake.

The next segment is of one of the doctored fairy tales presented to Hans in kindergarten. As this film was shown to general audiences, the animators tried to present at least one moment of humor in this otherwise dark film. The fairy tale in question is the story of Sleeping Beauty, with the Wicked Witch representing democracy, vanquished by the Prince (Hitler) before he wakes the Princess (Germany) with a kiss. The Princess, however, is anything but beautiful; instead, she is portrayed as an obese Wagnerian woman holding a stein and able to sing only the words “Heil Hitler!” “Prince Hitler” is anything but dashing: He struggles to carry Germany and barely manages to plop her on his horse (with a little comedic help). The moral of this story, the narrator tells us, “seems to be that Hitler got Germany on her feet, climbed into the saddle, and took her for a ride.” It could be argued that the comedy was so strong here to show the audience the absurdity of what German children were being taught in schools.

The caricatures of Germany as the Princess, and "Prince Hitler," taking Germany for a ride.

The most emotional part of this short is the classroom scene. The students begin their day giving a pledge to a portrait of Hitler that they will fight, obey, and die for their Fuehrer. The classroom also has portraits of Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels (also slightly caricatured for comedic effect, although the effect is very subtle). The teacher then gives the class a lesson in “natural history,” in which a fox chases a rabbit, corners the poor creature, and devours him. When asked what his thoughts are on the subject, Hans answers, “The poor rabbit.” The teacher is furious, calling Hans an idiot, and making him sit in the corner with the dunce cap while the students are encouraged to mock him and laugh at him. The poor boy thinks he has disappointed the Fuehrer and Herren Goering and Goebbels with his answer. The teacher asks for the correct answers, which include:

The world belongs to the strong!

And to the brutal!

The rabbit is a coward and deserves to die! We spit on the rabbit!

These answers fire up Hans, who, when asked again for his opinion, declared tearfully that he hates the rabbit, and that the world has no room for weaklings. “This lesson is the basis for the Nazi creed,” the narrator declares, “for Germany will likewise destroy all weak and cowardly nations.” The film then switches to scenes of book burning and desecration of churches, with the Bible being replaced by Mein Kampf, and the crucifix being replaced with a sword bearing the swastika. The short ends with Hans marching along in Nazi lockstep, and we watch as he grows up, still heiling and marching.. “In him,” we are told, “is planted no seed of laughter, hope, tolerance, or mercy. He sees no more than the party wants him to; he says nothing but what the party wants him to say; and he does nothing but what the party wants him to do.” The soldiers are all seen with blinders, muzzles, and heavy chains around their necks. The ending of this short is one of the bleakest endings ever put on film.

Wearing blinders, muzzles, and chains, these boys have become perfect unquestioning soldiers for the Nazi warped ideology.

The short is highly staged for dramatic impact, using shadows and silhouettes to highlight the threat the party imposed on the characters. The film was meant to shock and appall audiences, and suffice it to say, the animators did their job well. This short is still an effective piece of propaganda—spreading ideas or information to further or damage a cause—meant to show the American public what Nazism was and why we were at war with Germany. While touches of humor provided small breaks between the grim messages, the film still got its point across and served its purpose well.

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4 responses »

  1. Hi, I love your blog. Is there something I can do to obtain updates like a subscription or some thing? I am sorry I’m not familiar with RSS? http://www.ctctradeshows.com

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    • Hi! Thank you for your comment. I do update this blog every day, so if you bookmark it and look back every day, you should see a new update. As for a type of subscription, I believe that the RSS feed should work, but I’m working on a way to email new updates if people are interested.

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  2. I teach history just outside Munich and named my son Winston in direct violation of this cartoon’s prohibition!

    Reply
    • Well, back then, that name would have been dangerous due to its ties to Winston Churchill. It’s interesting to see how they thought even a simple name could be dangerous and had to be outlawed.

      Reply

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