Friday, 10 July 2015

HITLER'S CHILDREN













d. Edward Dmytryk (1943)


At first I wondered why, in 1943, US audiences were watching a film about the dangers of Nazism set in 1938, especially as America had already been at war with Germany for two years. Then I thought about the timing and realised that it was probably preparing them for D-Day: when there is sacrifice ahead, it's a good idea to remind people what it's all for.

In order to connect with audiences, the film uses a handsome boy and a pretty girl, a sort of Nazi Romeo and Juliet: he is a German born in America; she is an American born in Germany, and they love each other, despite their political differences. In the early days, it's picnics and sing-a-longs in the stereotypical hale and hearty way of the old Fatherland, all jolly rucksacks and strudel. When Hitler begins his conquests, however, things change. The boy joins the SS and the girl, because she has 'German blood' is sent to a re-education centre for lessons in National Socialism. 

Being a decent, freedom loving girl she doesn't take to the teachings of Herr Hitler one bit, of course, so is publicly whipped and scheduled for enforced sterilisation. The boy, belatedly realising that Nazism is as fucked up a philosophy as you can get, tries to save her, but is arrested. He has time to denounce Hitler at his trial before he and the girl are shot.

Heavy stuff, but then what else could it be? A light musical would have been completely inappropriate. Behind the fractured love story we occasionally get glimpses of other heinous policies: the rounding up of Jewish schoolchildren, no doubt destined for concentration camps; talk of the extermination of the physically and mentally impaired to further the bloodline of 'the master race'; the suggestion that it is the girl's duty to get pregnant by an approved Aryan at the soonest opportunity, no relationship required. The overall picture is of a sick, almost surreally inhuman society presided over by sadists who are either thugs or pseudo-intellectuals or an unsavoury combination of the two. 

Hitler's Children was an absolutely enormous box office success. Propaganda is always propaganda, of course, no matter which side it comes from, no matter how many facts (or lies) it contains. It's purpose is to create the collective frame of mind where it is okay to hate, to fight, to kill, to die - and this film, with its emphasis on the way the Nazis stamp down on personal expression and individual liberty, chimed absolutely with American audiences. They've always been very big on the old freedom thing in the US of A - for Americans, anyway.         

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