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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Education for Death (1943)

Education for Death the Making of the Nazi Walt Disney

Walt Disney was a very patriotic man, and it showed in his work. One such instance is this unusual animated short film, "Education for Death" (1943).

Education for Death the Making of the Nazi

While Walt Disney had revolutionized the film industry with his "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937, which also won him Oscars and a huge financial windfall, World War II was not a happy time for The Walt Disney Studios. Several subsequent artistic triumphs such as "Pinocchio" had turned into financial disasters. After 1939, and especially 1941, most overseas markets were closed to American films. In short, money was tight.

Nazi baptism
A baby is baptized by the "Verein Lebensborn e.V". Two SS men baptize a baby in front of a "Lebensflamme" and a photograph of Hitler.

Faced with possible financial ruin, Walt Disney contracted with the War Department to create a string of films - 32 animated shorts - to further the war effort. They got the studio through its leanest years and helped the country to boot.

Education for Death the Making of the Nazi Walt Disney

This particular short, "Education for Death," is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by American author . Art Smith provides an English language narration with occasional translation, but much of the dialogue is in German - very guttural German - as well as occasional writing. This unusual technique shows that "Education for Death" was an animation project for adults, not for children. In fact, it probably isn't a good idea to show this to a child who might not understand what is going on and could be scared by the no-holds-barred tone.

Education for Death the Making of the Nazi Walt Disney

The film features the story of little Hans, a boy born and raised in Hitler's Germany. He's brainwashed from birth into becoming a loyal Party member and ultimately marches to the battlefield as an unthinking automaton, as thousands of his fellow Germans did. Hans' attitude about the value of human life degrades as he is exposed to the Hitler Youth and other Party organizations and institutions.

You can watch the film and draw your own conclusions as to how well it served its purpose. It is extremely well crafted - Clyde Geronimi was one of Disney's top directors - and has the bonus of original footage of some of the classic Disney characters, such as the Evil Queen (in her old woman disguise) from "Snow White."

Education for Death the Making of the Nazi Walt Disney Gregor Ziemer

In brief, the plot follows the indoctrination of a youth from cradle to, well, the fate that awaits him. In between, we get an extremely sophisticated tour of standard German documents, uniforms, and educational practices. There are obligatory references to book-burnings and the like, but also intimate nods to Adolf Hitler as a kind of malevolent but pathetic loser. Showing Hitler in this fashion no doubt was intended to demystify him, as he was a remote figure who many people at the time could not really relate to except as this some remote dictator. Portraying him instead as ineffective and evil no doubt served the purposes of the War Department perfectly. Hermann Goering and Josef Goebbels are lampooned, while "Mein Kampf" and other obvious and sometimes subtle references to very real German culture also make appearances.


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