Hitler's Children (1943)

Book burning, bad-ass Berlin-based Nazis, tell like it partially is in the fourth highest grossing film of 1943  ― Hitler's Children, directed by Edward Dmytryk.

Hitler's Children stars Tim Holt, Bonita Granville, and Kent Smith.

The film does not mess around in portraying the brutalities real and imaginary associated with the Hitler Youth, represented particularly by two young participants.

Both love and the church stand resolute in the face of the overwhelmeing Nazi menace, which makes a nice change from "democracy" being what everybody is hoping is going to save the day.

At the heart of things is not just an amazing love story, some interesting propaganda and a festival of horrors, but this was directed by one of film noir's then most dynamic exponents, Edward Dmytryk.

Hitler's Children is not entirely Dmytrk's trademark 'docu-drama', although it does have some documentary sequences, even a couple with the Fuhrer of the film's title featured.

It is also told in the barest of flashback which tops and tails it, and proposes to be an American teacher, based in Berlin in 1933.

It also purposes to be an adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name by American author Gregor Ziemer. The short Disney film and short book that this comes from features the story of Hans, a boy born and raised in Nazi Germany, his indoctrination in the Hitlerjugend, and his eventual march to war.

The story of Hitler's Children is pretty different, and the hero isn't even called Hans. He's called Karl Bruner and his story tells of his zealous youth, rampant career Nazism in the Gestapo, burning love which cannot be quelled, and his demise at the hands of his evil bosses and their puritanical employment practices.

Book bonfire for the edification of young men in Hitler's Children (1943)

Here in 1933, when the drama opens, people are still telling themselves the disturbances associated with Nazis were purely local. And other euphemisms roll behind.

The set up for 1933 is not convincing but establishes everything as it is required to be. Outside all American life goes on among some all Amercian school kids in Berlin.
A Nazi Education in Hitler's Children (1943)

Inside, there is a fascist classroom, where the grown boys wear military uniform and a Nazi yells propaganda in their faces about soil, lions, domination, Germany, blood and other classic tropes of the fascist dream.

Breaktime is one massive brawl, and it makes for strange viewing although young Anna Muller as a proto anti-Nazi is highly amusing, and to be treasured.

Bucolic, chilled Americana as the antidote to fascism - Hitler's Children (1943)
The freedom loving American teacher steps up and soon streefights are replaced by picnics.  Herein is a chance for some bucolic antidotes to Nazism, featuring love, freedom, birds, bees and poetry under boughs.

There is a strange scene where the teenage lovers-to-be find a 10 year old boy tied up in the woods. They ungag the boy, who politely asks them to be tied up so he can resume his punishment. He has been there several hours and has several hours to go, but even at his young age the child is excited about how the punishment is going to make him a better, fitter Nazi.

The National Anthem of Great Britain is rewritten by the so-called American Colony School, where most of the early action takes place. This is not version that is known outside of this film, and it is a strange choice for the US citizens to be singing, while the Gestapo are raiding their school for Polish, Jewish and other targeted people.

Torn - Tim Holt versus the irrepressibly evil Nazi commander, played by Otto Kruger

When Anna Muller goes off and works in the camp the paranoia and fear of film noir actually kicks in. Although the tone is lighter than film noir, and the scenery and visuals also it has to be said, there are some shades when psychological drama jumps in.

The Nazis' final threat at the end of the first half of the film promises the dark descent of the second half:

"Let me assure you that the choice is no longer between life and death. Dying my dear fraulein is a luxury these days. We must all live, and work. And for those who will not work with the brain we will find duties to fit their capacities."

Things take a turn for the macabre as we proceed to visit the sterilisation facility, and hear more of the villain's nasty plans. All the while, the chief Nazi nasty, Otto Kruger ― do recall his memorable portrayls of Jules Amthor in Murder, My Sweet (1944) ― and Charles Tobin in Saboteur (1942) ― and see also as Carl Stephans in 711 Ocean Drive (1950) ― is testing and tormenting the young Nazi zealot, whose love for Anna drives the action.

Slightly let down by a chase through the woods in the dark, one of these strange transitional stylistics beloved of the 1940s, and intended to take viewers further itno their own dark places, Hitler's Children resolves to demand a choice between God and Hitler.

It makes a great end to Act 4, as this would normally be where somebody would be blathering about democracy. Instead there is an amazing showdown between a bishop and a Nazi, delivered with tension, gravitas, power, thought and inspiration galore.

Choosing between the Gospel of Jesus and the Gospel of Adolf Hitler

Hiding in the church

Hitler's Children concludes with a massive show trial by media, in its own right a great choice. And what happens right at the end if the story, when the bullets fly, never happened in real life.

It's one of these things, the movies can make it all real, just the way we want it.  If you think about it, the live show trial and the unplanned live-action execution makes great media, and so that is what this is: a best case scenario for the evil Nazis.

It's not as if they ever have or will have any right to reply.

The Book Burning Brigade

As a penultimate thought, and as a sign of people's irresistible desire to improvise ― the above display from the top of the film, when a night-time gathering of shouting book-burners hold a crazy ceremony, perhaps even it is suggested burning copies of the book on which the film is based ― Gregor Ziemer's book Education For Death ― it can be seen that the studio's designers have employed a visual riff on the swastika that was almost certainly never used in real life.

Nice tiling, however.

Final Thought - at the head of the film, is it implied that Ziemer's EDUCATION FOR DEATH is being burned?

Otto Kruger on Wikipedia


Gregor Ziemer's Education For Death on Wikipedia


Hitler's Children at Wikipedia

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