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Education for Death is an animated short produced during World War II and released on January 15, 1943. Based on the anti-Nazi war propaganda book by Gregor Ziemer, it tells a grim story of how children in Nazi Germany are molded into merciless soldiers. The short was directed by Clyde Geronimi with much of the animation handled by Ward Kimball.
The film features the story of Little Hans, a boy born and raised in Nazi Germany, who is bred to become a merciless soldier.
At the beginning of the film, a German couple prove to a Nazi supreme judge that they are of pure Aryan blood and agree to give their son, whom they name Hans at the approval of the judge, into the service of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. They are given a copy of Mein Kampf by the judge as a reward for their service to Hitler. There then follows the only extended comical section of the cartoon, the tone of which is very light compared to the rest of the film. The audience is told that as Hans grows up, he hears a distorted version of Sleeping Beauty depicting Hitler as the knight in shining armor rescuing Sleeping Beauty, an obese Valkyrie representing Germany, from a wicked witch, representing democracy. Thanks to this kind of distorted children's story, Hans becomes fascinated with Hitler as he and the rest of the younger members of the Hitler Youth give a portrait of him dressed as a knight the Hitler salute.
In the following segment the audience sees Hans sick and bedridden. His mother prays for him, knowing it will only be a matter of time before the authorities come and take him away to a death camp, a Nazi officer bangs on the door to take Hans away, but his mother says he is sick and needs care. The officer orders her to heal her son quickly and have him ready to leave, implying if Hans does not get well, he will be euthanized. He orders her not to do anything more to him that will cause him to lose heart and be weak, explaining that a soldier must show no emotion, mercy or feelings whatsoever. Hans eventually recovers and resumes his "education" in a school classroom, where Hans and the rest of his classmates all in Hitlerjugend uniforms, after giving portraits of Hitler, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels the Hitler salute, watch as the teacher draws a cartoon on the blackboard of a rabbit being eaten by a fox, prompting Hans to feel sorry for the rabbit. The teacher, furious over the remark, orders Hans to sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap. As Hans sits in the corner as punishment, he hears the rest of the classmates "correctly" interpret the cartoon as "weakness has no place in a soldier" and "the strong shall rule the weak." This sparks Hans to recant his remark, and agrees that the weak must be destroyed.
Hans then takes part in a book-burning crusade, burning any books that oppose Hitler, replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf and the crucifix with a Nazi sword, and burning a Catholic church. Hans then spends the next several years "Marching and heiling, heiling and marching!" until he reaches his teens (wearing a uniform similar to that of the Sturmabteilung) still "marching and heiling" until he becomes an adult or "Good Nazi" (now in Wehrmacht uniform) embroiled in hatred towards anyone else who opposes Hitler, "seeing nothing but what the party wants him to see, saying nothing but what the party wants him to say, and doing no more than the party wants him to do."
In the end, Hans and the rest of the Nazi soldiers march off to war only to fade into rows of identical graves, with nothing on them except a swastika and a helmet perched on top. Thus Hans' education is complete. "The education... for death."
Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi was released when Disney was under government contract to produce 32 animated shorts from 1941-1945. This was due to the fact that in 1940 Walt Disney spent four times his budget on the feature film Fantasia which produced very little in the box office. Nearing bankruptcy and faced with a strike that left less than half of his employees on the payroll, Walt Disney was forced to look for a solution to upturn the production of the studio. Physical proximity to the military aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed, made it convenient for the U.S. government to offer Disney a contract for 32 short propaganda films at $4,500 each which would create work for his employees and in turn save the studio.
The dialogue of the characters is in German, neither subtitled nor directly translated by Art Smith's lone English language narration. A voice track of Adolf Hitler in full demagogic rant is used in a torchlight rally scene. A sequence follows in which Hans becomes a Nazi soldier along with other Hitler Youth.
Intended as anti-Nazi propaganda during World War II, the film is rarely shown today, but it is featured on the DVD Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines, a compilation of Disney's wartime shorts released on May 18, 2004.