Disney: Education for Death

"Heil Hitler!" said the S.S. officer to a distraught mother caring for her gravely ill child.

"What makes a Nazi? How does he get that way? Well, let's look into the process..."

Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi is a Wartime Cartoon in the Classic Disney Shorts lineup, based on the Gregor Ziemer book of the same name and released on January 15, 1943. High production values aside, suffice it to say this is not your typical Disney cartoon — aside from some brief bits of comedy (particularly the retelling of Sleeping Beauty as an allegory of how Adolf Hitler "saved" Germany from democracy), this short was intended as a dead-serious message for American audiences, displaying just what destructive and terrifying methods the Nazis used to brainwash young Germans into becoming perfect soldiers for the Führer. Hence, the title.

The short is included on the DVD set "Walt Disney Treasures: On The Front Lines", uncut and uncensored and with a message from Leonard Maltin explaining the short and how horrific and chilling it truly is (sadly, you can't skip over it like with the Whoopi Goldberg warnings at the beginning of the Looney Tunes volume three Golden Collection DVD set).

This short provides examples of:

  • Adolf Hitlarious: Hitler is depicted as a medieval knight coming to wake up Germany. He is caricatured as a complete angry fool, shouting gibberish, and provides the only comic relief in the entire cartoon.
  • Berserk Button: The teacher gets really furious at Hans for answering a question incorrectly, yelling and screaming as he does so.
  • Book Burning: Near the end the Nazis burns all the books they hate (Truth in Television).
  • Brawn Hilda: The "Sleeping Beauty" Germany, when awakened, proves to be a fat, beer-swilling Valkyrie à la Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Hitler is depicted as a German knight. Later during the class room scene his portrait can be seen hanging on the wall, along with those of Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring.
  • Chest of Medals: Hermann Göring's portrait is depicted having so many medals, that they literally come out of the frame of the painting.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Used by the Nazi teacher to demonstrate that the strong and cunning should naturally devour the weak and timid.
  • Darker and Edgier than the vast majority of Disney productions.
  • Documentary Of Lies: Some things presented as facts are often simplified or even blatantly wrong.
    • Nazism is depicted as being based purely on "survival of the fittest", even taken to absurd lengths with German soldiers literally coming to Hans' parents house to complain about why their son is sick, because all Germans need to be "strong". In reality, while people with disabilities were indeed killed, they weren't stupid enough to go after children just for being sick (that would have left them with fewer future soldiers, if nothing else).
    • The whole segment where Sleeping Beauty is being retold with Hitler as the Prince waking up Germany under the presumption that this is the way it's "being told in under the New Order in Germany" has no basis in reality.
    • The major events in the life of Hans could not have all happened to one person entirely under the Nazi regime, because at the time of the cartoon's release, the Nazis had only been in power for 10 years, and they would only be in power for two more, and yet Hans was born under Nazi rule and grows up still under Nazi rule by the end of the cartoon; however, for all the Americans knew at the time, the regime could have ended up lasting much longer.
  • Downer Ending: It's implied that Hans dies in battle, along with his classmates.
  • Dunce Cap: Hans is forced to wear this when standing in the corner simply for showing sympathy for a rabbit, a weak creature, that gets eaten by a fox, a strong and cunning creature (see Felony Misdemeanor below).
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Meta-example. Hans grew from birth to adulthood in Nazi Germany, which didn't last long enough for that to occur.
  • Fan Disservice: Hitler in the role of a romantic prince.
  • Felony Misdemeanor
    Narrator: He said "The poor rabbit." Has he lost his mind?
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Sleeping Beauty is retold with Hitler as the prince driving the witch (democracy) away and Germany as the beauty being awakened.
  • Germanic Depressives: Nazi Germany is presented as a depressing place, where every young boy is doomed to die for the Führer.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom / Sinister Silhouettes: The Nazi officials.
  • Gratuitous German: It would be expected that the German language would be used in a movie about Nazis, but it's still surprising that it's not some gibberish like in many other propaganda cartoons of the time, but actual correct German.
  • He Who Must Not Be Named: When Hitler comes into view the narrator simply refers to him: "And the prince... well, you know who he is."
  • Laser-Guided Tykebomb: Hans and company are raised to become mindless, arrogant killing machines for the Nazi state.
  • Marshmallow Hell: Hitler receives this from Princess Germany in the "Sleeping Beauty" segment.
  • Mood Whiplash: The comedic "Sleeping Beauty" / Ring of the Nibelung parody contrasts violently with the rest of the short. The short in general goes back and forth between dark moments and lighthearted ones. It starts out with showing a couple registering their child with the government in what looks like a big dark room; not exactly pleasant, but nothing edgy. Then it gets more lighthearted with the "Sleeping Beauty" bit. Then it shows a mother trying to take care of her ill child, and then a government official stepping in and warning her to stop coddling Hans or he'll be taken away by the state. Then it gets softer again, with an example of a classroom lesson where the kids are being taught that the future belongs to the strong and brutal. After that is when it starts getting really dark.
  • National Stereotypes: Some stereotypical German imagery is used in the cartoon. During the Sleeping Beauty sequence the woman is depicted as a Brawn Hilda character drinking from a stein. As she salutes Hitler "Ride Of The Valkyries" by Richard Wagner is quoted. All German children wear lederhosen.
  • Parody: The "Sleeping Beauty" segment is actually a parody of Wagner's Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), where Siegfried (cited by German propaganda as a national hero) wakes the Valkyrie Brünnhilde from her magic sleep, "Sleeping Beauty" style. Hitler was on record as an admirer of Wagner.
  • Poirot Speak: Actually averted for the most part; the written and spoken German in segments with Hans is entirely accurate. Played straight, however, in the Sleeping Beauty segment where Prince Adolf's speech to the newly wakened Princess Germany is garbled nonsense.
  • Propaganda Machine: A US propaganda cartoon intended to show the enemy at his worst. Interestingly enough it's one of the few where the US army or eventual victory isn't mentioned at all.
  • Public Domain Animation: In the USA the copyright of this cartoon hasn't been renewed.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The characters all speak in German with no subtitles, though the English-speaking narrator still provides context and it's fairly easy to understand what's going on.
  • Regional Riff: When the chalkboard rabbit is hunted by the fox, the tune playing is Im Wald und auf der Heide, an old German hunting tune.
  • Rotoscoping: Presumably used to animate the human characters.
  • Rousseau Was Right: Hans actually used to be a pretty sweet and concerned kid. That is, until his teachers drove any compassion out of him.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: The actual "Sleeping Beauty" has a wicked fairy, but no witch proper. Also, she never guarded the Sleeping Beauty.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The makers present the cartoon as an actual documentary, including having characters speak actual German to provide authenticity.
    • Right after the "Sleeping Beauty" segment, a painting is seen that shows Hitler as a knight in shining armor on horseback, carrying the swastika flag (obviously the template for the cartoonish "Prince Hitler" seen in the preceding scene). This is a real painting, "Der Bannerträger" by Hubert Lanzinger, painted 1936 and frequently reproduced in the Third Reich.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Cleverly handled in the scene where the official consults a list of banned names to make sure Hans is an appropriate name for the baby. We are shown the list but not told why these names are banned. All one needs to do is read some of the legible names (Issac, Simon, Miriam, Benjamin, Joseph) and you will get the idea.
  • Something Completely Different: Compared to other Disney shorts, this one really stands out — it's probably to Disney what Chuck Jones' "Old Glory" was to Looney Tunes, in that it doesn't have any wacky cartoon hijinx and touches on serious subject matter. Another element that makes it different than most Disney shorts at the time is the length: 10 minutes compared to the usual seven.
  • Spooky Painting: After Hans gives the wrong answer the teacher says: "What would Herr Hitler say? Or Herr Göring? Or Herr Goebbels?" Whereupon the camera cuts to the paintings in the class room who all suddenly look angrily at Hans. This could be the boy's own imagination though.
  • Standard Snippet: Besides Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" during the scene where Sleeping Beauty is saluting Hitler, reference is also made to his wedding march from Lohengrin. When the Nazis are shown burning Felix Mendelssohn's music, we hear a snippet of his wedding march from Ein Sommernachtstraum.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Actually avoided. The only Nazi depicted as wacky is Hitler.
  • Time Marches On: The cartoon is obviously a product of its time. Not only in its subject matter, but also in a lot of statements it makes that are actually wrong or simplified, just to appeal more to a white Christian audience. For instance, no mention is made of antisemitism (although it's implied by the list of banned names for children) and a dramatic shocking moment is the scene where the Bible is by Mein Kampf on the pulpit (along with a Nazi dagger taking the place of the crucifix) after the book burnings, something the Nazis never did.
  • Title Drop: At the very end the narrator announces:
    For now his education is complete. His education... for death.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Hans. Because of his indoctrination during his upbringing and education, he becomes an obedient servant of the state and hateful of anything he considers weak and inferior. He's implied to subsequently die in battle.
  • User Operation Prohibit Flag: The DVD version's Leonard Maltin's intro is unskippable and can't be fast-forwarded through.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Hans' teacher is horrified when he expresses sympathy for the weak rabbit killed by the strong, cunning fox. Instead he claims that the fox is to be admired and the rabbit hated because according to the Nazis, Might Makes Right. After being the class fool for a day, Hans becomes a fanatic who screams that he wishes the rabbit would die.
  • Wartime Cartoon: The most serious of them all.
  • Wicked Witch: How the Nazi version of "Sleeping Beauty" depicts democracy.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Hans, and pretty much all the children of Nazi Germany.

Alternative Title(s):

Education For Death