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Disney / Education for Death

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"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.


This short provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The fact that this was made in 1943 makes the storyline of Hans dying in battle this. We now know that the major events in Hans' life could not have all happened to one person entirely under the Nazi regime. At the time of the cartoon's release, the Allies did not know this. Hans being born under Nazi rule and growing up still under Nazi rule by the end of the cartoon is a reflection of the very dark prospect of the Nazis lasting that long. (Although, considering that the Nazis were using Child Soldiers to defend Berlin at the end of the war, it makes the cartoon's ending all the more horrific, since Hans didn't get to grow up...)
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • A Nazi official comes to Hans' parents house saying they have to not coddle him anymore when he's sick, or the state will intervene. In reality, while people with disabilities were indeed killed, the Nazis 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 under the New Order in Germany" has no basis in reality.
    • While the Nazis indeed persecuted dissident Christians and tried to Nazify Christianity (apparently planning on wholly replacing it with an Aryan religion later if they could), they didn't switch out Bibles for Mein Kampf and crucifixes with SS daggers as is shown here, nor simply vandalize churches wholesale.
  • 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 burn 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.
  • Conscription: It is implied that when Hans comes of age, he will be drafted into the Wehrmacht to fight (and then die) as a soldier.
  • Crapsack World: This short goes whole hog in presenting Nazi Germany as a horrible place to live in. To be specific, Hans Used to Be a Sweet Kid, but his parents (especially his mother) appear to be frightened of Nazi rule, even though they can do nothing about it. And besides, the Nazi teacher is a prime example of how some adults bully their kids until the kids themselves act genuinely cruel, which, according to Leonard Maltin, "is shocking, just as it's meant to be." And it's implied that Hans will die in battle. In real life, it would have been even worse, as, when the Allies invaded Germany in 1945, Hans could have died as a Child Soldier at no more than twelve years old.
  • 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: Compared to the vast majority of Disney productions, especially when contrasted with Der Fuehrer's Face, an earlier Disney Wartime Cartoon with a lighter and more comedic tone.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Wartime Cartoon, because it shows how a child can be taught to believe in something as insane as Nazism.
  • 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.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Every single Nazi, especially Hans's teacher.
  • 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The two names at the top of the Verböten list are "Franklin" and "Winston." The rest are Jewish names.
  • Genre Deconstruction: It's not a typical Wartime Cartoon. Instead of showing you mindless, evil soldiers, the short demonstrates how an otherwise normal child becomes a mindless, evil soldier. And that their transformation is tragic as is their death in battle.
  • 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 (aside from whatever Hitler is spewing).
  • He Who Must Not Be Named: When Hitler comes into view the narrator simply refers to him as: "And the prince... well, you know who he is."
  • Kids Are Cruel: But only because adults are just as cruel, if not worse. At worst, the grown-ups would actively brainwash their kids into burning books or replacing church icons with Nazi ones and throwing a rock through its window.
  • Laser-Guided Tyke-Bomb: Hans and company are raised to become mindless, arrogant killing machines for the Nazi state.
  • Lohengrin and Mendelssohn: Lohengrin's "Bridal Chorus" is heard at the end of the "Sleeping Beauty" sequence, while Mendelssohn's recessional is played during the book burning scene.
  • 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.
  • No Indoor Voice: The Nazis very seldom speak in a casual voice — they tend to yell and scream.
  • 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 the 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.
  • Politically Motivated Teacher: The teacher of a class of boys in Nazi Germany actually wears a party uniform to work while he indoctrinates his pupils.
  • 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 and accurate 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 in 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. It's also shown briefly in the book burning, with the music of Mendelssohn being burned.
  • The Social Darwinist: The Nazi regime's belief in this is a recurring theme throughout the short.
  • 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: Deliberately averted. The only Nazi depicted as wacky is Hitler — and even then it is meant to be ironic.
  • 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 (but then, this is propaganda, which by design is supposed to be simplified). 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 replaced 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 literally. Nazi Germany did spend considerable effort to Germanize the Lutheran Church and violently persecuted Catholics as well. The resulting version of the religion would be wholly unrecognizable to Christians outside of Germany, and resulted in breakaway teachers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer ending up in concentration camps (with some like him also being killed).
  • 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: Reconstructed with 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 hates the rabbit. Eventually, as Hans grows up, in him is "planted no seed of laughter, hope, tolerance or mercy."
  • Wartime Cartoon: The most serious of them all. The only other possible contender is Peace on Earth.
  • 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.


Example of: