Hitler's young elite film hits raw nerve in Germany
14 January 2005 , HAMBURG - A new movie about the indoctrination of young men who were to have been the elite in a Nazi-dominated world has touched a raw nerve in Germany, where many of these same young men went on to hold high positions in both East and West Germany. "Napola" by 31-year-old filmmaker Dennis Gansel opens nationwide this week on the heels of international success at film festivals abroad in recent months. The movie outlines in chilling detail the soul-robbing indoctrination that German yout
14 January 2005
HAMBURG - A new movie about the indoctrination of young men who were to have been the elite in a Nazi-dominated world has touched a raw nerve in Germany, where many of these same young men went on to hold high positions in both East and West Germany.
"Napola" by 31-year-old filmmaker Dennis Gansel opens nationwide this week on the heels of international success at film festivals abroad in recent months.
The movie outlines in chilling detail the soul-robbing indoctrination that German youths underwent at Hitler's elite boarding schools, called Napola academies in Nazi-era parlance.
To this day, the mere mention of the word Napola sends chills up the spines of many Germans. Napola schools, which were set up around the Germany within weeks of Hitler's assuming power in 1933, were designed to create a generation of "Aryan" young leaders who had only one burning desire - to see Nazi mastery of the Earth.
The schools accepted only the best, the finest physical and mental specimens of male youth in Nazi Germany.
In the course of a cruelly rigorous nine-year curriculum, all traces of "character faults" such as human compassion and independent thought were eradicated from the minds of the young men who attended these National Political Educational Institutions (Napolas).
Ganser's movie, his most ambitious after a handful of generally lightweight comedies and social satires, focuses on a gung-ho 17- year-old boxer called Friedrich who manages to get into a Napola academy on an athletic scholarship.
As in "the Dead Poets Society" by Peter Weir, whom Ganser greatly admires, it is the movie's subplot about an ultimately tragic bond between Friedrich and a more sensitive classmate that provides the driving force for the storyline.
The movie is dedicated to Ganser's grandfather, who attended a Napola school.
"My grandfather grappled with that traumatic Napola experience all his life," Ganser told an interviewer. "It ruined his relationship with his son, my father."
It was during long talks with his grandfather that Ganser came to understand what the Napola had done not only to his granddad but also to a whole generation of bright young men.
"I made this film to show how basically good people can lose their humanity and do monstrous things to others," Ganser said. "And I made it as a reminder that it can happen anywhere. The incidents at Abu Ghraib prison are an example."
In Germany, those bright young men went on to positions of power in the West and in the East.
In communist East Germany, for example, Politburo member Werner Lambertz was the product of a Napola school. But the East German propaganda machine obscured that fact in his official biography, as it did with other Napola grads in the East German regime.
Most notable among West Germans was Alfred Herrhausen, an advisor to Bonn chancellors who became head of Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest bank. Herrhausen died in an urban terrorist car-bomb attack in the 1980s. It is largely forgotten today that he was targeted for assassination because he was a Napola alumnus.
Feelings about the Napola graduates run so deeply that German author Siegfried Lenz once sued a literary critic for libel for having suggested that Lenz probably attended a Napola school.
Those Napola graduates who are still alive are now in their seventies, and a few were on hand at a press screening of Ganser's film. Among them was one of Germany's best-known film critics, Hellmuth Karasek, who said the film captured the essence of his own experience at a schoolboy.
"As long as the Wehrmacht was advancing on all fronts, there was lots of boastful talk that our school was preparing the future gauleiters for Cape Town, Washington and Moscow," Karasek told Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.
"The film captures the other-worldly isolation and detachment from reality and from all human warmth or charity that characterised those places," he added. "They were God-forsaken places and this very well- acted and well-directed picture accurately depicts that sense of soullessness that boys like me experienced."
The film has only been released in Germany after an award-laden run at festivals in Europe and America. It opened to a standing- ovation in New York, where it won the Hamptons International Film Festival audience award.
German actor Max Riemelt received top acting honours at the Karlovy Vary film festival in the Czech Republic for his portrayal of the young protagonist.
Subject: German news