Hitler's Children (1943)

 

 

 

 

Director:      Edward Dmytryk.

Starring:     Tim Holt (Lieutenant Karl Bruner),  Bonita Granville (Anna Miller),  Kent Smith (Professor Nichols),  Otto Kruger (Colonel Henkel),  H.B. Warner (The Bishop),  Lloyd Corrigan (Franz Erhart),  Erford Gage (Dr. Schmidt),  Hans Conried (Dr. Graf),  Gavin Muir (Nazi Major),  Nancy Gates (Brenda).

the Nazis declare that a German-American woman is actually a native German and they keep her in Germany

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

At a rally of the Hitler Youth, the speaker says that the boys must dedicate themselves to Adolf Hitler.  The boys take an oath that they are ready to give their lives for Hitler. 

The narrator, Mr. Nichols, says that back in 1933, Berlin was still a very pleasant place.  There were some incidents that were disturbing, but one could always say that these were just local problems.  Mr. Nichols runs the American Colony School.  His beautiful day is spoiled by a fight between the American Colony School youth and some Hitler Youth.   He tries to break it up, but there are just too many fights going on.  He turns for help to the Nazi school director, Dr. Schmidt, but the man says he can't break up a "popular demonstration".   So Nichols has to take action.  He yells "attention" in German and the Hitler Youth come to attention.  They then line up in formation.  That stops the fights.  One of the larger German boys, Karl, seems to have taken a liking to American student Anna Miller and watches her as she returns to her class. 

Dr. Schmidt in class denounces the injustices of the Versailles Treaty that marked the end of World War I.  The treaty, he claims, robbed the German nation of land that has always been and still is German.  He adds that today they rule Germany, but tomorrow they will rule the world.  In the American Colony School the teaching methods are very different.  There the students are allowed to discuss the question of whether or not Germany should grab more "room" in which to live.

The German teacher also denounces the "servile races".   He notices that Karl is staring out the window to the American side and calls on the student to answer his question.  Karl parrots back what the boys were taught to recite and ends with "Heil, Hitler!"  All the boys jump up and give the Nazi salute and shout:  "Heil, Hitler!" 

Karl gives the orders for his boys to march off, while he goes over to the American school because he sees and hears Anna playing the piano.  Anna gets up to close the window and sees Karl standing outside.  She tells him he is not supposed to be over here on the American school side.  She says it roughly, making Karl mad and he turns and walks away. 

Nichols says things got worse with daily fights between the students of the two schools.  He says he couldn't understand what was going on until one day Karl comes to see him.  He has a cut on his forehead and tells Nichols that they don't have enough medical supplies in his school.  Nichols invites him in.  He goes over to Karl and checks how deep is his wound.  Meanwhile, Anna keeps playing the piano.  While Nichols goes for first aid supplies, Karl wanders over to where Anna is playing the piano.  He says she plays very well "for a girl".  Anna asks him why is he and his boys always fighting with the American students?  Karl says he's not fighting now.  He also tells her that he was born in America.  This changes Anna's attitude toward him.  She says she was born in Germany.  Anna is feisty and quick to want to fight Karl if he says anything against the USA. 

Nichols comes in and Karl immediately starts to get up off the piano bench.  Nichols tells him to stay where he is.  In fact, he even invites Karl to an American picnic on Saturday.  Karl immediately says yes. 

Every other Saturday Karl could slip away and have a picnic with the Americans.  Nichols reads poetry about the preciousness of freedom.  Anna loves the poem, Karl thinks it's just too fantastical.  He goes over to the stream and starts throwing water onto his face.  Anna sneaks up behind him with a big stone and throws the stone into the water, which splashes water all over Karl.  She then runs away.  Karl chases after her.  She goes into the woods and sees a young boy staked out with his arms and feet firmly held down to the ground.  Anna calls to Karl for help, but Karl tells her to disregard the matter.  This really makes Anna upset with Karl, but the boy explains that they are only playing a game.  He is a spy that has been caught and taken prisoner.  The boy says he has only been here a couple of hours, which to him is nothing.  He is trying to prove himself so that he can move up to the group called the "Jungvolk".  Anna is disgusted with the whole thing and doesn't like it when Karl says:  "Heil, Hitler!" 

That was the last they saw of Karl for awhile, because Karl was swept up in the war frenzy.  In October of 1933 Germany leaves the League of Nations.  In March 1936 Germany takes over the Rhineland.  March 1938.  Germany takes over Austria.  October 1938.  Germany invades Czechoslovakia.  May 1939.  Germany allies itself with Mussolini's Italy.  And then Germany makes demands of Poland. 

It's Memorial Day and the students at the American Colony School hold a ceremony to honor the fallen dead in service to the United States.  While they sing patriotic songs around the flagpole with the American flag flying overhead, Gestapo men arrive and inform Nichols that he must not have any students that are Poles, Jews, Germans or part-Germans.  He reads out the names of the students who must come with him:  Sarah Klein, Martin Kovack, etc.  Then they call for Anna Miller.  Anna speaks up and says she's an assistant teacher at the school and she is an American.  Nevertheless, the Gestapo is going to take her. 

Nichols objects and demands to speak to the lieutenant.  The sergeant takes Nichols and Anna to the lieutenant.  The lieutenant turns out to be Karl Bruner.  Anna asks him doesn't he remember them?  He says nothing, except that since Anna was born in Germany, as were her parents, the German Reich considers her a German citizen.  Nichols continues to argue with Karl until he leaves the room.  The sergeant now grabs Anna.  She complies without fighting.  Nichols says he will straighten out this matter at once.

He goes to the American embassy in Berlin.  The embassy fellow says that the only laws followed in Germany are Hitler's laws.  All the embassy can do it protest to the German government.  Nichols feels very dejected, but he perseveres with his attempts to help Anna:  writing letters to her, calling on his friends and party officials.  He finally decides to speak with Anna's grandparents to see if they could give him some advice on how to proceed.  But her grandparents say that they cannot be seen talking to him.  They are afraid.  They say nothing can be done.  Nichols says they can at least ask where Anna is, but the grandparents says that no they cannot.  Their neighbors asked where there son is and they were taken away and were said to have died in the hospital.

Nichols says that he finds the same type of fear wherever he goes in Germany.  He goes to speak with his friend Franz, a courageous journalist.  But Franz quickly makes it clear that he can't even talk in front of his two young boys for fear they might say something to their youth leaders.  When Nichols mentions that the Gestapo took Anna away, Franz says he can do nothing for Nichols.  Nichols wants to know why Franz doesn't fight this, but Franz is obviously frightened by the Gestapo.  As he says, he wouldn't make a good hero.  He asks Nichols:  "What would you have me do?"    The only thing Franz does for Nichols is to tell him that they usually send the girls to the work camp at Rheinsberg.  Franz also says that Nichols could ask the Minister of Education, Dr. Graf, for permission to make a tour of the work camp at Rheinsberg. 

Dr. Graf says he thinks arranging a tour for Nichols is a real possibility.  He then introduces Nichols to Col. Henkel.  Karl is with Henkel.  Graf says that Henkel studied in Oxford, England.  Henkel approves of Nichols's tour, so Graf says that in that case Nichols will receive permission in a couple of days. 

Nichols starts leaving the building when he is grabbed by a Gestapo man and taken to Karl's office.  Karl says that Nichols must stop this tour business.  He knows Nichols only wants to look for Anna.  Nichols asks about why Karl put her in a labor camp?  Karl snaps back that he got her a good position on the staff.  She is not at the labor camp.  Furthermore, Nichols is endangering both his won and Anna's futures if he continues with his quest.  Nichols says he doesn't care what the penalties are, he is going to continue on until he gets to speak with Anna.  So Karl says he can prove that Anna is happy where she is.  He tells Nichols to follow him. 

They drive over to the women's section and ask for Anna to give them a tour of the place.  Anna looks happy to see Mr. Nichols, but she realizes that she can't show any outward enthusiasm for him, so she doesn't.  But when someone comes over to occupy Lt. Bruner, the two can be alone for a little while and then Anna tells Nichols that it is so good to see him.  Nichols says he is arranging her escape, but Anna tells him it's too dangerous and she wants to stay here.  He tells her that she doesn't have to pretend anymore, but she repeats that she wants to stay. 

Lt. Bruner rejoins them and now Anna gives a Nazi-correct tour for the professor.  They show him a rest home where women without a husband are having babies for Hitler.  Nichols refers to them as illegitimate children, but Anna says they have dropped that prejudice now for it's a great honor to have a baby for Hitler. 

Bruner stops Anna saying that they seem to have lost the professor.  He tells Anna that because of the good work reports she has received, he is getting her permission to attend classes on geopolitics in Berlin.  Anna tells him flat out not to do that.  Karl, shocked, asks her why?  "Because I hate everything this place stands for.  I lied to Nicky because there's no way out for me and I won't have him killed trying to find one."  Karl says she's got to give the German way of living a chance and she shoots back:  "You can't give evil and rottenness a fair chance." 

It's too late to turn back, so Anna has to go speak with Dr. Graf at the Ministry of Education.  The doctor says it is a great honor for her to go to Berlin to study.  Feisty Anna just says:  "I said I don't want any part of the diseased new world you are planning for mankind."  Dr. Graf is absolutely enraged.  Anna is put under custody of the Gestapo.  Graf tells Col. Henkel that Lt. Bruner, his protégé, is the one who vouched for her.  The colonel calls to send Bruner to him and Graf.  Graf says Bruner must be removed immediately.  Henkel disagrees.  He says the country can't keep imprisoning or kicking out its best people just because they make a mistake now and then.  The two men start arguing about this point. 

Lt. Bruner comes in.  When Henkel tells him that the girl he recommended just committed an act of treason in this office, he is shocked.  He recovers and says that he let sentiment blind him.  And now he says she should be sent to a concentration camp.  Henkel says he won't be that rough on the girl.  He will put her to work at the labor camp at Rheinsberg.   

At Rheinsberg it is reported that Anna refuses to show respect to Hitler and she has to be forced to do her share in the labor corps.  Furthermore, she ". . .expresses dangerous political thoughts". 

Henkel tells Lt. Bruner that he is recommending him for the rank of captain.  He also tells Karl that he has decided to let Mr. Nichols have those tours of the labor camps.  In fact, he says he would like to show Nichols around certain areas himself.  He asks the future captain if he would like to come along on the tour and Bruner says yes. 

Henkel shows Nichols where they sterilize women who are not fit to be mothers.  Nichols is shocked and Henkel tells him that in the new Germany there will be no room for the sick and disabled.  He goes on to say that they also operate on persons with dangerous political ideals.  Nichols is so shocked and disgusted that he tells Henkel:  "You people are barbarians, aren't you?"   He leaves.  Henkel tells Bruner that he didn't get to tell Nichols that Anna, a former student of his, will be operated on to make her more passive and non-aggressive.  The colonel now asks what Bruner would do in his place?  Bruner says he would do the same.  Henkel goes, but Bruner asked permission to stay a bit longer watching the operations. 

Anna is forced to dance with the German soldiers.  Bruner grabs her arm and takes her into the woods.  He warns her that she is in great danger.  She says she doesn't care because they can't do anything worse to her than what they already have done.  Bruner knows that's not true and tells her that they can definitely do worse things to her.  He asks her to write a letter to Henkel and Graf apologizing for what she said and beg them for a second chance.  She says no and he tells her that she is to be operated on to make her sterile so she can't pass on her tendency for radical politics.  Bruner grabs and holds Anna.  He tells her he loves her and she reciprocates.  But, she says, it's too late for them.  Karl says that is not true.  He suggests to her that she volunteer to have a baby for Hitler and together they will make that baby.  Anna rejects the very idea, saying it wouldn't be their child, but Hitler's.  She can't and won't be a part of Hitler's totalitarian state.  She runs farther into the woods away from Karl. 

Anna keeps running.  A group of Gestapo men come after her and now she really starts running.  She hides behind a tree so as not to be seen by an oncoming car.  She goes uphill and downhill and comes to a small farm.  She gets into the back of a wagon and hides under a canvas and gradually falls asleep.  It starts raining.  When she awakens, the farmer is already driving his wagon into town.  Once in town she gets off the back of the wagon and runs into a Catholic church.  A soldier sees the woman go into the church and goes to rat on her.  The priest does a dangerous thing when he starts speaking out against Hitler from his pulpit. 

The Gestapo enters the church.  A woman behind Anna helps her slip on a jacket to cover her uniform.  Two Gestapo men pass right by Anna.  The fellow in command of the group now orders the minister to ask everyone to leave slowly so they can check them out.  They are looking for a girl hiding in here.  The priest ignores the order and continues with his sermon.  The commander pulls out his Lugar pistol and is about to shoot the holy man when Anna gets up and reveals herself.  Then she faints.

She is brought to Gestapo headquarters and questioned.  The priest is also brought along as a possible accomplice.  The Gestapo wants to know if the girl got any help from anyone and that includes the priest.  The priest tells the interrogator that the girl and he have never met before.  The commander tells the interrogator that the priest was denouncing Hitler from the pulpit.  The priest admits he did this and says he has always been denouncing Hitler for the man will bring no good to Germany.  The interrogator tells the priest to be quiet. 

Henkel telephones the interrogator and tells him that Anna's punishment will be ten lashes before the entire camp.  And Capt. Bruner will be coming to watch as his representative.  The interrogator tells Anna and the priest her punishment.  They take Anna away.  The priests asks:  "Is there nothing you madmen will stop at?"   He goes on to make some very good points against the German barbarians who will one day disappear too, just like Attila the Hun.  

In the morning the whole camp is called out to witness the lashing of Anna.  Anna is brought out, tied to a flagpole and the back of her blouse is torn open.  Capt. Bruner arrives by car.  The man who lashes her gets three lashes in when Karl grabs the lash from him and hits him two times with it.  He grabs his knife and frees Anna.  Karl says that she must know this will mean the end for the both of them.  She says she doesn't care what they do now for she is not afraid.  Karl says he loves her and that he was terribly wrong.  They kiss. 

Franz tells Nichols that the loving couple will have to die, of course.  Capt. Burner has repented his sin against the state and Henkel is very pleased.  He will put Karl on trial and Karl will plead to the young people of Germany not to follow his example. 

Anna is in the cell across from Karl.  He says he curses the day he ever met her.  Henkel and the others can hear everything the two say.  Henkel wants to have a national radio broadcast of Karl's trial.  The other high officers are opposed to the idea, but Henkel demands that the trial be broadcast. 

Nichols and Franz are going to listen to the trial via the radio, but the Gestapo arrive and tell Nichols he must pack immediately so he can make a flight to Paris.  Tomorrow an order will be issued to arrest Nichols for being an accomplice to treason.  Franz tells his friend he will help him pack. 

The trial is about to start.  Franz and Nichols are at the airport now.  Karl is given a chance to make an opening statement.  He starts his statement out slow and smooth and begins by saying all the right things the Nazis want to hear.  But during the speech he says to the youth of Germany:  "You're not learning the lesson of life.  Your education is an education for death.  You do not live from day to day, you die from day to day.  For to live is to be free.  You no longer wish to be free.  . . . Long live the enemies of Nazi Germany!!!  Two Gestapo men shoot Capt. Bruner dead.  Anna rushes over to Karl, but she too is shot down.  The radio broadcast is stopped. 

Nichols and Franz are upset about the deaths of Karl and Anna.  Nichols gets on the plane.  He says that some things have remained the same in Germany.  Children are still swearing to die for Hitler, but now the fires don't seem to burn as brightly or the voices sound so strong.  People have to ask themselves now:  "Can we stop Hitler's children, before it's too late?" 

 

Good film.  The point is the film is to show how terrible it was to live in a fascist totalitarian state where there is no true freedom and the individual always has to serve the interests of the state.  The film makes several good statements on just how damaging a fascist regime is to freedom, thought, morality and decency.  By 1933 it was already to late to stop Hitler.  Once he became chancellor of Germany he used his thugs to employ violence to scare or kill everyone into silence.  The story is one of the discovery of a once Hitler Youth that what he was taught were all inhumane lies.  His epiphany arrives too late for him, but at least he did have an epiphany.  So, if you are a young person, and don't understand what fascism is, watch this film and learn.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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