Hitler film set to be required viewing

8th October 2004 at 01:00
GERMANY. All pupils should see a controversial film showing the Fuehrer's human side , say politicians. Clare Chapman reports

German politicians are demanding that a new film portraying Adolf Hitler as a "soft-spoken man with a human side" should be made compulsory viewing for all school pupils.

The controversial film Der Untergang (The Downfall), which follows the Fuehrer's last days in his underground bunker during the destruction of the Third Reich, has divided critics and historians. The dictator shares a passionate kiss with his mistress Eva Braun, is shown glossy-eyed as Josef Goebbels' children sing songs for him in the bunker and is depicted as constantly kind and polite to his secretaries.

Hans Mommsen, a historian from Berlin, said pupils would be deceived by the film. "Reducing history to a purely personal story is absolutely unsuitable for creating an understanding of the enormity of historical processes."

Hans Joachim Drewell, a Berlin pensioner who was just 10 years old when Hitler killed himself, said: "It is too much to take. They should have showed more of his evil side, his fanaticism, and not so much of his human side."

But teacher Anna Riesener from Berlin, who has already taken her pupils to see the film, said it provided both an emotional and historical basis for discussion. "I can take many of the scenes from the film and use them as a basis for discussion in the classroom.

British historian Ian Kershaw, who has written numerous books on the Nazi dictator, said: "Of all the portrayals of Hitler, this is the first I have found convincing."

It is precisely because the film has provoked such debate that politicians across the spectrum of opinion believe it could be an important teaching tool.

Cornelia Pieper, general secretary of the liberal opposition Free Democratic Party, said that like Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List the film offered an "enrichment for all history lessons" and should be shown to all students aged 13 and above.

Katherina Reiche, education spokeswoman from the opposition Christian Democratic Union, also called for all states to make the film compulsory viewing for pupils.

Others have said said the film could help to draw young voters away from neo-Nazi groups and far-Right parties. "Right-wing extremism is well known in our society, but the film makes it clear that Hitler is not a role model," said Ms Riesener.

The film-makers have brought out a teaching guide for use in history, religion and ethics, social studies and art. It gives suggestions for brainstorming or allowing the students to put themselves in the role of a historian who wants to research the history of National Socialism.

Bernd Eichinger, the film's director, said it was time for Germans to "find the courage" to tackle the most taboo man in their history. But Jens Jessen, film reviewer for the Die Zeit newspaper, suggested a more commercial motive of playing to a national obsession with the Fuehrer.

"Hitler has become an icon of the entertainment industry. He is the hardest of all drugs - a party drug that produces pure excitement," he said.

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