About the Film
At age 14, every child attending school in Germany is brought face to face with the nation’s past. For many, this means confronting the reality of the Holocaust for the very first time. The Lesson explores how new generations in Germany grapple with this tragic history, following a group of children coming of age in the town of Frondenburg.
Director Elena Horn traces the educational journey of four students over the course of five years. From the first uneasy discussions in the classroom, to an emotional visit of the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the students are introduced to the atrocities committed in their own community.
Complicating matters, students hear conflicting ideas from their gym coach that contradict the formal curriculum, and are exposed to locally nascent far-right groups that manifest in the form of Neo-Nazi football hooligansm. As the journey deepens, some students are shocked to discover direct familial links to Nazism.
Caught between their family histories, the official line of classroom education, experiences at the concentration camp and the conflicting narratives from the each child struggles to form his or her own views.
Lily becomes inspired to campaign against local right-wing party the AFD, she finds no support from her peers. Indeed Lee declares her and her family would rather remain silent than speak up. And, Nele is left torn between two minds on the subject, unable to find her away amidst the myriad of conflicting perspectives she encounters.
The experiences of these children highlight the fractured and disparate memory of Nazism in Germany, and brings a timely call for better education on the topic.
With a haunting overlay of rare archival footage, the film sharply underscores the power of education as a military tool, laying out the architecture of the Nazi educational curriculum that was installed in public schoos before World War II for the purpose of wartime indoctrination of the populace with Nazi ideologies.
The Lesson bringings to light a powerful truth that “Mitlaufer” or “bystanders” enabled the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. But the film brings hope by focusing on every-day German citizens who take the stand against the rise of the far-right.
This haunting societal study exposes how easily far-right movements can grip society, and how the ghosts of Germany’s dark past still linger. The Lesson is timely, essential viewing amidst the resurgence of xenophobia and the global far-right.
Director – Elena Horn
Producer – Elena Horn
Executive Producers – Alevtina Nepomniachtchikh, Keve Zvolenszky
Music – Mattis Schaeffer
Editors – Alessandro Leonardi, Marc Recchia