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 Fröndenberg.
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 to 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 hooliganism. As the journey deepens, some students are shocked to discover direct familial links to Nazism.
Caught between conflicting family histories, the official line of classroom education, and experiences at the concentration camp, each child struggles to form his or her own views.
Lily becomes inspired to campaign against the local right-wing party, the AfD. She finds no support from her peers. Indeed, Lee declares she and her family would rather remain silent than speak up. And, Nele is left torn in 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 schools before World War II for wartime indoctrination of the populace with Nazi ideologies.
“The Lesson” sheds light on the powerful truth that “Mitlaufer” or “bystanders” enabled the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. But the film brings hope by focusing on everyday German citizens who take a 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
Producers – Elena Horn, Alevtina Nepomniachtchikh
Executive Producers – Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Alevtina Nepomniachtchikh, Keve Zvolenszky
Music – Mattis Schaeffer
Editors – Alessandro Leonardi, Marc Recchia