About the Film
At the age of 14 every child attending school in Germany is brought face to face with their nation’s past, for many this means confronting the reality of the Holocaust for the first time. ‘The Lesson’ explores how new generations in Germany grapple with this sordid history, following a group of children coming of age in the town of Frondenburg.
Following their educational journey over the course of four years we see how complex this issue remains. From their first tentative discussions in the classroom, to their emotional visit of the nearby Sachsenhausen concentration camp the students gain some understanding of the atrocities committed.
Complicating matters, concurrently to this formal education, the students are given conflicting ideas from their gym coach, exposed to local nascent far-right elements in the form of Neo-Nazi football hooligans and some even discover confusing familial links to Nazism.
Trapped between the official line of their teachers, their experiences at the camp and the conflicting narratives from other staff, the football stadium and the wistful memories of their families each child struggles to form their own opinions.
Whilst Lily becomes inspired to campaign against local right-wing party the AFD, she doesn’t find support from her peers. Indeed Lee declares her and her family would rather remain silent than speak up. Meanwhile Nele is left torn between two minds on the subject, unable to find her away amidst the myriad of conflicting perspectives she encounters.
Their experiences highlight how fractured and disparate the memory of national socialism remains in Germany and brings a timely call for better education on the topic.
Indeed the importance and power of education in this respect is exemplified by the overlay of archive footage throughout the film, depicting genuine Nazi educational techniques on children no different to those educated today.
‘The Lesson’ by focusing on the common people and how they deal with Germany’s Nazi past brings to light a powerful truth, that it is the ‘Mitlaufer’ or ‘bystanders’ who allowed the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and it is the common people of today who make the stand against the rise of the far-right. This haunting case study exposes how easily far-right movements can get a grip on a society and how the remnants of Germany’s dark past still linger on. A timely lesson amidst the resurgence of xenophobia and the far-right globally.
Director – Elena Horn
Producer – Elena Horn
Executive Producers – Alevtina Nepomniachtchikh, Keve Zvolenszky
Music – Mattis Schaeffer
Editors – Alessandro Leonardi, Marc Recchia