Hear the phrase “Nazi Germany” and odds are your mind conjures images of holocaust atrocities and blitzkrieg military assaults. What you probably don’t think of is something as mundane and innocuous as an instructional driving video.
In this short film, found in the archives of the J. Fred and Leslie W. MacDonald Collection, your average Nazi is taught traffic do’s and don’ts during a ride-along through the streets of 1930’s Germany. Yes, in the midst of perpetrating one of the worst atrocities in the history of our species, the Germans found time to educate their kinder on the rules of the road.
Writes Mike Mashon, who is cataloguing the films from the MacDonald Collection for the Library of Congress:
In perusing one of the MacDonald inventories, a title caught my eye: [Nazi Driver Education Film]. The title was in brackets because that’s the name Fred supplied; the film has no opening title so we don’t know what it was originally called. I had to watch it, curious if the movie somehow infused what would normally be a rather pedestrian training film with the noxious ideology embodied by the Nazi regime. Not surprisingly, it really is a rather common film for its type, albeit one with the occasional swastika sighting that even today remains a disturbing image.
He’s right. Beyond the Nazi iconography, the film itself is surprisingly benign. See for yourself:
As Mashon argues in his article for the Library of Congress, the film is “chilling precisely because [it is] so ordinary.”
One point of note I found particularly interesting was the fact that the film was, originally, entirely silent and without English subtitles (duh). While translating from the original German was, presumably, a relatively easy task, composer Michael Mortilla was assigned with the much more difficult job of creating music for an 80 year old driving video originally commissioned by one of the worst political regimes of all time.
Mortilla explains his musical choices thusly:
“One could be forgiven for thinking that the “message” of the film is that when you make a mistake or act irresponsibly as a driver, it behooves the other driver(s) to get out of their cars and admonish you. Even after hitting the bicyclist, the driver gets out of his car and argues with the guy he nearly killed. From the perspective of the 21st century, turning that situation into a comedy would be easy and many might find it a more “entertaining” choice. But again, my goal is to represent the films with a score that does more to preserve the original intent of the film and, hopefully, provide a context that is historically accurate.”
Personally, I would have gone with something from “Springtime For Hitler,” but hey, that’s probably why I don’t work for Library of Congress.