Category Educational Films: Educational Films in German National Socialism

Titel: Educational Films in German National Sozialism. Methodological Approach.
Project: Lehrreiche Geschichten für den Unterricht? Eine interdisziplinäre Studie zum Unterrichtsfilm im Nationalsozialismus.

Projekt Management: Verena Niethammer M.A.
University: Pädagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg, Institut für Sprachen
This project is funded by Hans-Böckler-Stiftung

Category Educational Films: Educational Films in German National Socialism Category Educational Films: Educational Films in German National Socialism


Introduction: Educational films that where produced by the Institute for Films in Science and Education (Reichsanstalt für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, RWU for short) in the 1930s and 1940s are central to this research. These educational mediums were made to be used in one or more subjects. The educational films can be categorized in the following fields: biology and natural sciences, German geography and local history, world geography and colonies, history and national-political education, art, agricultural and vocational training ,girls’ education, and sport (Kühn, 1998: 164 & 267).

The RWU films were produced in black and white and without sound, even though no silent movies were made for German cinemas from 1932 onwards (Kleinhans, 2003: 23).  Today, the reasons for this approach are seen not only as economical considerations, but also as a way prevent audio interference with the teachers’ commentaries (Keitz, 2004: 84). Didactical booklets accompanied the educational films, but the films themselves put forward a certain interpretational perspective. Concerning language and content, some booklets are loaded with National Socialist content, language, and ideology.

The exploration of these educational films challenges research methods because they play only a marginal role in historical film and education research. Zimmermann and Hoffmann (2005) broadly define these particular films as documentary films. Meyers (2001), on the other hand, classifies them as a type of educational film. However, these films were not isolated phenomena. They show similarities to Kulturfilme of the same time period that were produced in order to “educate” the German people. Some of these materials were revised to create new films for school use (Keitz, 2005: 470).

A material based definition and description of the early educational films that were developed, state funded, and widely distributed in the time of National Socialism is still missing. Recent studies (Kühn, 1998; Ewert, 1998; Endler, 2006) explain the work of the RWU primarily as it is based on written records. The film material itself plays a subordinated role in research. This research only summarizes short parts of the films, but does not create film protocols to be used for further analyses.

These educational films of the 1930s and 1940s also represent a very heterogenic corpus of sources. The films show a large variety of themes, and were made by different producers, who themselves used various film materials of different origins. The only unifying element is that the films were applied in schools with the intention of educating children and adolescents.

These are the circumstances from which the central methodical questions of the study arise at the current time. To what extent did the early educational films develop a special “mode of narration and representation” (Hickethier, 1993: 179) based on functional pedagogical orientation? Is it possible to develop particular film types?

Films as a complex system of signs are ambiguous because of their textual structure and communicative function (Mikos, 2006: 107; Moritz: 2011). Besides the “obvious” meaning (denotation) that describes the representation, films also feature additional meaning (connotation) because they are connected with cultural codes of society (Mikos, 2006: 110; Hickethier, 1996: 116).

These educational films, which continuously claim to be “objective” and “apolitical”, convey not only teaching and instructional content. They also contain subtexts that go beyond the given content. The potential ways of reading the RWU films are set in the context of their production (20th century German National Socialism) and their intended audience (institutionalized school children). However, the search for signs of Nazi ideology in the films is just one aspect: to reduce it to only this would contradict the complex structure of the educational medium.

Methods: Currently, the study uses this empirical material to test the extent to which hermeneutic operations of literature and film studies such as comparative film and genre analyses that draw from qualitative methods, especially the sociology of knowledge, are suitable for investigation.

Transcription: Feldpartitur enables the consideration, exact capturing, and transcription of a single image as well as the whole film. Initially, the basis of analysis is the HANOS notation developed by Reichertz (Reichertz & Englert, 2011: 37), which is modified according to the film materials. In the editing mode Notescript, the film material is transcribed with regard to the operation of the camera, which refers to camera perspective, point-of-view, mis en scène, and so forth. To develop the narration structure along with the montage, the action before the camera – such as setting, the actors, and their interactions with objects and surroundings – is also examined with the editing mode TXT.

Interim result: During the course of viewing and transcribing the film, an aggregation of cinematic meanings is presently apparent. These could be bundled according to definable levels of so-called subtexts. On the basis of exemplary film interpretations of the educational films’ single sequences, a multi-levelled model is developed. This model could serve as a tool in the next step of the study that will search for ‘signs of mentalities’ in the educational films.

Legende Transcription Chart


Endler, Cornelia A. (2006): Es war einmal…im Dritten Reich. Die Märchenfilmproduktion für den nationalsozialistischen Unterricht. Frankfurt a. M.: Peter Lang.

Ewert, Malte (1998): Die Reichsanstalt für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (1934-1945). Schriften zur Kulturwissenschaft, Band 15, Hamburg: Kovac.

Hickethier, Knut (1993): Film- und Fernsehanalyse. Stuttgart: Metzler.

Kühn, Michael (1998): Unterrichtsfilm im Nationalsozialismus. Die Arbeit der Reichstelle für den Unterrichtsfilm/Reichsanstalt für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht.

Mammendorf/ Obb.: Septem Artes.

Meyers, Peter (2001): Der Film im Geschichtsunterricht. In: GWU (2001) 52, S. 246-259.

Mikos, Lothar (2008): Films- und Fernsehanalyse. Konstanz: UVK.

Moritz, Christine(2011): Die Feldpartitur. Transkription von Videodaten in der Qualitativen Sozialforschung. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.

Reichertz, Jo / Englert, Carina Jasmin ( 2011): Einführung in die qualitative Videoanalyse. Eine hermeneutisch-wissenssoziologische Fallanalyse. Qualitative Sozialforschung. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

Segeberg, Harro (2004) Hrsg.: Mediale Mobilmachung I. Das Dritte Reich und der Film. Mediengeschichte des Films 4, München: Wilhelm Fink, S.71- 102.

Von Keitz, Ursula (2004): Wie „Deutsche Kamerun-Bananen“ ins Klassenzimmer kommen. Pädagogik und Politik des Unterrichtsfilms. In: Segeberg, Harro (2004) Hrsg.: Mediale Mobilmachung I.  Das Dritte Reich und der Film. Mediengeschichte des Films 4, München: Wilhelm Fink, S.71- 102.

Von Keitz, Ursula (2005): Die Kinematographie in der Schule. Zur politischen Pädagogik des Unterrichtfilms von RfdU und RWU. In: Zimmermann, Peter / Hoffmann, Kay (2005) Hrsg.: Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films. Band 3,> Drittes Reich< 1933-1945. Stuttgart: Reclam, S.463-488.

Zimmermann, Peter / Hoffmann, Kay (2005) Hrsg.: Geschichte des dokumentarischen Films. Band 3,> Drittes Reich< 1933-1945. Stuttgart: Reclam.