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A German Navy school ship called the "Herbert Norkus" was named in his honour but the outbreak of the second world war made this impossible to finish. There, too, have been schools, streets, and squares were also named after him during the Nazi period. See more »
The short unhappy life of Herbert Norkus, a young member of the Hitler Youth who was killed by Communist street thugs is the basis of this film, entitled in English, Our Flags Lead Us Forward. The martial song you hear vocally and instrumentally throughout the film was the official song of the Hitler Youth and the words were written by Baldur Von Schirath the organizer of the group. Note in the opening credits the producers at UFA give thanks to the members of the Hitler Youth Berlin chapter who appeared as extras in the film.
The film is only the Herbert Norkus story indirectly. A novel that was required reading for the Hitler Youth was the basis for the film and said novel was written K.A. Schenzinger. I'm sure it was quite the potboiler. Of course that allowed the Nazis to take quite a bit of poetic license with the truth and they never passed up an opportunity to do that.
Jurgen Ohlssen plays Heinie Volker who is being apprenticed to the trade of printer and he comes from parents who are Communist in their political sympathies. In the year of 1932 with Germany in the midst of the Depression many competing groups and ideologies were battling to rule the Reich. The neighborhood that the Volkers live in is a working class area that the Communists are dominant.
Heinrich George is Heinie's father who is on relief and is idle, way too idle. He beats on his wife and rags his son to join the Young Communist League. But the kid is attracted to those clean cut, fresh scrubbed teens in their uniforms with their marching songs. They all look quite middle class and he wants to be one of them. If you remember in The Young Lions, Marlon Brando's character discusses how Hitler has promised to do away with the class system so prevalent in Europe. Young Ohlssen is exhibit number one for Brando's contention.
The film is interesting on a number of levels. Other than Henie's long suffering mother played by Berta Drews the only female role of any consequence is that Rotraut Richter who plays Gerda, a teenage temptress who works as a Communist agent, luring the Hitler Youth away from their duty. There is a conspicuous lack of the female gender in the Hitler Youth at least at these gatherings. When the Nazi state was established the Hitler Youth did have a woman's auxiliary of sorts where the girls were taught to be good breeders and mothers to make and raise plenty of good Aryan youth for the Fatherland. Nazi Germany was one of the most patriarchal societies ever created on Earth.
Other Nazi targets most prominently Jews get not a mention in Our Flags Lead Us Forward. The film strictly concerned with the Communist menace. All the Communists in contrast to the Hitler Youth are these plug ugly proletarian types who smoke cheap cigars and get stinking drunk when they're not infecting our workers with Bolshevist ideas. The father Heinrich George is such a man although later in a good scene, George is talking to Ohlssen about how all he wants is the best for his son and society has to change in order for that to happen. A more complex character than you would think would appear in a film that is strictly labeled propaganda. But then again it's what makes it more affective.
The bleakness of Depression Era Berlin plays like one of our noir films and the kids are shown as the hope for Germany's future. As it turned out these kids who were the extras in the film probably 90% of them died during World War II. A truly lost generation.
Our Flags Lead Us Forward is a slick piece of propaganda designed to recruit the impressionable young German minds who did not want to think of themselves as a beaten country from World War I. Viewed with a critical eye about its purposes, it holds up very well for examination today.
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