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Kadetten

 

This poster may be the only surviving original in existence. On the back side of the poster the handwriting below states: "The colour graphic apprentice Günther Kögg has by himself prepared the Blue and the Red plates without supervision after only 2 years and 8 months apprenticeship. ––Verlag Scherl, Berlin, March 1940:"  It seems likely  that the young man took this poster home to show his parents and it remained safe in their home until after the war, and eventually was auctioned and purchased by The Gillespie Collection. There are no copies of this poster in German or Austrian film archives.

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Note the "März 1940" date of the Scherl Verlag commentary from the back side of the poster. In August 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the so–called von Ribbentrop–Molotov Pact and both countries then divided up Poland the following month. So at the time this poster proof was printed, the Nazi–Soviet Pact was six months old, and Germany did not invade the Soviet Union for another 15 long months. Why was the poster for this anti–Bolshevik propaganda feature film by Karl Ritter being printed in the first few months of the nearly two year running non–aggression Pact? It can only mean that Germany never had any long–term interest in partnering with Stalin, and propaganda was secretly progressed behind the scenes.  Although the invasion of the USSR took place in late June, 1941, the KADETTEN film did not premiere in German cinemas until December 2nd that year. The film had actually been meant to have been premiered on 5 September,ber 1939 in Nürnberg, at that year's Reich Party Day Rallies. That Rally was cancelled due to the invasion of Poland earlier that week. 

 

An ESSAY on the film:

Karl Ritter’s  CADETS  (Kadetten, 1941)

Film director Karl Ritter (1888–1977) is universally condemned by post–WWII film historians for his militaristic, chauvinistic, and unwavering propaganda films which glorified war, aggression, and ‘senseless self–sacrifice.’ Ritter joined the NSDAP in 1925, and was a committed National Socialist until the Second World War ended in 1945.  His films utilized anti–democratic, anti–semitic and anti–communist ideological themes epitomizing the stereotypical Nazi warrior, and promoted a Greater Germany against all enemies of the Reich.  At war’s end, the Soviets demanded that he be tried for war crimes for ‘the systematic poisoning of German youth.’

 

By 1938, Karl Ritter’s WWI film trilogy and his contemporary ‘Zeitfilms’ such as Traitors (1936) and Pour le Mérite (1938)  presented German history from the depths of WWI through to the New Germany and made him one of the most popular directors of the Third Reich. With Cadets, he turned to the Seven Years War from the time of Friedrich the Great, retelling a famous episode of that war aimed at the Hitler Youth. 

 

In 1760, in the fifth year of the war, Friedrich and his troops were fighting in Silesia, Prussia, but left behind in Berlin were the 9 to 12 year old boy cadets of the Fortress Spandau military academy when the city was overrun by Russian Cossacks, who plundered, raped and conquered their way across Brandenburg.

The cadets were taken prisoner and marched out of Berlin towards the Polish border, with some dying along the way through fatigue, execution and mistreatment. 

 

Ritter co-authored the film script with his collaborator Felix Lützkendorf, based on the latter’s novel “Kadetten des Große Königs” (Cadets of the Great King’s) published in 1939. The novel was dedicated to Karl Ritter, and the book’s dust jacket also advertised a book called “Legion Condor  – Deutsche Freiwillige in Spanien” (The Condor Legion – German Volunteers in Spain) which not coincidentally was a subject being filmed that year by Ritter, and had the same working title.

 

After the success of his first propaganda film for Goebbels, Hitler Youth Quex, Ritter had wanted to make another youth film. In a speech in late 1936 he ruminated about such plans. He said he wanted to make a film about the WWI battle of Langemarck, where many boys died ‘on their way to Valhalla,’ and to make a Pimpf film (six to ten year old boys of the Hitler Youth) about ‘those young blond guys whose faces and eyes show such seriousness the whole time.’ As the father of three boys himself, he saw how successfully Hitler YouthQuex  had affected German youth.

 

For Cadets, Ritter recruited students from the Potsdam NAPOLA (National Political Education School), looking for natural, unassuming and unknown children who could portray the one hundred cadets from 1760.  Thirteen boys took the key named youth roles. Out of about hundred boys used in the film. The adult roles were cast, as usual, from his ensemble of actors: Mathias Wieman, Andrews Engelmann, and Carsta Löck.

 

Filming began on March 30th, 1939 and finished in early June using the Ufa studios at Babelsberg, with exterior locations around greater Berlin and Potsdam where the true story unfolded. Ritter had his Pimpf film underway.

 

The stirring music was written by Germany’s best film composer, Herbert Windt; who provided music for nine Ritter films between 1937 and 1943. ‘The Cadets’ Song’ became a popular hit tune of its day. The film was ranked 10thmost popular of hundreds of feature films in a national survey of Hitler Youth taken in 1944.

 

The film portrays the Russian Cossacks as sub–humans: violent, crude and wicked – and there is no doubt that the ideals of Prussian honor, chivalry and pride as demonstrated by the young cadets, were meant to contrast the uncouth Russians as a parallel to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union respectively.  

 

Goebbels laid great plans for the film. At the Ufa studios board meeting of June 1,1939 it was decided to shoot the final battle scene in Agfacolor, which meant that KADETTEN would have been the first German feature film with color footage. But difficulties with early Agfacolor film stock – often unstable and prone to unacceptable results – caused the Ufa board on July 25ththat year to order that the final scenes were now to be shot in black & white. The film was scheduled to premiere in September, 1939 at the Nuremberg Party Day rallies, and Ufa approved a budget of RM 3000 for Karl Ritter and about 100 boys from the film cast to travel there via train, but the sudden signing of the Molotov  – von Ribbentrop Pact forced the Ufa board at their meeting on August 22ndto decide to replace the film in Nuremberg with the premiere instead of ROBERT KOCH, due to “world political changes” and the fact that the film “placed the USSR in an unsympathetic light.”

 

KADETTEN was shelved until December 2nd, 1941, when the invasion of the USSR was well underway. The film premiered at the Ufa Cinema Palace in Danzig to tremendous acclaim. Ritter, Lützkendorf, Andrews Engelmann and leading young actor Klaus Detlef Sierck (son of direcor Detlef Sierck/Douglas Sirk) were given a boisterous reception. The daily Film Kurier Tageszeitung of 5 December 1941 noted that ‘at this time when our Wehrmacht is again taking up the battle against (Soviet) Russia, where the heroic fighting of German soldiers is conquering and smashing the enemy, this film is especially welcome, as it shows us that the conflict with the East did not begin this year, but rather was undertaken generations ago and is now in its serious final conclusion.’

 

Tantalizingly, an Ufa board minute from October 6, 1939 approved the gifting of the final battle scene footage in Agfacolor to the Ufa ‘Lehrschau’ – the German Institute for Film Studies at Babelsberg. The Lehrschau library and archives were looted by the Red Army at war’s end and this footage, along with other irreplacable holdings, disappeared.

 

– William Gillespie, author of Karl Ritter: His Life and ‘Zeitfilms’ under National Socialism, 2nd edition© 2014, and The Making of The Crew of the Dora© 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Year
1939
 
Director
Ritter
 
Country
Germany