Was Hitler a bully? Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, shared in an essay in Slate how his 5-year-old daughter’s teacher compared the “worst criminal in history to a playground tormentor.” Perhaps an extreme example. Yet to understand this increasingly common trend to educate students about “Bully Hitler,” one must recognize two developments that are currently shaping the way teachers, curriculum writers, and educational institutions in the United States are educating young people about the Holocaust. First, there is a universalization of the Holocaust in an attempt to make its study relevant to students’ lived experiences and to provide them with overt moral and ethical lessons in the form of social-emotional and character education. Second, increasingly, many state legislatures have mandated Holocaust education, often suggesting a study in the form of character education to younger students, some as young as elementary school (5-10 years old). New Jersey’s Commission on Holocaust Education, the entity responsible for ensuring schools meet the state’s Holocaust-education mandate, reminds educators that, “the law indicates that issues of bias, prejudice and bigotry, including bullying through the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide, shall be included for all children from K-12th grade.” Thus, increasingly, students are taught to link the Holocaust with bullying and pushed to contemplate the choices they might have made during the Holocaust, as well as the choices they might make in their school’s cafeterias, hallways, and playgrounds as bullies, bystanders, or upstanders.
The idea of reviving a historical figure to return from the dead to our own time period is not new. Many novels and films have dealt with this premise before though usually they focus on the return of someone likable. In the German film Look Who’s Back (Er ist wieder da) we get Adolf Hitler in Berlin circa 2014.
Billed as a comedy, Look Who’s Back opens in the clouds, reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda masterpiece Triumph of the Will. At first, Look plays like a science fiction film around the return of the deceased. It turns into a buddy-road picture, as Hitler and the recently fired, down-on-his-luck filmmaker Fabian Sawatzki (played by Fabian Busch) drive about Germany in Fabian’s mother’s floral delivery van. They film people’s reactions to Hitler in the hopes that Fabian can get the footage on the air at the TV station that fired him. (These scenes are actual reactions of unsuspecting people on the street to Hitler as played by the actor Oliver Masucci.) Is it a comedy? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. There are laugh-out-loud moments, several moments of uncomfortable laughter, as well as a few cringe-inducing scenes.