SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 6: Jojo Rabbit


Richard Stevens - BA Marine Biology, Minor in History
Dennis Meyers - U.S. Army, 1974-1980, BA & MA Economics, Economist for 30 for State of California, Community College Adjunct Faculty

Incident(s) the film touches on

End of WWII. Specific dates are never given, however there are several events mentioned that place the film. "Hitler" mentions how he dealt with von Stauffenberg, which of course alludes to the 20th of July Plot in 1944 (Operation Valkyrie to the conspirators.) Later Yorki mentions Adolf Hitler's death (30 April 1945). Based on these dates, the general tone of the town, not to mention Captain K's comments, it seems pretty clear that we're in the last 6 months or so of the war.

Historical Context

The allied landings in Normandy took place on June 6th, 1944. By the end of June the allies had captured the port of Cherbourg, and the outcome of the war was all but assured (between this, losses in N. Africa and Italy, and the Red Army advancing from the East.) Most reasonable people - civilians and the career officer classes - could see the writing on the wall. Despite Hitler's insistence that the war would be won.

Captain K (brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell) repeatedly espouses "defeatist" language. He knows the end is near. This is a glimpse into a fascinating psychology with modern-day implications. The German military aristocracy, the members of Prussian military tradition, choose to side with Nazi's over communism (in a no-win scenario if there ever was one) because at least he was talking about building up a stronger military. Many believed that if he won, then at least they could restore Germany to it's military standing in the world. They were willing to look the other way as long as the military was able to sustain itself.

Shifting gears, but stull treading into psychological waters (which I admittedly am not qualified to diagnose) is JoJo himself. It's easy to sit back now and say you never would have put up with Nazi ideology and would have resisted. However you weren't born into the system. JoJo is 10 in 1945. All he has ever known, all he as ever been taught in school, is the power of the Third Reich and to be fanatical loyal to the Fuhrer. It's hard to argue that any German kid growing up in that era would have thought/acted differently. He's "not a Nazi, he just wants to be part of a club and dress up in a funny uniform."

Which is what makes his evolving relationship with his mother and Elsa all the more powerful. Scarlet Johansson, who may be one of the best movie moms of all time, treats him like a real mom. She's not overly melodramatic or doting, she seems real. She ties his shoelaces together and shares laughs and pranks with him. She knows you can't trust a 10 year old to keep a secret, and the stakes are to high. At the same time, she has to play the part of the devoted German.

Elsa represents JoJo's first feelings of love, as well as shining a light on his ignorance. Both extremely powerful and emotional moments in someone's life. The audience is left wanting more. What happens to JoJo and Elsa in the coming years? Do they survive? Do they end up on the eastern or western side of the Iron Curtain (the town of Falkenheim is fictional.)

Of course the hook for the movie is JoJo's imaginary friend - a comical version of Hitler (who hilariously keeps offering JoJo cigarettes despite his aversion to them in real life.) Again, I hope a psychologist weighs in on this one. It's a fascinating coping mechanism played for laughs most of the time; but it's a version of Hitler as perceived by a 10 year old raised in Nazi Germany.

The film makes reference to other issues/things that were happening in Germany at the time. "The Clones" are a reference to Nazi medical experimentation. We see the kids first rounding up scrap metal for the war, then fighting in the Volkssturm as part of the last ditch effort for defense.

JoJo Rabbit references some of the most significant aspects of the German civilian experiences at the end of WW2. Civilian support for the Nazis regime was heavily influenced by the military situation and the genocide inflicted on European Jews (the Holocaust). As the prospect of victory gradually disappeared, support for the regime weakened. Consequently, as military fortunes turned against Germany, the response of the Nazis became more public and brutal, such as public hangings, and the regime’s propaganda message, which at one time emphasized German superiority and victories, came to emphasize the dire consequences of a German defeat.

Germans on the home front commonly linked their attitudes about the war with the treatment of the Jews. German civilians we well aware of the persecution and genocide of European Jews. They saw first hand the deportation of German Jews. They learned of the genocide conducted by the German military from soldiers on leave as well as from letters from soldiers at the front. Soldiers and other spectators of mass executions often took pictures of the events. The negatives had to be sent back to Germany for processing which meant that laboratory personnel and family members would see them.

With this knowledge in mind, many civilians, on the one hand, believed that military defeats were divine retribution for the atrocities and, on the other, that Germans would be severely punished by the Allies if they lost the war. This explains to some extent why many Germans continued to fight on and didn’t overthrow the Nazis long after there was no hope for victory.


In the postwar era, resistance movements have been romanticized to salve the morale of the occupied peoples. In reality, resistance activities, with the exception of Russian and Yugoslav partisans, were essentially militarily insignificant. According to Charles de Gaulle “Resistance was a bluff that came off.”

German resistance to Hitler and the Nazis regime, “Widerstand”, was fundamentally different than those in the occupied countries in that the source of oppression was home grown. Thus, German resistance groups had no popular backing. Given the total Nazis dominance of nearly all social institutions—politics, civil service, media, courts, police, industry, social groups and clubs—resistance was fragmented and took many forms.
German resistance encompassed a wide range of activities. At one end were minor acts of defiance such as not giving the Nazis salute. More serious acts were industrial sabotage, betraying state secrets, sheltering Jews, and assassination attempts.

The groups that opposed the Nazis early on were Communists, Socialists, and trade union leaders. They were also some the earliest victims Nazis oppression.

The church was nearly the only substantial social institution that maintained some independence from the Nazis state. While the leading German churches didn’t overtly oppose the Nazis regime, the clergy was the earliest source of resistance to some Nazis policies. They coordinated a low level of opposition and provided a "forum in which individuals could distance themselves from the regime". Some notable members and clergy of the German Catholic church were vocal opponents of Nazis genocidal policies.

The secular White Rose movement was a resistance group led by Hans and Sophie Scholl who used leaflets to expose and protest Nazis genocide. It eventually grew into an organization of students in Hamburg, Freiburg, Berlin and Vienna. They advocated for the sabotage of the armaments industry and after the German defeat at Stalingrad in January 1943, they urged students to rebel against the regime. Shortly after this the Scholls and some other members were betrayed, arrested and executed.

The Ehrenfeld Group (sometimes called the Steinbrück Group) was an anti-Nazi resistance group active in the summer and autumn of 1944. It consisted of rebellious teens, escaped detainees from forced labor camps, and Jews. Their goal was to end the war as soon as possible by blowing up factories and train routes. They got as far as stealing food and vehicles, selling goods on the black market and buying guns. On November 10, 1944, thirteen members of the group were publicly hanged in Cologne.

A more notable and direct form of resistance was sheltering Jews, which was punishable by death. Of the less than 15,000 German Jews who survived (out of a prewar population of over half a million), many of which were saved by about 3,000 officially identified 'silent heroes.’ There may have been as many as 20,000 Germans who offered Jews various forms of support and refuge. One of the most celebrated saviors of Jews was Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German living in Czechoslovakia, who as an industrialist saved 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories.

The most dramatic and well-known acts of German resistance was the June 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazis regime. In mid-1944 some senior German military leaders were losing hope of winning the war. They, along with some politicians, developed a plot-- Operation Valkyrie—to assassinate Hitler and trigger a coup d’etat. After the assassination, they were going to blame it on a coup attempt by the Nazis party, use the army to seize Berlin, arrest the Nazis leadership and try to negotiate with the Allies to avoid an out-and-out military defeat. However, the assassination attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg failed as did the coup. In short order, all the conspirators were arrested and executed.


Late-war German propaganda focused on two themes; that victory was still possible and that defeat would lead to a fate worse than death for Germany. The message was that it was better to die fighting than to live in a defeated Germany.

Late-war Nazis propaganda spread the idea that new wonder weapons (Wunderwaffe), such as the V1 and V2 rockets among many others, could still turn the tide of the war. Few of these weapons were successfully developed and fielded and most of these were disappointing.

Propaganda also promoted the idea that the Allies would dismember and deindustrialize Germany and turn the German people into slaves. The Allied demand for unconditional surrender and the Morgenthau postwar plan to relegate Germany to an agrarian nation were used to encourage continued resistance even though defeat was inevitable. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury. His plan was not adopted but the fact that it had been proposed was believed to have stiffened Germany Army resistance in late 1944.

Movies were the regime’s most popular vehicle for disseminating propaganda. Escapist movies were produced in quantity and were accompanied by propaganda newsreels that many moviegoers began to reject because what they depicted was extremely at odds with what they knew was actually happening. Audiences were sometimes locked in the theaters to force them to watch the propaganda films before watching the feature film.

Interesting Facts

This is a personal anecdote that really conveys the gravity of the movie. This was probably the last movie my wife and I saw in theaters before COVID hit the following spring. At the end, when JoJo is following the butterfly and the camera pans up to his mom's shoes - the entire theater gasped! My wife exclaimed "oh my God." It's probably the most powerful moment I've ever experienced watching a film. Even knowing everyone reading this has seen it, I'm afraid of spoiling that for anyone. [please mention at the top of the show that it really should be watched before listening to the episode.]

In rewatching it this time, I noticed that Captain K brings JoJo's mom's bicycle to him when the Gestapo are at the house. He knows what happened to her, and he's coming to check in on JoJo (maybe break the news?) but he can't as Steven Merchant's Gestapo is there.

In short - I love this movie, and I think it as the most "heart" of any film in recent memory.

Works Cited

What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany - Johnson and Reuband.
Collins Atlas of WWII - Smithsonian
Maus I & II - Art Spiegelman
D-Day - Stephene E. Ambrose

Nicholas Stargardt. The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945,2015. Basic Books
Pierre Galante. Operation Valkyrie, The German Generals' Plot Against Hitler, 2002, Cooper Square Press
DW Akademie. How the film industry under the Nazis survived until the very end.
The Guardian. Berlin tribute to the Germans who saved Jews.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. NON-JEWISH RESISTANCE.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. THE WHITE ROSE OPPOSITION MOVEMENT.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. DECEIVING THE PUBLIC.
Klemens von Klemperer. German Resistance Against Hitler. 1992. Clarendon Press.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. OSKAR SCHINDLER: AN UNLIKELY HERO.
Wikipedia articles: German resistance to Nazism, Ehrenfeld Group, Themes in Nazi propaganda, Wunderwaffe, List of Germans who resisted Nazism, Operation Valkyrie.