Karl Ritter's Kadetten (Cadets) brings an heroic true episode from the time of Frederick the Great to the screen which mesmerized millions of Hitler Youth members during WW2. After the war, Ritter was accused of war crimes by the Soviets, who demanded he stand trial for ‘the systematic poisoning of German youth’ with films championing militarism and National Socialism.
In 1760, Frederick and his troops are in Silesia in the fifth year of war and Berlin is undefended. Russian Cossacks rape, pillage and conquer the city, and take hostage a hundred young cadets, aged six to twelve, of the Fortress Spandau Military Academy. The boys suffer starvation, cruelty and execution at the hands of the blood–thirsty Russians, but rally through Prussian pride, loyalty and discipline to emerge triumphant in the end.
Ritter used actual students from the Potsdam NAPOLA School as his cadets, and the film became one of the 'top ten' films of the Hitler Youth during the Third Reich.
When the film premiered in December, 1941 after the start of Operation Barbarossa, the leading national film daily stated 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.'