Swing Kids

Institute History

  • 1989 June Screenwriters Lab


In Nazi Germany, every teenager did not belong to the Hitler Youth.

There was, in fact, another "Youth movement" at that time, though completely unorganized. Its beginning can be charted from about 1937 until the end of the war, during which time it grew progressively larger. Its subscribers dressed in long Scottish waistcoats, pegged pants with baggy knees, wore English bowler hats, carried umbrellas, and wore their hair down to their shoulders. Their goal in life was not service to the Reich, but to lead what they called "the sleazy life." Though not political, these teenagers—aged ten to seventeen—hated the Hitler youth and loved American and English swing music. Their movement cut across all class boundaries and took hold equally among girls as well as boys.

The Nazis tried many repressive measures to curtail the movement, but suffered it for a time because every able-bodied young "Aryan" male was needed for the war effort. In Hamburg, which is where the movement took hold most fervently, hundreds of what Hitler called "Swing Kids" poured into nightclubs in the evenings to listen to banned radio stations, identified fellow swing enthusiasts by whistling banned swing tunes, and greeted each other by saying "Heil Benny Goodman, " and "Swing Heil."

In this setting, SWING KIDS tells the story of two teenage friends reunited in Hamburg during the summer and fall of 1939, before and right after the outbreak of the war. After an absence of three years, Peter, with his mother and little brother, has just returned to Hamburg due to the death of his father who was driven from his post in Berlin as a music instructor because of "anti-Nazi sympathies." Though already crazy for swing music, Peter has as his guide into the now fully-blown swing kid scene of Hamburg, his old friend Thomas.

Together, they brashly play out their youthful "rebellion" amidst the extreme pressures being brought to bear on them by family concerns and the ever-tightening grip of the Nazi state. But when Thomas is arrested and forced to join the Hitler Youth, their friendship begins to come apart. As Thomas is slowly but surely seduced into the Nazi movement, Peter desperately tries to come to terms with what he really believes in and whether he is willing to risk the consequences of standing up for those beliefs.


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