‘What the teachers’ story tells us, is that you can fight without weapons and still win’. That’s what one of the contributors tells the documentary The Teachers’ Protest. The film, by Jon Seal, tells of steadfast resistance in the face of the Nazi regime of Second World War Norway.
The documentary is about Norwegian teachers who stood up to, and defeated, Nazi education in 1942.
Jon came across the story in the Resistance Museum in Oslo, and, as a teacher, it made an impression.
“It’s been in my consciousness for quite a long time actually,” Jon tells D&CFilm.
“I was a teacher but I had worked in Norway in my late teens. When I went back to visit, I went to the Resistance Museum in Oslo and there was a small exhibition about this.
“I was amazed – it was an incredible story, and it stayed with me,” he says.
The Nazi invasion of Norway during the Second World War, saw Quisling imposed as a the head of a puppet government in the country.
“Quisling knew that if he was going to win people over to Nazi ideas it was going to be through education,” Jon Seal says. “He decided that a Nazi curriculum was to be taught in Norwegian schools. And all teachers had to join a Nazi teachers league.”
What followed was a massive letter writing protest. Between 8-10,000 letters were sent to the education ministry opposing the move. Teachers were joined by parents as they refused to succumb to the Nazi education demands.
Around 1,000 teachers were arrested and sent to prison camps in the far north of Norway – 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.
“But still they held out and they refused to give in despite being treated in a terrible way,” says Jon.
Eventually, the campaign among the parents and the rest of the Norwegian society was so massive the Nazi government had to back down. The teachers were released. They went back to their schools, continued their jobs and the Nazi curriculum was never taught in Norwegian schools.
The Teachers’ Protest combines archive footage, and interviews – mostly with the sons and daughters of the teachers.
“It was very moving hearing an 80-year-old guy talking about his father being arrested and his memories of that.”
Along with interviews, there’s the incredible artwork of Herløv Åmland. Herløv made drawings on whatever he could find of the daily life of the camps.
“We’ve used his drawings a lot in the film and we’ve also used an animation technique where we bring those drawings into life,” says Jon.
The Oslo premiere was a powerful and moving event. Nearly all those involved in the film attended. Some 200 people whose father, mother or other relation was involved in the protest.
“A lot of these people were coming together and meeting each other for the first time,” says Jon.
“It was a big test because you’re telling other people’s stories and you have a responsibility to them. And I wanted to make sure their story was told truthfully. The response was overwhelmingly positive in that respect.”
The film has also won the support from the National Education Union, with interest also from Education International.
The Teachers’ Protest is Jon’s first full length documentary feature. But it follows themes he’s explored before. Along with plenty of short films he was made a mini-feature. That film is set in the First World War and tells the tale of a conscientious objector.
“What interests me is passive resistance,” says Jon Seal. And The Teachers’ Protest is ‘a war story like no other’.
“It’s not about guns and fighting. This is a war story about people who take civil disobedience and passive resistance.”
And it shows you can fight without weapons and still win.
Keep up-to-date with The Teachers’ Protest on their website.