“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This month, Netflix released a short film called Forgive Us Our Trespasses, written and directed by Ashley Eakin. In just 14 minutes, it tells the story of a young boy with a limb disability in 1939 Nazi Germany and his mother’s struggles to protect him after Hitler imposed a horrific program called Aktion T4. Aktion T4 was the use of eugenics to ‘get rid’ of people who were deemed ‘incurably sick’ or who were seen as a potential drain on society, thus preserving what the Nazis felt was racial purity and saving the government money. The program targeted people with developmental or physical disabilities for extermination or what they called ‘mercy killing’, many were children.
The killings took place from 1939 until the end of the war in 1945. At first, it was believed between 70 and 80 thousand people were killed during Aktion T4, however, after more records came to light after the war that number ballooned to roughly 300,000. They were killed in psychiatric hospitals in Germany and Austria, occupied Poland, and what is now the Czech Republic.
The film starts off where Paul, our hero, and his fellow students are at school and Paul’s mother is the teacher. She teaches a curriculum dictated by the Nazi regime and it’s quickly evident that the regime values money over human life. In a very simple and short amount of time, we understand the wider scope of how cruel the Nazi regime was and how many people blindly followed. It’s not long before soldiers come to the farm where Paul and his mother live as the round-up of those deemed ‘unfit’ begins. Paul and his mother have prepared for this eventuality and the drama unfolds. No spoilers here.
The short film is very well made, beautifully shot, and with an excellent score. One wonders how in under 15 minutes the filmmakers could encapsulate such a broad and terrible part of human history. It questions how a despot and a misguided ideology could try to remove the people DDA and others so ferociously advocate for. However, it’s not just about the struggling or the running and hiding from oppression. The story is one of not giving up and fighting back against insurmountable odds. Demanding a seat at the table at any cost.
While Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a short film, it will leave you thinking about this period of human history long after.
From writer-director Ashley Eakin’s website:
Ashley Eakin is a writer-director based out of Los Angeles with a physical disability. Her latest film, FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES, was developed as part of Netflix’s Emerging Filmmaker Initiative and is currently live on the streaming platform. In addition, she is also a participant in the Powderkeg Fuse Incubator, curated by Paul Feig. They produced her short film ROOMMATES selected for Slamdance and SXSW 2022.