A German oom-pah band—composed of Axis leaders Joseph Goebbels on trombone, Heinrich Himmler on snare drum, Hideki Tōjō on sousaphone, Hermann Göring on piccolo and Benito Mussolini on bass drum—marches noisily at four o'clock in the morning through a small town where everything is shaped like swastika, singing the virtues of the Nazi doctrine. Passing by Donald Duck's house (the features of which depict Adolf Hitler), they poke him out of bed with a bayonet to get ready for work. Here Donald then faces and "Heils" the portraits of the Führer (Adolf Hitler), the Emperor (Hirohito), and Il Duce (Mussolini), respectively.
Because of wartime rationing, his breakfast consists of a piece of wooden bread, coffee brewed from a single hoarded coffee bean, and an aromatic spray that smells like bacon and eggs. The band shoves a copy of Mein Kampf in front of him for a moment of reading, then marches into his house and escorts him to a factory with Donald now carrying the bass drum and Göring kicking him.
Upon arriving at the factory (at bayonet-point), Donald starts his 48-hour daily shift screwing caps onto artillery shells in an assembly line. Mixed in with the shells are portraits of the Führer, so he must perform the Hitler salute every time a portrait appears, all the while screwing the caps onto shells, much to Donald's disgust. Each new batch of shells is of a different size, ranging from minute shells to massive shells, as large as Donald if not larger. The pace of the assembly line intensifies (as in the Charlie Chaplin comedy Modern Times), and Donald finds it increasingly hard to complete all the tasks. At the same time, he is bombarded with propaganda messages about the superiority of the Aryan race and the glory of working for the Führer.
After a "paid vacation" that consists of making swastika shapes with his body for a few seconds in front of a painted backdrop of the Alps as exercise, Donald is ordered to work overtime. He has a nervous breakdown with hallucinations of artillery shells everywhere, some of which are snakes and birds, some sing and are the same shape of the marching band from the start, music and all (some of the animation from this sequence is recycled from the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence from Dumbo).
When the hallucinations clear, he finds himself in his bed, and realizes that the whole experience was a nightmare, but he sees the shadow of a figure holding its right hand up in the form of a Nazi salute. He begins to do so himself until he realizes that it is the shadow of a miniature Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high in her right hand. Remembering he is in the United States, he embraces the statue, grateful of his United States citizenship.
The short ends with a caricature of Hitler's angry face, and a tomato is thrown at Hitler's face and forms the words The End.
Before the film's release, the popular band Spike Jones and His City Slickers, noted for their parodies of popular songs of the time, released a version of Oliver Wallace's theme song, "Der Fuehrer's Face" (also known informally as "The Nazi Song") in September 1942 on RCA Victor Bluebird Records #11586. The song parodied the Nazi anthem, the "Horst Wessel Song". Unlike the version in the cartoon, some Spike Jones versions contain the rude sound effect of an instrument he called the "birdaphone", a rubber razzer (aka the Bronx Cheer) with each "Heil!" to show contempt for Hitler (Instead, the cartoon version features the sound of a tuba.) The so-called "Bronx Cheer" was a well-known expression of disgust in that time period and was not deemed obscene or offensive. The sheet music cover bears the image of a tomato splattering in Hitler's face. In the Jones version, the chorus line, "Ja, we is the Supermen—" is answered by a soloist's "Super-duper super men!" effeminately delivered suggesting the prevalence of epicenes in the Party; in the Disney version, these lines are flatly delivered but with effeminate gestures. The recording was very popular, peaking at #3 on U.S. charts.Johnny Bond recorded the song in July 1942 on the OKeh label.
Tommy Trinder recorded the song in the United Kingdom soon after the cartoon's release.
In the movie Stalag 17, the American POW's sing part of the song to taunt their guard, Sgt. Schultz.
In the M*A*S*H episode "Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde", Hawkeye Pierce sings part of the song to Radar, while suffering from insomnia. This is the Spike Jones version, with the raspberries included.
In the All in the Family episode "Archie's Other Wife", Archie hums and later sings part of the song.
Herman Wouk built a scene around the song in his novel War and Remembrance.
In the movie Hart's War, a group of American POWs are seen playing the song and dancing to it in elaborate costumes.
Harry Turtledove adapted the song in one of his Colonization novels, in tune with the novels' theme of an alternate history alien invasion during World War II. See the page on the Race for the lyrics.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer character Spike sings a short version of the song in the comic book Spike vs. Dracula Number 3.
Arthur Fields and his orchestra was performed by Tommy Trinder.
In 2010, Der Fuehrer's Face was ruled by a local court in Kamchatka, Russia to be included in the national list of extremist materials, which was first created in 2002. This was due to a local who received a suspended sentence of six months for uploading it to the internet and "inciting hatred and enmity". On July 21, 2016, another Russian court reversed the ruling of the local court, removing the short film from the list. The court highlighted that the film's portrayal of Nazism through caricature form cannot be deemed "extremist" in nature.In August 1943, the cover of Four Favorites comic (Number 11), displayed the four favorites — from left to right, The Unknown Soldier, Captain Courageous, Lightning, and Magno, the Magnetic Man (along with Davey, his boy partner) — all singing "Der Fuehrer's Face" in the background, whilst a strong and powerful "War Bond" simultaneously knocks out Hirohito, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini with one fierce blow in the foreground.
This short was featured in part in Donald Duck's 50th Birthday.
The film makes an appearance in Pearl Harbor (2001)
1943 – Original theatrical run
2004 – "Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines" (DVD)
2005 – "Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume Two" (DVD)