Heini Völker is a teenage boy. His comrades give him the nickname "Quex" (Quicksilver). He lives in poverty in Berlin, in a one-room apartment. The year is 1932 - the depth of the Depression. His father is an out-of-work supporter of the Communist Party who sends his son on a weekend of camping with the Communist Youth Group. While there Quex finds the undisciplined revelry of the Communists to be distasteful. There is smoking, drinking, and dancing late into the night. Meals are served by cutting hunks from loaves of bread and throwing them to hungry campers who push to get something to eat. Boys and girls play games where they take turns holding each other down and slapping each other on their private parts. Quex runs away and in another part of the park finds a group of Hitler Youth camping by a lake. He spies on them from a distance.
The Hitler Youth are working together to make fires and cook a hot dinner. They sing patriotic songs, listen to speeches, and shout in unison their support for an "awakened Germany". There is no smoking or drinking. In the morning they awake early and run to the lake for a before-breakfast communal swim. Health, cleanliness, teamwork and patriotic nationalism is the image projected.
When Quex returns to his home singing one of the Hitler youth songs, his father, an ardent Communist, beats him and signs him up to become a member of the Communist Party. However, Quex informs the Hitler Youth that the Young Communists are planning to ambush them during a march using guns and dynamite. He becomes a pariah to the Communists, and a hero to the Hitler Youth. His distraught mother tries to kill her son and herself by extinguishing the pilot light and leaving the gas on in their one-room apartment at night. She is killed. Quex survives. His father, crushed by what happened, begins to wonder whether his son is right — National Socialism may be better for Germany than Communism.
A recurring character in the film is the Communist street performer. His theme is that "for some people things work out well...but for George they never do." The message is that life in Germany may improve for everyone else, but for the working man, George, life won't be good unless he joins the Communist Party. It is eventually the Communist street performer who corners Quex in the streets of Berlin at night, and stabs him to death. Quex posthumously becomes a hero to the Nazi movement.
Heini Völker's antagonist is the communist youth leader Wilde, "a Nazi version of the incarnation of the 'Jewish-Bolshevik' will to destruction". The film's message is characterized by its final words, "The banner is greater than death".
The film allows some sympathy for communists. Quex's father, though violent and drunk, has become a communist because of his, and the workers', desperate condition. In one scene, his argument for his son being with him revolves around his sufferings in the war and his unemployment. The communist who invited Quex to a Communist Youth outing, while saying that he has to be eliminated, takes no part in the killing, Quex having made a strong impression on him.Jürgen Ohlsen as Heini Völker
Heinrich George as Vater Völker
Berta Drews as Mutter Völker
Claus Clausen as Bannführer Kaß (Brigade Leader Kass)
Rotraut Richter as Gerda
Hermann Speelmans as Stoppel
Hans Richter as Franz
Ernst Behmer as Kowalski
Hansjoachim Büttner as Arzt (doctor)
Franziska Kinz as Krankenschwester (nurse)
Rudolf Platte as Moritatensänger (carnival singer)
Reinhold Bernt as Ausrufer (barker)
Hans Deppe as Althändler (furniture dealer)
Anna Müller-Lincke as Eine Nachbarin Völkers (Völkers' neighbour)
Karl Meixner as Wilde
Karl Hannemann as Lebensmittelhändler (grocer)
Ernst Rotmund as Revierwachtmeister (desk sergeant)
Hans Otto Stern as Kneipenwirt (bartender)
"Unsere Fahne flattert uns voran" (Marschlied der Hitlerjugend) (Music by Hans-Otto Borgmann, lyrics by Baldur von Schirach)
Sung several times by the communists - "The Internationale" (Written by Eugène Pottier & Pierre Degeyter)
Sung on the camping trip of the communists and later by a Hitler Youth - "Das ist die Liebe der Matrosen" (Written by Werner R. Heymann & Robert Gilbert)
The film was produced in the Universum Film AG (Ufa) studios. The plot was written by Bobby E. Lüthge and Karl Aloys Schenzinger, the author of the novel. Produced by Karl Ritter, it was supported by the Nazi leadership and produced for 320,000 reichsmarks under the aegis of Baldur von Schirach. The latter also wrote the lyrics for the Hitler Youth marching song "Vorwärts! Vorwärts! schmettern die hellen Fanfaren", better known by its refrain, Unsere Fahne flattert uns voran, using an existing melody by Hans-Otto Borgmann, who was also responsible for the music. The director was Hans Steinhoff. For the film, the subtitle Ein Film vom Opfergeist der deutschen Jugend ("A film about the sacrificial spirit of German youth") was added to the novel's title. The film has a length of 95 minutes (2,605 metres) and was premiered on 11 September 1933 at the Ufa-Phoebus Palace in Munich, and on 19 September at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin. It was one of three films about Nazi martyrs in 1933, the other two being SA-Mann Brand and Hans Westmar.
The film premiered in the United States at the Yorkville Theatre on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 6 July 1934 as Our Flag Leads Us Forward and in March 1942 in Paris as Le jeune hitlérien.
Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels and other high Nazi functionaries attended the first premiere in Munich. Goebbels reflected on the film as follows: "If Hitler Youth Quex represents the first large-scale attempt to depict the ideas and world of National Socialism with the art of cinema, then one must say that this attempt, given the possibilities of modern technology, is a full-fledged success." By January 1934 it had been viewed by a million people.
Hitlerjunge Quex is now classified in Germany as a Vorbehaltsfilm (conditional film), meaning it is illegal to show it outside of closed educational events guided by an expert.
The film was used by Gregory Bateson in 1943 in a classical example of culture study at distance. A portion of this study was published as "An Analysis of the Nazi Film Hitlerjunge Quex" on pages 331 to 348 of The Study of Culture at a Distance, edited by Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux, University of Chicago Press, 1953.