The German film Fog in August (Wessel, 2016) opens with the following scene:

A pale young boy, his head shaven and wearing rags, is physically assessed by a doctor who seems kind and attentive. The doctor notices cuts and bruises on Ernst’s small frame – the remnants of beatings he received in the boy’s home from which he has been transferred. Ernst is the child of a Yenish family, one of the so-called “Gypsy” races, which included the Roma and Sinti people, and who today would be named “Travellers” (Murphy, 2017). As his family was stigmatised, and unable to find a permanent address, Ernst was classified as homeless. The doctor allocates him to farm work and directs the Head Orderly to take care of him. He also assures the child that he will not be beaten, and adds that there is no schooling available.

So begins Ernst’s experience of life in a mental institution in Nazi Germany. The film continues to show Ernst following an orderly out into the wards. He is frightened by what he sees around him: physically and intellectually disabled children call for food and attention; adult mental patients scream and struggle against the application of leather restraints. There are few staff and no words of comfort for any of the patients who are largely left to fend for themselves. In this institution, inmates do not survive long. The ostensibly humane Medical Director has drawn up a list of young patients that the nurses must prepare for transfer the following evening. An ominous grey bus, its windows shrouded in paper, waits at the hospital entrance. Despite the terrible conditions of the institution, the children prefer to remain there than to board that bus, suggesting its destination must be dire. The nurses, who are Catholic nuns, comply with the order, but also attempt to make the passage of the frightened children less threatening by leading them in a farewell song: “Let me sing your sufferings. My compassion is my offering”. The song’s words reveal that, while the children are being led to their deaths, the only strategy the nurses have available to them is to show a little humanity.