How successfully did the Nazi regime mobilise German youth in the years 1933-1939? “Education begins when the youngest National Socialist stands on the street…in uniform. ” Hitler’s ‘seizure’ of power on January 30, 1933 marked a turning point in German history and in traditional German education. Hitler’s aim regarding education was to reshape and mold the German psyche into one that would benefit the Nazi Regime. With motives that were rather political than academic, he was able to accomplish an astonishing amount in little time.
Education and youth measures played a very important role in Nazi Germany in trying to create loyal supporters to Hitler and National Socialist ideals. The primary aims of the educational and youth reforms in the Nazi regime were to mobilise the German youth behind Hitler ready to face the war. The Hitler Youth had been created for post-school activities and were to play a critical part in developing loyalty to Hitler and in converting the youngsters to National Socialism.
Nazi propaganda took over the German education system.
The sole purpose of the Nazi educational structure was to create a future generation that was loyal to Hitler and the Nazis without criticism or questioning. National Socialism was concerned with creating a certain type of character surrounding their ideals and philosophy, including the acceptance of the necessity for intervention to ensure a positive outcome of the struggle for existence amongst other nations. Without such a moulding of character it would be difficult for Nazism to survive and dominate through means of war.
This moulding of character would have to begin at an early age, and would be most effective if incorporated in the German school system. The old image of the good schoolboy (punctual, well-behaved) no longer was continued. It became more favourable for the boy to exercise a sense of adventure, and self-will. The teacher was responsible for developing this self-initiative, to encourage activity, struggle and adventure. A metamorphosis took place from a school for learning to a school for character.
The emphasis was on training the character and not the brain, as a strong character would be of more use to German domination than academic ability would be. Nazis referred to the moulding of character as a hardening of character, which should involve spiritual torment. The qualities aimed at were those of soldiers. The German people were to be a figure of armed strength, loyalty, and honour. Education and youth policies of the Third Reich were meant to ensure that there would be men to protect the system in the future and not fear war if it were the necessary means to achieve this. The winning of the youth is identical with the future security of the system…there can be no doubt that the totalitarian system succeeds by means of the youth for which it commits itself. ” The education system was to raise a new generation of Germans to suit this purpose. Nazi youth and education theories stated that the Volksgemeinschaft, the community, could be achieved on a long-term basis through education. The system should not focus on individual education, but rather on collective education.
It was to be a strictly obeyed, with everyone following the same guidelines and no individual action was to be taken. The aim was rather that action should be taken only as one strong German force, a mass action following the Fuhrer. This would overcome all obstacles including any objection to war. Militarism was drilled into children at all stages in their school life, as schools were to focus less on academic achievements. Hitler felt that “a healthy man imbued with decisiveness and strength of will is more valuable for the national community than an intelligent weakling” .
At school this included marching, military sports, and military science. This was to keep youngsters from sophistication. All intellectualism should be wiped out early in schools and be replaced by stern will. Militaristic education was to accomplish this and counteract the trend to modernism. School textbooks greatly criticised modernism, and blamed the Enlightenment for creating the longing for freedom of individual personality and intellectualism. This included economic liberalism, because this would be a political threat if it became too powerful.
Nazi texts repeatedly criticised intellectuals such as poets and scholars. The success of the Nazi curriculum weighed heavily on the teachers delivering it. All teachers had to be careful not to teach anything that opposed the new curriculum, and children often informed the authorities if a teacher said something in opposition to Nazism or the regime. Nazi educational aims were set out in teacher’s manuals and school textbooks. They stated that the education of the National Socialism begins at childhood. At school children should learn about the Fuhrer.
At the age of ten they should enter youth organisations, such as the Jungvolk for boys and the League of German Girls for girls. These organisations would involve children in such activities as camping and military exercises, to build the German peoples as one force and prepare the mind for war. At a later age they were to enter into the Hitler Youth. The Hitler Youth followed the same principles, and the young people were taught that individuality was not of importance. What was important was that the people unite as one strong force.
In January 1933, the Hitler Youth organisation contained only 107,956. By 1939, thanks to legislation making membership compulsory, this had risen to 8,870,000 members. If we believe everything told us about the Hitler Youth, then its impact on the youth of Germany was extremely important. It was extremely effective in attracting the support of young people as it presented “high ideals such as companionship, loyalty, and honour” . It reinforced the glorification of military values that the regime wanted to impress on the German youth very effectively.
It must be noted, however, that it did not receive wholesale support from all areas. Some members were put off by the regimentation and militaristic emphasis, and many parents and teachers complained about the “brutalizing effects of the HJ on young people” . On joining the Hitler Youth, many began to resent the crass political indoctrination that went with it and the levels of institutionalised bullying sanctioned by youth leaders in the name of ‘toughening up’ the youth. The diarist, Melita Maschmann, who joined the
BDM to shock her parents, may have spoken for many when she remarked that she just about tolerated the political indoctrination as a necessary evil if she were to enjoy the camping and camaraderie that came with membership. Given the incompetence of many of the leaders in instructing and teaching, ideological indoctrination often amounted to little more than superficial lip service for many. Others resented the total control of time that came with compulsory membership. Every potential ‘gap’ had to be filled with some tedious physical or ideological activity.
The reports of SPD agents also witness to flagging enthusiasm for the youth movements and the recourse to more customary methods of teenage rebellion as the 1930s progressed. Indeed, as pressure to join intensified, rebellion against the movement became more noticeable. No longer was it the thrilling, slightly dangerous movement it had been when not compulsory; now, it was simply another part of the adult establishment against which one wished to rebel. Resentment showed itself in anti-Hitler Youth humour, boredom and high levels of absenteeism, especially for the weekly two hour marching sessions.
The anti-Hitler Youth sentiments would eventually lead to the creation of ‘resistance’ groups such as the Weisse Rose or the Swingjugend. In the case of the former, based around a university in Munich and led by former Hitler Youth members, “is best remembered for its anti-Nazi protests and the distribution of anti-Nazi pamphlets“ . The latter was a music protest group that met to listen to American jazz (instead of the militaristic music encouraged by the Nazi regime) – it was assossiated with a ‘racially inferior’ group (Jazz was commonly reffered to as Negermusik) and therefore certainly frowned upon.
Both groups represent a form of youthful rebellion against authority – signs that not all of the German youth were happy with the government interfering in every aspect of their lives. Education in preparation for war was also incorporated into working society. The Arbeitsdienst was one of the programs designed to create a sense of equality among the Germans. This included a student taking part in a work placement in the labour service, and was designed to make the student feel that he is part of the community, bringing the Germans to a closer national unity.
The Arbeitsdienst followed a militaristic form involving the usage of uniforms. This would bring the young people closer to acceptance of war as part of working life for the good of their own community. Subjects such as History and Biology underwent a major change in schools. History was based on the glory of Germany and followed a very nationalistic approach. The defeat of Germany in 1918 was blamed on Jewish and Marxist spies who had damaged Germany’s domestic activities. Textbooks even went as far as blaming weak German character on the defeat, a character that should be wiped out and replaced by strong, honour-driven character.
The Treaty of Versailles was explained to be the work of evil nations that were jealous of Germany’s strength and abilities, and the hyperinflation of 1923 was the blamed on Jewish saboteurs. Geography taught in schools was concerned mostly with the land that Germany had taken away from her in 1919 and with another important Nazi ideal, the need for “Lebensraum”, living space. Teachers were instructed to tell their pupils about the need for this lebensraum for the German people to advance by taking over agriculturally usable land.
It would serve as a very important economic advancement as it would provide more land for farmers and thus provide more food for the German peoples to survive and grow. This expansion would be best achieved by war, and so war should be accepted as a means for survival and advancement. It was a struggle for space in which the strongest would win. Physical Education became a very important part of the curriculum regarding physical preparation for war. Hitler aimed at creating not only a character that could fend off pain but also physical ability that could withstand pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp’s steel. ” Physical activities took up 15% of a school’s weekly timetable, and boxing became compulsory for boys. Anyone who failed to perform adequately faced the possibility of being held back from advancing to the next class. The young generation of Germans were to become a physically strong force ready for battle. Science was taught with a great emphasis on military applications. The curriculum required that the principles of “ballistics, aerodynamics and radiocommunication” be studied.
Bridge building and the impact of poisonous gasses were also to be studied in great detail. Biological science focused on Germany’s racial superiority with an in-depth study of various races. Younger pupils were taught about the problems of heredity, and the older ones were taught about the importance of “the selection of biologically sound marriage partners, the sterilization of ‘inferiors’, and the duty to have children” .. Compulsory military service became a vital part of education for males.
Military service was to be completed after formal education, and was geared towards an acceptance of war. It was also designed to discourage teachers from creating intellectuals at school, as their interests should focus on military activities. The SA recruited members from university students and even resorted to informing them that their “academic studies were leisure persuits, to be conducted in their spare time. ” Adolf Hitler schools were set up to provide a military style education to prepare the next generation of military leaders for Germany.
It was aimed at those who were fitter and stronger than the rest and who had potential to be the future leaders of Germany. However, these were not as intense as the NAPOLAS which were leadership schools controlled by the SS for the same reason. Six years of tough physical training took place until they reached the age of eighteen, at which age they were then expected to join the army. The very best pupils went to Order Castles, schools which tested physical ability to its limits. Upon graduation from the Order Castles, one could expect the reward of a high position in the army or SS.
Schoolbooks aimed at developing an interest in militarism at an early age. They told great stories of airplane pilots, and marching soldiers. A central theme to their military education was one of death and sacrifice. Death was glorified in order to rid adolescents of their fear of it and instead replace it with a certain bravery and willingness to sacrifice their lives for the nation. Death was to be a completely normal part of life and accepted as a brave act. Children were also made to believe that carrying arms was a necessity.
It was an old tradition that should not be discarded or scorned upon by anyone. Textbooks described: “mere lads laid aside everything childish and received a sword in their hand in order to fight at the side of their folk and to maintain their honour pure. ” At school war games were even practiced with weapons. The final National Socialist goal was to be a completely militarised society. This could be greatly accomplished through the German SS, which was unique because it was not part of the government or of the army and followed only the Fuhrer’s orders.
It did not follow any laws and had no legal limitations. Leaders regularly received special training in the Adolf Hitler Schools. Nothing was to be impossible in the future. Perfection could be achieved. The SS defined the purpose of life, with world domination its final goal. As educational standards declined and Hitler made no effort to address this problem it became clear that priority no longer lay on academic achievements. Hitler did not think highly of teachers and placed little value on academic achievements altogether.
Knowledge need only stretch to elementary level, and there was absolutely no need for extended intellectual training. Hitler continued to ignore complaints regarding academic decline and carried on focusing on using the educational structure as a means for creating a militarised society. Teachers were expected to attack the life style of the Jews. Exam questions even contained specific reference to the government’s anti-Semitic sentiments. An example in a textbook reads: A bomber aircraft on take-off carries 12 dozen bombs, each weighing 10 kilos.
The aircraft takes off for Warsaw the international centre for Jewry. It bombs the town. On take-off with all bombs on board and a fuel tank containing 100 kilos of fuel, the aircraft weighed about 8 tons. When it returns from the crusade, there are still 230 kilos left. What is the weight of the aircraft when empty? In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws prohibited Jewish school children from attending schools. The Nazis even went as far as proclaiming that sitting next to a Jewish pupil in a classroom could contaminate and poison the German race.
Educational significance of Nazi Racialism focused on shared sentiments of anti-semitism. Jewry affected all areas of importance to German nationals and was considered to be an evil. During the earlier years textbooks generally avoided the subject of anti-semitism, because Hitler did not want to alarm other nations before he had completed German rearmament, however, later textbooks blamed the Jews for all of Germanys problems. History textbooks insisted that Jews aimed to wipe out virtues such as loyalty, and sense of sacrifice from the German nation.
Hitler’s dislike for the intellectual and the Jew were nearly inseparable; he described all intellectuals as being Jewish or pro-Jewish. Germans were alarmed by the Jewish attempt to take control over the younger generation, worried that Jews would have influence over education. Nazi textbooks thus established everything foreign and international as Jewish. Teachers of course played a vital role in German education. An educational teacher under the Regime was seen as a soldier assigned to the “cultural political front in the struggle for existence. All teachers had to be members of the National Socialist Teachers’ League, and between 1933-1936 membership increased from 12,000 to 300,000 – some 97% of active teachers. Any teacher considered disloyal was dismissed and many attended classes during school holidays in which they were subjected to political indoctrination. Of course this was a great advantage to the Nazis and they used this to control what was taught in the classroom. The League urged teachers to “drink in and assimilate the glories of the German race” and ensured they were suitable and following Nazi expectations.
From 1936 head teachers had to be appointed from outside of the school, ensuring that the post went to committed Nazis. Head teachers were to manage the schools along the lines of the ‘Leadership Principle’, ignoring and shutting down any debate about issues important to staff. Classrooms were staffed with ‘politically correct’ teaching assistants who acted as spies on what the teachers discussed amongst themselves and taught in the classroom. Capping this high degree of political interference, teachers were now affected by pay cuts as resources were redirected towards rearmament.
This fall in pay was a direct reflection of the status the Nazis accorded to teachers in the Reich. Other insidious pressures also impinged upon the intellectual freedoms that teachers had previously enjoyed. Open criticism of the regime could lead to students (especially members of the Hitler Youth) denouncing teachers, especially those they held personal grudges against. Inspectors visited on an unannounced and increasingly frequent basis to ensure that the Party line was being toed. German education of adolescents in the Third Reich focused primarily on the mobilisation for war.
It was vitally important for the Nazi ideology to reach the young people and to teach them that the defence of the state and ‘Fatherland’ was of paramount importance above all other things. The new leaders would be drawn from a strong, militarised youth with focus on impecable military strength. The Nazi goal regarding education and youth policies was one of preparation for war, mental preparation and physical preparation. The goal of education was to mold the students into soldiers. This was to begin at a very early age in schools and would be followed by compulsory military service upon completion of schooling.
This would wipe out any remaining unfavorable intellectual or individual qualities in character. Pupils were to follow their Fuhrer’s example and accept war as an expected part of life that would be rewarded by domination of the Aryan race. Nazi education and youth policies were crucial to the survival of National Socialism and would ensure that the German race never goes astray. The mobilisation of German youth was geared entirely at the creation of an militarised generation subservient to the leaders of the Reich, and in that, was very successful.
Bibliography Gilmer W Blackburn, Education in the Third Reich, State University of New York 1985 Noakes and Pridham, Vol. 2, University of Exeter Press 2008 Richard J Evans, The Third Reich in Power, Penguin Books 2006 Klaus P Fischer, Nazi Germany: A New History, Constable London 1996 S. Pagaard, Teaching the Nazi Dictatorship: Focus on Youth, The History Teacher, Vol. 38 No. 2 (Feb 2005) John Laver, Nazi Germany, 1933–45, Hodder and Stoughton 1991 R. Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich, Phoenix Books 2005
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