The Educational Theory of Adolph Hitler
“From a sociological point of view, education is a process by which and through which behavior changes are brought about in the individual in relation to the group in which he lives and comes into contact” (Kunzer, 1939, p.140). Looking at Nazi education through this sociological framework, one is better able to understand not only how Hitler rose to power, but how the sweeping changes he made to the educational system allowed for the systematic indoctrination of a nation.
Adolph Hitler was born in Austria on April 20, 1889. As a young man he moved to Vienna where he twice applied to a university but was not accepted. It was in Vienna that he became exposed to Anti-Semitic thinkers, such as Ritter von Schöener and Karl Leuger, who had a major influence on his ideology (Crowe, 2008, p. 81). From Vienna Hitler moved to Munich and, upon the outset of World War I, joined the military. Hitler served bravely, and after Germany’s defeat it was in his position as a Corporal that he was first introduced to the German Worker’s Party founded by Anton Drexler. Initially, his role was that of a spy for the military. However, Hitler was immediately attracted to the organization’s Nationalistic ideals and soon became the propaganda chairman. In 1920 the organization became the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party and Hitler quickly rose through the ranks and in 1921 was eventually elected the chairman of the party with “ultimate authority.” (Benz, 2008, p. 9)
German Nationalism, and economic discontent that had been festering in Germany since WWI, and Hitler’s demagogic methods took full advantage to rise from the fragmented rubble of post World War I Germany. Hitler's ideology took firm root in a soil already ripe with Anti-Semitism, the longing for a truly unified Germany, and a national thirst to reclaim international power and prestige (Benz, 2008). Eventually the Nazi Party grew from a small fringe group to the second largest party in Germany and in 1933 Hitler was elected Prime Minister of Germany and the “National Revolution” began (Benz, 2008, p. 20).
Upon his appointment he immediately went about dismantling the democratic government and took on the role of dictator (führer). No sooner were they in power than this totalitarian regime began to alter Germany's educational system. Boys were taught from a young age that Nazi ideologies were the sole truth and der Fuhrer the sole authority. They were trained to become "violently active, dominating, brutal youth...indifferent to pain, without weakness and tenderness" (Gavin, 1999, para. 13). It was believed that a person who was less educated, but more physically healthy was of more value to the movement than someone who was intellectually strong but physically weak (Gavin, 1999). This rugged and mindless type of individual was considered to be the ideal candidate to forge into a tool for conquest and domination.
The most promising boys were selected for training in one of the 10 Adolf Hitler Schools. In these schools intellectual development was not a priority. The curriculum privileged physical strength and robot-like obedience to Nazi ideologies. Academic studies were dominated by Nazi themes of racial struggle and German pride (Gavin, 1999). Graduates would be the brutally efficient leaders of this new order.
Hitler understood that the most efficient way to unify Germany was through a new educational regime. This system was based in a kind of multi-pronged fundamental revisionism. Political parties were dismantled and many of the nation's teachers, scholars, artists and preachers were driven out of their positions. Under Hitler's reign the German government, schools, universities and churches became one entity with a single purpose: to reproduce Nazi ideologies and the train the next generation of Nazi leaders. Under this regime the Nazi party was not only a government, but a new religion with Hitler as its God and the Nazi ideology as its Gospel.
Under this system the Nazi's effectively re-wrote German history and reconfigured all components of society. Entire communities were exterminated; family lines were deciminated; historical artifacts were destroyed, lost or stolen, and countless other tragedies occured. Within a matter of 10 years, the course of an entire world history was inexorably altered; and informing and shaping this entire process was an educational system second to none in its totalitarian extent
Hitler’s Theory of Value
What knowledge and skills are worthwhile learning? What are the goals of learning?
Prior to Hitler's rise to power, German education consisted of a free four year program called Grundschule. Once the four-year period concluded students could continue at these schools for another period of four years and, if able, could pay a small fee and attend an intermediate school or Mittelschule for an additional one or two years. Once Hitler rose to power sweeping changes were made and this system was replaced by one that focused on the indoctrination of young people into the Nazi belief system, with a particular focus on racial purity, "no boy or girl...leave school without having been led to an ultimate realization of the necessity and essence of blood purity" (Hitler, 1939).
Valuable Knowledge and Skills
Under this new educational regime, “Racial Instruction” was the most valued knowledge while strength was the most valued and respected attribute. Hitler understood that it was necessary to indoctrinate the children of Germany so that the party would have a powerful following in the future. "The Nazi leadership appreciated the difficulty of indoctrinating the older generation.... They were all the more determined to mold the new generation along Nazi lines...create a new type of student..." (Groban, 1990).
In order to facilitate this process, all teachers were examined by the Nazis to make sure they were teaching the “appropriate” curriculum. "Munich professors [were warned]: 'From now on it is not up to you to decide whether or not something is true, but whether it is in the interest of the national Socialist Revolution" (Groban, 1990). School was no longer a place for education, but competition and indoctrination of Nazi ideologies. The students were constantly kept busy, monopolizing school time with physical activities. Every task was turned into a competition. These competitions commonly ended in blood and bruises. The vulnerability of young minds was taken advantage of at a young age.
This educational training was anti-intellectual, with the focus being on physical development, party indoctrination, and moral training. It was an “education of the will”, rather than a training of the mind (Childs, 1938, p. xvii). “We cannot fight our way out of this deep crisis through intellectualism... The school for character... which is a practical test of true comradeship in work and living is irreplaceable (Groban, 1990).
At the age of six the child entered school and at the age of 10 boys and girls became eligible to become members of the Hitler Youth organization (Childs, 1938, p. xvii). Children who joined the Hitler Youth had their education largely taken over by a "Nationalist Social training" regime (Childs, 1938, p. xviii) from the ages of 10-18 rather than attending the public schools.
The Hitler Youth were organized into four divisions:
1) Jungvolk- for boys 10-14
2) Jugend- the stage preceding Jungvolk for boys
3) Jungmadel- for girls 10-14
4) Bund Deuscher Madel- the stage preceding Jungmadel for girls (Bytwerk).
Education played such an important role that the leader of the Hitler Youth answered directly to Hitler and occupied a position equivalent to a cabinet rank (Childs, 1938, p. xviii). Hitler named Baldur Von Schirach as the Youth Leader of Germany. Schirach sermonized the importance of absolute loyalty. He once proclaimed, "...Whoever marches in the Hitler Youth is not a number among millions but the soldier of an idea. The best Hitler Youth, irrespective of rank and office, is he who completely surrenders himself..." (Gavin, 1999).
The Goals of Learning
There were three major aims of the youth training program developed for the Hitler Youth: character building , physical training, and training in the National Socialist world-view. Educational training for the first 5 years, 10-14, focused on the first two objectives: character building and physical training . At the age of 15 physical training and training in the National Socialist world-view were emphasized (Childs, 1938, p. xix). Each of the disciplines taught were given a Nazi slant especially History and Biology. “History was based on the glory of Germany… Biology became a study of the different races to ‘prove’ that the Nazi belief in racial superiority was a sound belief…” (Trueman, 2000, para. 4).
There was also a “service or community learning” component, the purpose of which was both practical, in that it provided a source of cheap labor, and also ideological because it reinforced socialist ideals. By being forced to mix with the less privileged sections of the community, students would be reminded that they were all [national comrades] together. “Service in the Hitler Youth is honorary service to the German people… the true, great, practical school is... in the labor camp, for here instruction and words cease and action begins” (Groban, 1990).
While the goal of educating boys was, "a means of raising nationalist enthusiasm in German boys while teaching them to be ready to sacrifice themselves for the Fatherland" (Gavin), the education of girls had a different focus. For young women, the majority of their education focused on preparing them for motherhood and the proper care of a household. In order to reach these ends, domestic science classes were added to their curriculum. At the age of 14 young women entered the Bund Deuschel Madel (German Girl’s League) which included a year of training in domestic or farm service (Simkin). After completing their training they were expected to marry and start families because young women were taught that they should marry young and produce as many children as possible (Trueman, 2000).
If the goal of education prior to Hitler was to enrich the student personally, the goal after his rise to power changed to one which focused on the preparation of the student for service to the state. Education was used as a form of social selection by which only the best racial participants would rise up and serve as the next generation of German leaders. The child was something to be molded and was no longer a person but rather an object whose purpose was to without question or hesitation accept Nazi doctrine.
Hitler’s Theory of Knowledge:
What is knowledge? How is it different from belief? What is a mistake? A lie?
Knowledge and Belief
According to Alvin Goldman (2001), the goal of classical epistemology (theories of knowledge) is the acquisition of true beliefs or at the very least beliefs that are justified or rational. Under classical epistemology there is a belief that there is “the Truth” and the goal of human beings is to, as closely as possible, formulate beliefs that reflect what is true or at the very least beliefs that are rational and justifiable in light of the Truth. Knowledge is, therefore, an act of discovery rather than an act of creation. Descartes is an example of a classical epistemologist. Those who do not buy into the classical approach to epistemology will argue that knowledge is simply what is believed or the body of beliefs that have been institutionalized within a given society. “Anti-classical” approaches to epistemology tend to ignore truth claims and conceptions like justifiability and rationality. Richard Rorty is an example of an anti-classical epistemologist.
These anti-classical theories of knowledge tend to ignore truth claims and conceptions like justifiability and rationality. In this way, Hitler’s theory of knowledge could be classified as an “anti-classical” epistemology, though he would not have made any such claims himself. Knowledge, under the Hitler regime, was not a quest for truth but was synonymous with Hitler’s beliefs. The Truth was something he created in order to serve the interests of his political party. Whether or not Hitler actually believed what he preached is up for debate, but it was clear that his followers believed him and that his professed beliefs formed the major body of what they were taught.
For Adolf Hitler knowledge was merely a means to an end. In the schools everything that the students were taught had a Nazi slant, twisted to show the power of Germany and the inferiority of the Jews. “Indoctrination became rampant in all subjects. At every opportunity, teachers were expected to attack the life style of the Jews. Exam questions even contained blunt reference to the government's anti-Semitic stance. For example, "To keep a mentally ill person costs approximately 4 marks a day. There are 300,000 mentally ill people in care. How much do these people cost to keep in total? How many marriage loans of 1000 marks could be granted with this money?" (Trueman, 2010, para. 10)
Because the major goal of knowledge was indoctrination rather than intellectual advancement, Hitler placed an extraordinary value on physical education. This was all done in order to create the perfect soldiers for his army. According to Rauschning (1939), youth needed to be aware of the brutal nature to which they were expected to live and perform. In Hitler’s own words, “A violently active, intrepid, brutal youth - that is what I am after... I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin for my young men” (Simkin, n.d., para 15). Unlike education that expanded the mind, the knowledge base that Hitler’s education would create would cultivate students who would be indifferent to pain. This indifference to pain could only be attained through lessons in semaphore, arms drill, hikes which would at times last in excess of two days (Simkin, n.d.).
Hitler’s educational regime focused so heavily on the youth because according to him, knowledge could not be attained in old age as the old “are rotten to the marrow and have no unrestrained instincts left…cowardly and sentimental. Bearing the burden of a humiliating past” (Simkin, n.d. para. 14). This is because the Nazi epistemology is not concerned with Truth, but with indoctrination that serves their interests. Young people are more easily influenced that adults because they have not yet been influenced by ideas that might contradict Hitler’s doctrine. In this way, Hitler’s doctrine is “the Truth” for them. They do not know enough to challenge the Nazi versions of history, biology, and geography because it is all that they know. Their parents, even if they are supporters of Hitler, have a broader understanding of the world.
The education of the Hitler Youth also alienated them from their families in many ways because their world and their understanding of the world was quite different from that of their parents. Youth were expected to be athletic and perform in a way that would show the eradication of all of the years of domestication that had been instilled in them (Rauschning, 1939). Having cleared this weakness from the body, students would only then be prepared to transform themselves into a youth who would become adults who would stand up in front of a world that would end up shrinking back before them. (Rauschning, 1939). In other words, one of the goals of Hitler’s training regime was to make these young people into a new breed, into the ultimate soldiers for the Nazi Party.
Mistakes and Lies
Knowledge, under the Hitler regime, was not a quest for truth but was synonymous with Hitler’s beliefs. The Truth was, therefore, something he created in order to serve the interests of his political party. Within this paradigm, therefore, anything that contradicted Hitler’s doctrine was a mistake. If this contradiction directly challenged or endangered the Nazi’s political agenda for world dominance, it was a lie. Those under the reign of the Nazi regime either believed that Nazi ideology and propaganda were true and everything else a lie, or pretended that this was the case in order to protect themselves. That which furthered Hitler’s cause was the truth, that which challenged the cause was a lie.
Hitler’s Theory of Human Nature
What is a human being? How does it differ from other species? What are the limits of human potential?
According to Hitler, human beings are to be divided into so-called racial categories based on physical appearance; eye color, hair, etc. Additionally there was to be an establishment of higher and lower classes. For Hitler and his followers the German man with fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes was the epitome of humanity. This description of the perfect man would later be known as an Aryan (Gavin, 1996). The Nazis taught that the Aryan man was not only perfect physically (in strength and power) but also mentally as all things produced within the realm of the arts, sciences, and technology were the end result of the work produced by German men. It is also important to note here that only German men were considered perfect human beings because, while German women could be perfect physically, they were inferior to German men and so they were expected to be obedient and to serve as perfect wives and mothers.
The definition of race used by the National Socialists is taken from Gunther’s book, Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes, “A race is a collection of individuals differentiated from every other group (constituted in such a way) by its unique combination of bodily characteristics and soul attributes and continually reproduces its own kind” (Childs, 1938, p. 14). In this way, human beings are organized into different races with each race possessing certain key similarities of body, mind, and soul and these characteristics determine the position of each race in the natural order. The German people, as a nation, therefore, came to be understood as a race.
While the Nazis aknowledged that Germany was comprised of various races they asserted that the Nordics were the preeminent race. And since the Nordic race constituted the major portion of the German population it is they who should naturally and rightfully serve as the standard against which all others in the nation would be measured.
By extension, the Nordic world view should also be the one upon which legislation would be built. In this way, the “Nordic race” became the “German race”. Through this theory of race an entire nation of people became connected by more than just geography or proximity, but by blood. They were, according to Nazi mythology, a common lineage living on sacred soil.
Hitler’s theory of human nature was a curious mix of both old-testament theology and modern Darwinist views on nature and natural selection. According to Phillip Gavin (1996), Hitler's philosophy was that the Aryan race was a superior race of human beings, with every other race being inferior. In the case of the Jew, not only were they inferior, they were a an «against race» a dangerous threat to the purity of the German people. He also argued that Jews limited human potential by thwarting the German’s rightful position as rulers.
This struggle for world domination between Germans and Jews, as described by Hitler, was one that had existed for centuries. It existed racially, culturally and politically as a result of the Jew’s unwillingness to allow the Germans to come into their rightful positions of leadership. He accused the Jews of “conducting an international conspiracy to control world finances, controlling the press, inventing liberal democracy as well as Marxism, promoting prostitution and vice, and using culture to spread disharmony” (Gavin, 1996, para. 13).
Racial Mixing as a limit to human potential
Hitler interpreted and then expanded some of philosopher Friedrich Nietzche’s ideas. According to Spielvogel and Redles (2007), “…a symbol of greatness and raw human potential are used similarly in Mein Kampf and Nietzsche's works: the idea of the blond beast.
For Neitzsche the blond beasts were men that were unrestrained by conventional morality. Their innocent, animal-like brutality constituted true courage and provided the foundation of social order.
Hitler's blond beast represents the old Aryan master race, which he calls the Aryan conqueror. Hitler believed the pure Aryan conqueror and its race was responsible for all human culture (Hitler, 1940, p.290). Through the principle of resentment the Aryan race fell from its glory, tricked and poisoned by the clever Jew. Hitler argued that the Jewish conspiracy is a case of the Jews using the principle of resentment on the Aryan master race through democracy, Marxism, and blood poisoning. Hitler also considered it beneficial for the inferior races to be “conquered because they come in contact with and learn from the superior Aryans” (Gavin, 1996).
This benefit however, is only successful so as long as those in power remain in absolute power and do not “mingle or inter-marry with inferior conquered peoples” (Gavin, 1996, para. 10). It therefore became necessary for the German “volk” to protect their bloodline from the degenerating effects of “foreign” blood and “less worthy persons” (those suffering from any congenital diseases or displaying any “perversions” of behavior or character). Because the Jewish race was the only “foreign” race living in close proximity to the German race, and because they allegedly constututed the very negation of the master race, they were singled out for extermination.
In this way, the mass extermination of Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust was the result of Hitler's god-given duty to cleanse the earth of the lesser breeds of man which were holding our back the species. “…Hitler seems to have believed that humanity, and especially the Aryan race, had evolved to become the likeness of God (rather than being created initially in God's image), while other races were closer to humanity's evolutionary ancestors” (RationalWiki). Under Nazi ideology the only limit to the German (as master race, the highest manifestation of humanity) was degradation and pollution through encounters with “inferior” races. It therefore became necessary for the German “volk” to protect their bloodline from the degenerating effects of “foreign” blood (Black, Jewish, Czech, Gypsie…) and “less worthy persons”, those suffering from any congenital diseases or displaying any “perversions” of behavior or character (Childs, 1938, p. 69). The Nazis tried various methods for protecting German lineage: the enactment of laws that forbade inter-racial marriage, sterilization of homosexuals, disabled persons, the mentally ill, Jewish people, Gypsies, etc…, the imprisonment of these groups, and finally the extermination of these groups (Browning, 2004).
Hitler’s Theory of Learning
What is learning? How are skills and knowledge acquired?
Learning in Nazi Germany
Learning or the process of learning is defined as knowledge which is gained by the act of study or being instructed. It is also defined as the act of gaining knowledge (Farlex, 2010). With these definitions in mind one must consider, was learning a process in Nazi Germany or a simply a product? Learning or the act of gaining knowledge was, according to Hitler, not something which was gained through literature, science and other forms of education but the process by which loyal followers of Hitler and the Nazi party would be created.
The sole purpose of learning “was to create a future generation that was blindly loyal to Hitler and the Nazis” (Trueman, 2010, para. 17). Students were expected to be indifferent to pain whether it was their own or the pain of others. Additionally, one may also conclude that a virtuous person was not only one who fully accepted Nazi dogma and pass the necessary tests but was also a person who fully believed in the importance of racial superiority and blood purity. Only the virtuous, according to Nazi standards, would maintain a pure bloodline within their families.
Under the Nazi regime learning was primarily physical, not heavily academic or intellectual. Skills and knowledge must be practical and ultimately suit the needs of the Party According to the Nazis,“…a less well educated, but physically healthy individual with a sound, firm character, full of determination and will, is more valuable to the Volkish community than an intellectual weakling” (Gavin, 1999, paragraph 24). The objective of Hitler’s schools was not the development of the pupils as intellectuals, but the training of ideal fighting instruments who were physically powerful and mentally feeble so that they would be more easily controlled.
Under the Nazi Party, learning was not about academics and general knowledge acquisition. It was mostly about developing physical strength and the indoctrination of Nazi ideology. Hitler Youth meetings were established as a “learning” environment. Boys and girls ages 10-18 were to attend these activities during the evening and summertime. In 1938, it became a law that children in this age range were to attend, if they did not, their parents would be subjected to fines and possibly imprisonment. Boys and girls were in separate groups. The boys were in Deutsches Jungvolk, from 10-13 years old, and then placed in Hitler Jugend until they were 18. They learned about "military athletics" (Wehrsport) included marching, bayonet drill, grenade throwing, trench digging, map reading, gas defense, use of dugouts, how to get under barbed wire and pistol shooting.” (Gavin, 1999, paragraph 5).
Under the Nazi regime, learning was mainly a means to an end. The aim of education for German boys was for them to be prepared to become a Nazi officers, while the girls were educated to become good wives and mothers. The emphases of the girl’s program Bund Deutscher Madel, was on motherhood though they were also expected to be in supreme physical shape. The core values taught to the young women were: obedience, duty, self-sacrifice, discipline, and physical self-control (Hein, para. 3). Because the primary role of Nazi women was that of mother, it was important that she be able to pass on Nazi ideologies to her children.
Methods of Skill and Knowledge Acquisition
Methods of teaching were primarily physical and those who taught not only needed to be vested by Nazi officials in order to teach their subject matter but also needed to ensure that they enforced the Nazi curriculum. Students were trained mentally and physically to become followers of Hitler and the Nazi regime. Mentally, all subjects had a military slant to their instruction. A prime example of how the curriculum was changed to accommodate what was considered important was in the subject of science. During science lessons the “curriculum required that the principles of shooting be studied; military aviation science; bridge building and the impact of poisonous gasses” (Trueman, 2010, para. 7).
Physical training for this new generation of Nazi followers was comprised of physical education classes. According to Hitler young Germans should be “as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel” (Trueman, 2010, para. 13). Additionally, physical education took up to “15% of a school's weekly timetable in which boxing became compulsory for boys and those who failed fitness tests could be expelled from their schools and face humiliation from those who had passed such tests” (Trueman, 2010, para. 13).
Party propaganda was almost literally drilled into young people from the age of five and six up. “We five and six year olds received an almost daily dose of nationalistic instruction, which we swallowed as naturally as our morning milk” (Heck, 1985, p.2). This form of indoctrination was all encompassing and because it began at such an early age, it went completely uncontested. The young people had known no other rule but Hitler’s and had no history other than the one being constructed by the Nazis. There were not really opportunity for them to gain access to any information that was not controlled by the Party and so they could not formulate any critical opinions. Unlike the adults who had memories of the world pre-Hitler and so could reference other systems of thought, the young people had only Nazi doctrine.
Practice and training were essential to acquire knowledge for a young man in the Hitler Youth, “Many of the HJ activities thus centered on such topics as administration, organization, structure…” (Lisciotto, 2008). This was purposely done to train the current students to teach the future students, “The Hitler Youth created a generation that only embodied characteristics that were compatible with Nazism and emphasized the passing on of these characteristics to future generations” (The Hitler youth: sons of the Fuhrer). Knowledge was best learned at a young and vulnerable age, “Hitler was a firm believer in the need to indoctrinate Nazi ideology early and the power of young people in ensuring the continued vitality of the ‘Thousand Year Reich’” (Hein, n.d.)
During this period in Nazi Germany, the school can be seen as a factory. Although those teachings painted Hitler as a “God,” it is important to remember that the ultimate goal of learning was to create a loyal army of Nazi followers. Those who passed the necessary tests had the potential to move on to other lessons which would prepare them for service into German society. Ultimately, that act of learning and the learners themselves were merely a means to an end in the eyes of Hitler and his Nazi followers.
Hitler's Theory of Transmission
Who is to teach? By what methods? What will be the curriculum be?
On May 1, 1937 Adolf Hitler declared: “the youth of today is ever the people of tomorrow. For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age, at an age when human beings are still unperverted and therefore unspoiled. This Reich stands, and it is building itself up for the future upon its youth. And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will it take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing” (The Nizkor Project, 2009). To this end every segment of German society comprised the educational system and all people within the boundaries of the Reich, especially German youth, were perpetual students of Nazi propaganda and indoctrination. Streets were littered with Nazi propaganda, newspapers, radio broadcast, and films were controlled by the Nazis along with the school curriculum and text books. Nazis also controlled the information people had access too by censoring and destroying materials they deemed dangerous through the “purging” of libraries and bookstores. (Noakes & Pridham, 1974, p.345)
Who is to teach
The first sentence in the official instructors’ manual for high schools read: “The German school is part of the National Socialist Educational order. It is its obligation to form the national socialist personality in cooperation with the other educational powers of the nation, but by its distinctive educational means” (Wagner, 2002). In order to ensure that all teachers would abide by this mission, Bernhard Rust, the Minister of Education, reorganized the teaching body. The Nazis enacted the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service in 1937, which forced school teachers and university professors to join the National Socialist Teachers League (Wagner, 2002). The National Socialist Teacher’s League (NSTL) was established in order to ensure that all teachers were properly trained in Nazi ideology (Shirer, 1960, p. 249). In addition to this requirement, teachers also needed to provide proof that they were Aryan. Aryans were believed to be the embodiment of physical, mental, and spiritual perfection. In this way, all things of value produced within the realm of the arts, sciences, and technology were the end result of the work produced by an Aryan (Gavin, 1996). Considering this perspective, it made sense that the individuals entrusted to teach the next generation of Aryan Germans would also come from the same racially superior group.
In addition to limiting who could teach, the Nazis also controlled the curriculum that was taught in the classrooms and the materials that were used to teach that curriculum. All subjects contained a strong ideological element (German History and Literature for example) and all subjects were made to conform to the Nazi ideology (physics became "German physics", biology became "Racial science", etc). History was seen as being the most important subject. According to Wilhelm Frick, "...history stands in the foremost place among school subjects. Therefore, special attention should be given to the development of the teaching of history and the selection or production of new history books..." (Noakes & Pridham, 1974, p.352). Fear was also a common tactic utilized. Those students who did not do well in their studies were subjected to the ridicule of their peers. Those who were unable to pass the necessary tests were removed from the school system entirely. (Gavin, 1996)
Methods of Instruction
“The Hitler Youth program reflected Hitler’s distrust of intellectuals and lack of interest in intellectual pursuits. Physical, rather than mental development was stressed and outdoor activities dominated the program” (Hitler Youth, paragraph 13). The Nazis were able to secure a fairly high level of buy-in from the young people because so much of their education consisted of activities that a young person would consider enjoyable—camping, hiking, war games, and sports. Heck compares many of their activities to those of the Boy Scouts. The young people were also made to feel important and useful; they understood that they were central to the movement (Heck, 1985, p.9). Melita Maschmann, the head of the Department for Press and Propaganda for the League of German Girls highlights another important method. "It was part of the method of the National Socialist Youth leadership to arrange almost everything in the form of competitions…This constant competition introduced an element of unrest and forced activity into the life of the groups even in peacetime. It did not merely channel young people's drive for action; it also inflammed it..." (Noakes & Pridham, 1974, p.362-3).
The curriculum was made up of several different programs. The goal was to turn the young men in the Hitler Youth into competitive, strong, and loyal followers of Hitler. Those involved took part in military activities and helped the Nazis, “the basis of activities of marching, camping, games…In addition there were special programs including labor services, assisting the Gestapo, and helping with various aspects of the war effort” (Hitler Youth, paragraph 14). The Hitler Youth were not allowed to seek knowledge on their own, “Such children were also not to read any books or listen to any radio programs that might confuse them, (i.e. anything other than Hitler’s propaganda programs)” (How Did Hitler Control His Youth, paragraph 1). Since Hitler’s beliefs were the only available and the youth were kept occupied, this generation was left susceptible and vulnerable to become a loyal follower of Hitler.
Hitler’s Theory of Opportunity
Who is to be educated? Who is to be schooled?
In order to adequately discuss the theory of opportunity it is first necessary to make a distinction between what is meant by education, and what is meant by schooling. Education, within the context of Nazi German, is indoctrination which occurs across all sectors of society. Schooling, on the other had, is much more narrow construct. Schooling refers specifically to the formalized educative processes within a given society, the institutions of education.
Eugene Lyons (1940) in the American Mercury, argued that Hitler’s ideas regarding education had the primary aim of preventing those who were considered unworthy (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the handicapped, etc…) from receiving the same education as healthy Aryan Germans. Lyons highlights a quote from Mein Kempf (1944) to further illustrate this point, “Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction…There must be only one possible education for each class” (Lyons, 1940, p.143).
Who is to be educated in Nazi Germany
As the above quote from Hitler states, everyone is to be educated/ indoctrinated into Nazi ideology. The most important thing is that the education each “class” receives is to be different and the manner of education is to be different. Because all facets of Nazi society were understood as being instructional, everyone within the boundaries of the Reich was being instructed/ educated in the Nazi ideology, even those people who did not benefit from that ideology. Though non-Aryans were not allowed to be schooled they, for their own safety had to be educated in the ways of the Nazis. They, more than anyone, had to understand their place so as not to step outside of those boundaries and face punishment. This was the primary aim of the Propaganda Ministry, to ensure that all of the information made available to people, through schools, the media, radio, films, etc… were consistent with the Nazi message. Education was “ideological training” (Noakes & Pridham, 1974, p. 352), therefore, in the context of Nazi Germany, education should be understood broadly as the dissemination of Nazi ideology such that all who are within the reach of the Nazi empire are perpetual students, both Germans and non-Germans alike.
Who is to be schooled in Nazi Germany
Schooling, or who is allowed to participate in the institutions of learning is a different matter entirely. Schooling, both in the lower levels and in higher education was limited to healthy Germans. Not only were non-Germans excluded, Germans who were considered to be deficient in some way, the mentally retarded, the chronically ill, etc… were also excluded from participation. One of the major vehicles used to exclude non-Germans from the school system was the “Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools and Higher Institutions”, instituted on April 25, 1933. Article 4 of this law read in part:
The number of non-Aryan Germans, within the meaning of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, of '7 April 1933 (RGBl I, p 175), who may be admitted to schools, colleges and universities, must not exceed a number proportionate to the Aryan students in each school, college or university compared to the percentage of non-Aryans within the entire German population, This proportion is fixed uniformly for the whole Reich. (USGPO, 1946, pgs.651-652).
Though the law states that a proportion of non-Germans would be allowed to remain in the schools, in actuality, these people were barred from attending German schools. Those who were considered eligible to attend German schools were eligible, not only because they met the requirements of racial origin (Aryan), but also because they were considered physically and mentally fit. So while everyone in Nazi Germany received some manner of education/ indoctrination, only a select group (healthy Aryan Germans) were allowed to participate in formal education.
Hitler’s Theory of Consensus
Why do people disagree? How is consensus achieved? Whose opinion takes precedence?
"The world will be ruled according to the ideas of our modern democracy, or the world will be dominated according to the natural law of force; in the latter case the people of brute force will be victorious."-Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)
There seemed to be little disagreement during Nazi Germany. People where often punished and some put in concentration or extermination camps to death if they were overheard, or merely suspected of disagreeing with what the government had decided. Others were sucked into the ubiquitous Nazi propaganda machine. Children in Nazi German were especially susceptible because Nazi propaganda was taught in their schools and hey had little to no knowledge of the word outside these Nazi teachings. These factors led to a kind of total consensus.
One of the major ways that Hitler achieved consensus was through the creation of an extensive propaganda machine. “This propaganda sought to elicit political loyalty and so-called race consciousness among the ethnic German populations” (Nazi Propaganda). Hitler knew the power of propaganda in all different forms, “Following the Nazi seizure power in 1933, Hitler established a Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propagand. The Ministry's aim was to ensure that the Nazi message was successfully communicated through art, music, theater, films, books, radio, educational materials, and the press” (Nazi Propaganda).
The use of propaganda served many purposes. It not only persuaded many of the people to follow the Nazi beliefs, it led the Germans to believe that Hitler and the Nazis were helping restore Germany’s stability and power, “Propaganda also encouraged passivity and acceptance of the impending measures against Jews, as these appeared to depict the Nazi government as stepping in and “restoring order” (Nazi Propaganda).
According to Welsh (1993), consensus in Nazi Germany was not a goal that would be reached democratically but something that would be built through the use of propaganda. Additionally, the goal of Nazi propaganda was to “radically restructure German society so that the prevailing class, religious and sectional loyalties would be replaced by a new heightened national awareness” (Welsh, 1993, p. 3).
Another way that consensus is achieved is through stressing commonalities among the citizenry rather than individual differences, such that people who are different or who disagree with this common will are understood to be aberrations that must be destroyed in order to maintain the stability of the organism (School and Society, p. 3). Within Nazi Germany, therefore, a kind of natural consensus is assumed to exist amongst all Germans. The German citizenry is reified as the “Volk”, and treated as a singular entity with one mind and one body.
Germans were constantly encouraged under the Reich to see themselves as part of the Volk, to see the Volk as a greater entity, an eternal entity which would live beyond themselves and therefore be worth dying for. The need for the concept of the Volk to remain pure was also repeated: physical perfection, pure bloodlines, a return to the land as essential, and an expulsion of what was not German and therefore not of or for the 'Volk' was critical. (Best, 2003, para. 5)
This reification served, not only to create consensus and unify Germany, but also as a means for excluding all non-Germans from participating in the society. This exclusion served as a further means for uniting Germans. The collective “us” had an enemy, “them”, against which to measure and define itself. This also served as a handy mechanism for crushing opposition. Anyone who disagreed could easily be dispensed with because they were understood as posing a threat to the “Volk”. Consensus in Nazi Germany was achieved through indoctrination, censorship, force, and ultimately violence. In Nazi Germany, consensus was not simply an organizing principle or ideological stance, it was the rule.
Whose Opinion Takes Precedence
The opinion that took precedence was the only opinion available, namely that of Hitler. Hitler did his best to monopolize all avenues of communication and education. He believed that if the German people did not have anyone else to follow or anything else to believe in, they would more readily believe in Nazi ideology. As the Fuhrer, Hitler had the absolute authority to determine the terms of consensus and the consequences for failure to conform. The collective will was identical to his will.
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