Museum Fellowship Book Reviews
Anti-Semitism and Schooling Under the Third Reich
Wegner’s work is part of the “Studies in the History of Education” series edited by Edward R. Beauchamp. The book represents a solid analysis of various curriculum trends in German schools during the National Socialist period. It opens with a background chapter on the foundation of Nazi educational philosophy. Ideas on racism (Chamberlain, Gobineau), Volkish thinking (Lagarde and Langbehn), and racial anti-Semitism (Guenther) are dealt with along with the ideas of Nazis such as Hitler, Streicher, and Rosenberg.
A significant chapter is devoted to the Jewish Question. Primary contributors to Third Reich curriculum on this subject were Ernst Dober, a professor of “Rassenkunde” (racial science); Werner Dietrich, the NSLB (National Socialist Teachers Federation) specialist on race education and Jewish stereotypes; and Fritz Fink, a Schulrat (school inspector) who added a religious dimension to the question and was a strong advocate for the integration of Rassenkunde throughout all curricular subjects.
The final chapters take some major school subjects in turn and outline the foundational work on curriculum in those areas related to anti-Semitism. First is the subject of Race Hygiene and Biology. The theoretical framework was drawn up by Paul Brohmer. Alfred Vogel’s primary contribution was in the form of a series of teaching charts: visuals, text, and statistics that combined to instill anti-Semitism into the minds and lives of 7th and 8th year students. One curriculum expert who added the Sinti and Roma to the list of dangerous enemies was Ferdinand Rossner, whose work is permeated with Social Darwinism.
Wegner then turns his attention to history and geography. Great attention is given to the “New History” that was solidified with the establishment in Berlin of the Reich Institute for the History of New Germany. Not surprisingly, the Jewish Question became the centerpiece of the new falsified history. Jews, according to the curriculum work of Richard Eichenauer, Dieter Klagges, Hans Warneck, and Willi Matschke, had a destructive influence on humankind going back to ancient Roman times. They gradually gained economic influence and were currently the most destructive force in modern Germany, according to Nazi education experts. Among the strangest falsehoods that became National Socialist “fact” was the idea that Jesus was really Nordic! Geography curricula were re-written to focus on environmental influence on race and especially on the German need for Lebensraum.
Anti-Semitism in children’s literature provides the focus for Wegner’s final chapter. First analyzed is the work of Ernst Hiemer, who worked closely with the Der Stuermer publishing house of Julius Streicher. Der Giftpilz (the poison mushroom) and Der Pudelmopsdachelpinscher (the poodle-pug-dachshund-pinscher) represent economic and physical stereotypes, Christian anti-Semitism, the importance of racial purity, and even charges of sexual perversion in visual and fairy tale form. Elvira Bauer likewise demonized Jews through her illustrated work, Trau keinem Fuchs (Trust No Fox). Finally, Wegner turns his attention to the role played by Phillip Bouhler, a top Nazi in the Chancellery who reviewed educational materials and even wrote a book, The Struggle for Germany: A Reader for German Youth.
This book’s title is misleading. A more accurate title might have been Major Anti-Semitic Curriculum Influences on Elementary Schools Under the Third Reich. Nowhere does Wegner discuss what was actually taught in German classrooms. His domain is the broad one of individual curriculum writers. Similarly, he largely ignores the precise content of textbooks that were actually read by German students. And what was taught to students above the 8th grade is left out entirely. The book, this reader feels, raises more questions than it answers.
The author alludes to educational policy confusion at the highest levels of government. Since we know that this is how the Hitler government operated in general, it is no surprise that Bouhler, Rust, von Schirach, Ley, Streicher, and Rosenberg all competed for prominence when it came to brainwashing German youth. Yet Wegner never hits the target cleanly and delineates just what curricular directives were ultimately given. What exactly were teachers required to teach? This, to me, is a central question that demands an answer. The reader is informed, moreover, in multiple sections that there was no uniform curriculum until 1938-39. Why not, if, as the author suggests, influencing the young generation was such a high priority for the Nazi regime? Again, questions are raised but not answered.
Anti-Semitism and Schooling is, unfortunately, marred by numerous technical mistakes. Paul Warneck is Paul Warnecke in another place in the book. Did Alfred Vogel produce 71 or 73 teaching charts? Both figures are given. The famous nineteenth century forgery is at one point described as “The Elders of the Protocols of Zion.” And the title of Elvira Bauer’s hateful fairytale book is mistranslated.
Wegner’s bibliography is impressive and he has clearly done a mountain of work with primary documents in German and Israeli archives. The book is, moreover, well organized and, with the exception of some irritating proof reading errors, well written. One attractive feature is the insertion of eight color plates that deal with illustrations referred to in the text.
I learned a great deal from this book. It is a fine analysis of some of the most important forces influencing Nazi educational theory and curriculum development. The title, though, led me to expect something considerably different and I will read more to answer the questions raised by
Anti-Semitism and Schooling Under the Third Reich. I still recommend it to