Nazism in the Classroom

In the first of our mini-series on the Nazis and social culture, Lisa Pine looks at how lessons in the classroom were perverted in the service of the Third Reich.

Whilst most governments seek, or have sought, to imbue their nation's youth with correct values and ideals, these regimes of an authoritarian nature have attempted to do so with greater thoroughness – in part, to create a consensus for their rule and ideology. This is clearly demonstrated, for example, by the way in which Mussolini's regime reformed the education system in Italy, introduced state textbooks and set up youth organisations in order to instil Italian youth with Fascist ideology.

In Austria, too, the clerico-fascist regime of 1934-38 attempted to inculcate its beliefs in Austrian youth by similar means. But perhaps the most striking example of this type of youth manipulation (through ideological 'education' was the Nazi regime, which introduced sweeping reforms into the German school system, reinforced by the activities of its youth groups, the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. It went so far as to utilise school textbooks as propaganda tools, with which to disseminate its ideology.

The socialisation of youth was already a prominent part of educational activity during the nineteenth century; when the publishers of children's literature and textbooks clearly recognised that they could be used to shape a child's view of the world by disseminating social values. Story books, as well as history books, were used to diffuse positive social values, but also more negatively to disseminate racist values by means of stereotyping, with such tales as The Story of little Black Sambo (1899). Racial stereotyping in school books was based upon distorted generalisations, as well as pseudo-scientific and religious justifications, and was reinforced by the use of vivid descriptions and illustrations. This kind of indoctrination was seized upon eagerly by the Nazi government.

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