The Adolf Hitler Schools

Hitler considered education of the young the key to the nation’s progressive development beyond his lifetime. In a 1937 article, SS Colonel Otto Heidler wrote that schools must now advance students “without attention to social ties, education or assessment of intellect, but according to the merits of their character.” As far as the NSDAP was concerned, universities were graduating young adults who were unfit to assume leadership positions in Germany. They largely comprised what Hitler labeled “stay-at-home types": individuals who had selfishly pursued scholastic and career objectives during the years of the party’s struggle for power. In the words of Heidler, they were “self-centered and lacking every quality of a fighting man, living their private academic life while a struggle for survival was going on throughout the entire nation."133

The NSDAP rejected any arrangement that prevented men who gave up personal ambition for the good of their country, often risking their lives, from attaining positions of leadership. During the years 1920-1933, many universities banned SA men, Hitler Youth leaders and NSDAP members, a substantial percentage of whom were combat veterans of World War I, from enrolling or teaching. “While they all supported the movement, others sat in their seminars and institutions, devoting themselves to their special field and profession.... They want to impress us with their knowledge. And we reply to them, you lack the basis for any sort of wisdom, and that is character."134 Hitler himself wrote, “Every year, hundreds of thousands of completely untalented persons are blessed with a higher education, while hundreds of thousands of others with superior ability remain without any advanced schooling. The loss to the nation cannot be overestimated."135

The Führer argued that it was not the function of the state “to preserve the controlling influence of an existing class of society. Instead, it is the state’s duty to draw the most capable minds from the sum of all the citizens and bring them to public office and rank.” He noted that the United States enjoys success in science and technology “because a greater number of talented individuals from among the lower strata find possibilities for a higher education than is the case in Europe."136 By National Socialist perception, a primary task of education was to train every young adult in an occupation. The class of unskilled labor was to disappear because members of the younger generation without a trade or profession lack character.

The German Labor Front launched the annual Reich’s Career Competition in 1934. Half a million boys and girls, 80 percent of whom possessed but a rudimentary education, displayed their skills in trades and crafts. The best-scoring contestants received financial grants to pursue higher learning. An awards ceremony took place in Berlin, where national winners posed for photographs with Ley and Hitler. Schacht, who opposed the allotment of state funds to advance the lower classes, demonstratively declined Hitler’s invitation to attend the function. Local and regional competitions broadened the percentage of winners and further publicized the program. The number of children taking part grew annually. In 1938, 949,120 girls and 1,537,373 boys competed. The DAF awarded RM 527,000 in scholarships that year.137

To further develop the trade knowledge of the younger generation, the government sponsored Langemarck Schools. These institutions recruited youngsters from labor and rural backgrounds. The academies initially suffered a shortage of qualified instructors. They were nonetheless another step toward Hitler’s ambition, “that in this realm we are paving the way for every single able mind... toward the loftiest station in life he wants to aim for, just so long as he is capable, energetic and determined."138 Years before assuming power, Hitler had advocated building a leadership cadre for the future of Germany. Devotion to one’s nation was as important as the ability to command. He wanted to prevent aloofness or any elitist tendency from forming among those trained to be tomorrow’s leaders. The problem of developing a program to select and prepare candidates fell to Ley. He first proposed establishing boarding schools with a three-year curriculum in several German townships. Upon graduation, students demonstrating the desired qualities would advance to regional boarding schools for another three years. From here, “the most capable, racially best and physically healthiest” students would enroll in the NSDAP’s prestigious Ordensburg academies.139 In October 1936, Ley signed an agreement with the minister of education, Dr. Bernhard Rust, authorizing the party’s direct involvement in the national school system. The contract allowed the NSDAP to establish boarding schools, the Reich’s Ministry of Education reserving the right to select faculty.

Ley finalized the form of the future boarding schools after deliberations with Reich’s Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach. Violating the contract with Rust, Ley excluded the unprogressive minister from further involvement. The labor leader enjoyed sufficient influence—and the DAF ample funds—to fashion a collateral school system that became virtually autonomous. It developed an independent curriculum and graduation requirements not conforming to state standards, and it established its own academy for training faculty. With the Führer’s permission, Ley named the ten institutions planned for Germany the Adolf Hitler Schools (AHS). Supplemental funding from the Reich’s treasury eventually allowed the addition of two more schools. The AHS boarding schools tested twelve year-olds nominated by the NSDAP district leadership. Candidates passing the entrance exam entered a six-year course. The operation of the Adolf Hitler Schools offers insight into the personal qualities National Socialism sought to cultivate in Germany’s future leaders.

In December 1936, Schirach announced the founding of the new boarding schools. He appointed the 25 year-old Kurt Petter inspector of the academies. Max Klüver, also 25, designed the curriculum. The policy of recruiting young Hitler Youth leaders as instructors bypassed the Reich’s Ministry of Education’s technical authority to fill teaching positions. Accepting input from colleagues, Klüver developed a program free of official influence. The tight target date for opening the first Adolf Hitler School--April 15, 1937--precluded a thorough selection process for choosing students.

Unlike conventional universities, the recruitment process, reflected in the content of the entrance exam, did not focus primarily on mental aptitude. As Klüver explained, “We were not against the intellect or intelligence, but against the one-sided intellectual person who had neglected character and physical prowess, who lacked will power, decisiveness and a sense of responsibility. The colorless, indecisive and weak, the poorly grounded and irresponsible intellectual type we didn't want. Against overvalue of the intellect we set the total person, of which the intellect was of course an integral component."140

In designing the AHS entrance exam, the faculty hoped to assess independence of judgment, ingenuity, rapid comprehension, retention, improvisation, ability to concentrate, and imagination rather than pure knowledge. They sought the most talented youngsters from throughout Germany without Hitler’s usual preference for working class families. One brochure stated, “It is a popular misconception that the Adolf Hitler Schools are schools for the poor, for people of lesser means who would otherwise never be able to send their sons to institutions of higher learning. It should be emphasized that the Adolf Hitler Schools were not developed for a particular class in society. They are schools for the best, worthiest and most capable boys from among the German nation."141Teachers were aware however, that the quality of education among poorer sections of the population left some young talent undiscovered. Grading of the entrance exam took this into account. It permitted a relatively greater proportion of sons of artisans, laborers and farmers in the boarding schools than was the case in other institutions.

Instructors seldom allowed political considerations to compromise the selection of students. Despite considerable pressure and an intense confrontation with the district NSDAP leadership, Klüver himself refused to induct the son of a senior party official into an Adolf Hitler School because the boy had low test scores. By contrast, Werner Lamberz, enrolled at the Weimar AHS, was the son of a Communist who was imprisoned in a concentration camp.142

The curriculum of the AHS cultivated leadership qualities among students as its goal. It avoided courses designed to pile up knowledge that required substantial study time and was soon forgotten. This conformed to Hitler’s definition of education’s objective, which should be “to train young minds to be receptive to new ideas, and to develop powers of reasoning and observation."143 History classes focused on a selection of more significant events that had a decisive influence on the advance of civilization rather than on a detailed chronology of the past.

The program required students to work together in study groups. Each assigned one participant as a devil’s advocate to stimulate the discussions. Teachers circulated among the groups taking part in debates. The group grade influenced the scores of individual students. This practice promoted teamwork. It prevented conceit and helped pupils learn to evaluate opposing arguments, prioritize group performance over personal advancement, and work systematically to realize common objectives.

Though sanctioning customary patriotism, Adolf Hitler Schools did not indoctrinate those enrolled in excessive, dogmatic nationalism. Students broadened their understanding and tolerance of other cultures through the course, “A Look at the World.” The purpose was to explore the political and economic circumstances of other countries, their current events and the mentality of their people. Foreign language studies and class field trips abroad supplemented the instruction. Teachers assigned each student a country that he had to become thoroughly knowledgeable about. He then shared his expertise in classroom discussion.

The open-minded attitude nurtured by AHS students contradicted the chauvinistic tendency prevalent among much of the NSDAP hierarchy. Reviewing essays by members of the first graduating class, Schirach and Ley were shocked to discover the seniors' ignorance of the National Socialist party program. Racial hygiene also played no role in the study plan.144 This circumstance contradicted Hitler’s order, “No boy or girl shall leave school without being basically instructed in the practical necessity of maintaining the purity of our blood."145

The training academy for AHS faculty also remained largely free from the influence of the NSDAP. The practice of filling teaching positions with young men eliminated the type of career educator who gradually distanced himself from the vitality and spirit of the younger generation after decades of academic routine. AHS directives required the instructor to arrange social and recreational activities for individual student groups in his charge during free time. “He must energetically urge them to learn to shrug off mistakes and overcome weaknesses. But he must also remain cheerful and always ready to be at their side with friendly advice and help.... He must be a model companion, selfless, sincere and fair. Only then will he be able to acquire the necessary authority without which no leader can exist."146

Once a week, instructors worked with their class on assignments. One afternoon each week, teachers and pupils participated in a sporting competition together as well as singing. Conventional precepts governing student-faculty relations were not in evidence at the Adolf Hitler Schools. Instructors relied on the standard they set, rather than on the pupil’s constrained respect for the office, to maintain authority. Klüver wrote later, “There were few boarding schools in which such camaraderie and mutual trust existed between educator and student as in the AHS, not the least of which was due to the example of the instructor."147

Physical education played a significant role in the AHS. Hitler had often stressed fitness as necessary for young people to become decisive, responsible and determined. The AHS program stated, “Competitive sports . . . (and) skiing or flying in gliders are most important for strengthening the will and learning to endure hardships."148 During the first years, students devoted approximately ten hours per week to physical education and sports. For fifth year students, it was eight hours. Even during wartime, there was minimal paramilitary or weapons training in the curriculum. Instead, the schools strove to cultivate a soldierly bearing in the pupils using the military values of inner confidence, facing adversity, enduring privation and summoning courage. Natural athletes did not necessarily receive the highest marks. Students whom instructors felt achieved the most within the framework of their estimated abilities—hence attained the higher level of self-mastery--better satisfied school objectives.

Most AHS instructors identified National Socialism’s “one people, one leader” concept with the person of Hitler himself. None of his potential successors in the party and state hierarchy possessed the Führer’s commanding, charismatic presence. Germany’s future political structure, in the opinion of the AHS faculty, should therefore be an oligarchy: a select stratum where membership would be determined not by social, economic or intellectual standing, but by personal leadership qualities and devotion to country. The schools did not want to graduate automatons that blindly conformed to the party line. One period newspaper article stated, “At the Adolf Hitler Schools, those character-forming forces are at work which we need for our times. They do not however, suppress the particular nature of the individual... but nurture and strengthen it, in this way enabling the boys to mature into independent thinking, decisive personalities."149

While designed to help students develop self-confidence and realize their potential, lesson plans incorporated elements intended to preclude feelings of self-importance. Difficult classroom assignments with weekly due dates required close cooperation and mutual dependency among members of individual study groups. The AHS athletic program’s emphasis on team competition taught the boys that no one person matters more than the whole. On the sports field as well as in the classroom, individual pupils alternately assumed the role of team and study captains. They then rejoined the group in subordinate roles after temporary command. Field trips to mines, factories and farms combated isolation or aloofness, reminding students that the exclusive boarding school status does not divide them from the German people and the realities of their daily existence. In contrast to other boarding schools, the AHS provided no distinctive uniform for its pupils. This measure also prevented feelings of superiority.

Another departure from what was customary at similar institutions was the attention to family ties during the school year. An AHS brochure described how student-parent relations are “arranged by the school to remain as intimate as possible, to instill in the boy values that may be realized only through family life."150 The AHS Tilsit newsletter described parents as belonging to an expanded circle of those empowered to educate the child. “They have in no sense lost their boy when enrolling him the Adolf Hitler School. In full confidence in us, they instead entrust only a part of his education to the educator. It is our wish that the boy should remain rooted in his parents' house and to his homeland. A youth who forgets his home is without roots and unsuitable for us as well.” The article also defined “close cooperation between parents and instructors” as “absolutely essential for the education and evaluation of the individual lad."151 Instructors often visited the families of their students during holidays.

The AHS advocated ongoing parental influence as part of the policy to train its pupils to become wholesome, responsible young adults. The curriculum targeted development in three inter-related areas: mind, body and spirit. Regarding mental aptitude, it was the goal of the schools not to stuff the student’s head with information, but to accustom him to working hard, expediting assignments systematically, and practicing sound judgment. The AHS’s uncompromising commitment to physical education, conducive to general health and well-being, promoted self-confidence and taught classmates to subordinate self-interest and act as a team. The program’s spiritual element aimed at producing independent self-starters, prepared to accept and exercise authority, to feel responsible for their actions, and to nurture humility as well as reverence for their people and their country. All elements worked together to shape the individuals envisioned to become Germany’s future leadership caste. Though school officials hoped for graduates to choose a career in civil service, there was no pressure on them to do so. The Adolf Hitler Schools sought not to master Germany’s most promising young adults, but to teach them to master themselves.

This method of education represented a significant departure from liberalism’s practice. In order to provide equal opportunities for advancement for underachievers, the democratic state often devotes greater resources to their schooling than to that of those exhibiting superior ability. The leveling off process corresponds to the liberal principle that rejects natural ranking among individuals based on talent and personal initiative. In Germany, by contrast, certain academic institutions assigned priority to developing the potential of more gifted students. Parallel instruction in communal responsibility was supposed to insure that training such personalities for leadership roles would be of service to all.

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