The Swastika of a Nazi Childhood:
The First Symbol of Victimization


By Rebecca Phillips
Lakeland, Florida


 

 

"We are nothing. Mankind is all. By the grace of our brothers are we allowed our lives. We exist through, by, and for our brothers who are the State. Amen" (Rand 16). This prayer voices the creed of a fictional people, but its philosophy has become the battle cry of very real societies, and the results have proven disastrous. One such tragedy takes form in the Holocaust of World War II.

Without a doubt the Holocaust claimed countless victims: Jews, Poles, Gypsies, disabled, religious, political, and social dissidents. Most students of the past ignore, however, the primary victims of the Nazi movement -- the German children caught in the very center of the collectivist fervor. The German people gain very little sympathy because of their obvious role in the perpetration of the Holocaust, but attention must be given to their motivation.

Ordinary, intelligent human beings grew into blind peons of the state, and frighteningly ruthless and efficient killers, through the misdirected powers of state education. To understand this transformation better, one must examine the Nazi teachings and the students subjected to it, as well as the philosophy and goals behind the curriculum, and the degree of effectiveness it obtained. The results are sobering not only because of their thoroughness, but because of their performance. The historical process of Nazi indoctrination serves as a solemn example of the power of education to not just one generation or one society, but for many generations to come.

Hitler understood the principle that a child begins to take in his or her surroundings from the moment of birth, so the most effective education should begin as soon in a child's life as possible. For this reason the Nazi Party, through the National Socialist Welfare Organization (NSV), interested itself in prospective students even before they were born, encouraging Aryan women to have children in or out of wedlock. Young mothers expecting illegitimate children were welcomed to luxurious state-run homes where they awaited the birth of their contribution to Nazism. The babies were then brought up as children of the state (Ziemer 32). These and other certified Aryan youngsters attended a daycare or preschool until they turned six, when the boys and girls separated into their respective schools. A young boy became a pimpf, or "little fellow" until he reached the age of ten, when he was initiated into the Jungvolk. When he turned fourteen he again advanced to become a full-fledged member of the Hitler Youth, a sort of secondary army, until he joined the regular army at eighteen. The young girls became Jungmaedel (young girls) until they reached fourteen, when they joined the Bund Deutscher Maedel (BDM), or League of German Girls, until the age of twenty-one. At each stage of development all children bearing the swastika must undergo an evaluation determining his or her potential and achievement. "The Nazi schools are no place for weaklings... schools are proving-grounds for the Party. Those who betray any weakness of body or have not the capacities for absolute obedience and submission must be expelled" (Ziemer 15). Teachers spared little mercy for those who did not meet the requirements.

The curriculum Nazi schools taught cannot be found in a textbook, as they did not use textbooks, but one can draw a fairly accurate picture through witnesses' accounts and from the official teachers' handbook. Dr. Bernard Rust compiled the Nazi philosophy and educational methods into a manual whose title roughly translates Education and Instruction, Official Publication of the Reich and Prussian Ministry of Knowledge, Education, and National Culture. "Compared with the educational methods in any country in Europe, Asia, or South America, the theories promulgated in the first twenty-two pages of this book are unique in spirit, content, and presentation" (Ziemer 15). The book outlines a schedule emphasizing primarily physical education, and including only those academics deemed important to the making of a "good Nazi." The boys learned German, biology, science, mathematics, and history. The girls learned little besides eugenics and home economics-- they served solely to bare and raise children for the Party (Ziemer 16). All academic classes had to be flexible to include new Party-sanctioned views as they arose. For example, first the Russians were enemies of the state, then they became allies, and then enemies once again. Eugenics courses reflected such fluctuation carefully. Geography classes studied parts of Europe as they became significant in the war, while students concentrated on trajectory angles in mathematics and explosives in chemistry. Everything the teachers taught had some bearing in the war; all other information considered useless. Of course, physical education claimed preeminence, and Party celebrations and activities always held first priority over academics.

Hitler fully recognized the importance of the upcoming generation and realized what an incredible influence education has on young, impressionable minds. "Once the Nazis came into power in January 1933, they began the reforms that took one of the greatest educational systems in Europe and turned it into a factory system, turning out future defenders of the Reich..."( Ball and Heinz). The Reich resembled a colony of ants, fueled by menial workers pouring out of the schools. "The Fuehrer has decreed that the schools are to be the nucleus of the Party. The Fuehrer has decreed that the children must belong to him... that boys and girls must not be educated in the same schools, since boys will become soldiers and girls will be mothers of soldiers" (Ziemer 9). The schools did not hold forth even the pretension of educating to empower the children, but blatantly declared that their purpose was only to mold them into ideal servants of the Nazi regime. "The fundamental principle to keep in mind is that we are not striving to inculcate as much knowledge as possible into the minds of our students. If students have learned to submit to authority, if they have developed a willingness to fit into that particular niche chosen for them by the Party, then their education has been successful" (Ziemer 21). The schools maintained very careful conditions to achieve this goal. They made sure that the children were constantly exposed to Nazi doctrine and loyalty from the time they first opened their eyes to gaze on the world. The only books available to students were Nazi-authored volumes dripping with the glory of the Nazi party, and only the most thoroughly impassioned Nazis could obtain positions as teachers. The Nazi swastika haunted their vision, plastered everywhere from the bands on their arms to the classroom walls to the covers of their books. One woman recalls a class of Jungmaedel. "'My friends are German,' exclaimed the teacher, Frau Braun, at the top of her voice. With the class of nine-year-olds shrieking back her words, she continued to yell out, 'Gypsies and Jews are not German! Gypsies and Jews are not my friends!' I saw my usually mild-mannered teacher change drastically before my eyes when she started reciting this Nazi propaganda lesson" ("Section VIII. Discrimination against children and in schools"). During school hours the children sat under pointedly racial teaching and learned the art of war. After school and on weekends they played organized, compulsory "games," acting out mock battles and spy campaigns, so that they spent every waking moment steeped in Nazi propaganda.

The methods and principles of the Nazi educational system, undeniably heinous as they are, become even more frightening when one examines just how effective they have proven. The children, unacquainted with any other outlook, emulated the Aryan furor with the enthusiasm unique to the young. When questioned about their ambitions in life, the young boys would unabashedly announce that they would serve the Fuehrer, go to Paris and drop bombs, shoot the ugly Englishmen, and save Germany from the evil Jews. Their morals were so distorted by "scientific" racial lessons that they could feel no guilt for killing their "inferiors"; it was only their duty. Girls also took in their lessons in eugenics and motherhood. Encouraged by the Party's call for more Aryan children, they displayed a fierce pride for illegitimate pregnancies and attacked all who dared to protest this immorality. Watching these children absorb the demented views of their teachers prompted one witness to write, "All children are defenseless receptacles, waiting to be filled with wisdom or venom by their parents and educators. We who were born into Nazism never had a chance unless our parents were brave enough to resist the tide and transmit their opposition to their children" (Goldhagen 597). Such parents were few and even then the government could, and often did, intervene and remove children from homes where the swastika was not revered.

The legacy of collectivism and methodical racism continues to influence Nazi children and Germany today. While many of the German students died in battle as Hitler destined them to, many others survived, and still bear the burden of hate fifty years after the Holocaust. These survivors have taught the next generation the doctrines of racial collectivism and the curse lives on, and will live on until the cycle is broken. Today neo-Nazi groups patterned after the original Hitler regime are springing up in Germany and all over the world (Eaton). Over 70,000 Skinheads in thirty-three countries and six continents still bear the swastika ("ADL Survey Analyzes Neo-Nazi Skinhead Menace and International Connections"). Anti-Semitic hate crimes abound, and the "scientific" basis for discrimination is hard to dispel. Germany still faces the challenge of undoing such deeply imbedded damage. "...The reconstruction of German education meant that the Germans had to overcome both physical and spiritual devastation" (Hobbes). The few scholars who survived the Nazi era untainted by its hate struggle to build a new society out of its ashes.

State education in Nazi Germany serves as a sobering example of how individuals can be trained into servile beasts and how deeply one generation can affect the rest of the world. Aryan children taught the principles and means of war and soaked in Nazi propaganda fulfilled both the needs of the Nazi government to achieve its purposes, and the assurance the Nazism will continue beyond the Third Reich. Thus to the list of the triangles, badges, and stars the Nazis used to identify their victims, one might also add the bold swastika every Aryan child was forced to wear. "There is no proposal outrageous enough but what its author can get a respectful hearing and approbation if he claims that in some undefined way it is for 'the common good’" (Rand vii). Every generation must learn from the German tragedy to revere the individual being above any external bonds or bodies. All nations must learn to count their children as sacred and use education not to subdue, but to empower and liberate, for the future, indeed, rests in the hands of the youth.

 

Works Cited

"ADL Survey Analyzes Neo-Nazi Skinhead Menace and International Connections." Office of International Criminal Justice. Vol. 12 No. 5. The University of Illinois at Chicago. 23 March, 1999. <http://oicj.acsp.uic.edu/spearmint/public/pubs/cji/ 12/05/02.cfm>

Ball, Alan and Kevin Heinz. "Nazi Schools." History 338: Hitler's Germany. Condordia Collage. 23 March, 1999. <http://www.cord.edu/homepages/krheinz/ paper1.htm>.

Eaton, Rick. "Facism SWC.oprep." 23 March, 1999. <http://metalab.unc.edu/pub/ academic/political-science/fascism/SWC/SWC.oprep>.

Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah. Hitler's Willing Executioners. 8th ed. New York: Random House, Inc., 1996.

Hobbes, Howard. "Higher Education in Nazi Germany: DeNazification Reexamined." The Daily Republican. Vol. 175 No. 8 1. The Daily Republican Newspaper. 23 March, 1999. <http://www.dailyrepublican.com/nazi-higher-ed.html>.

Rand, Ayn. Anthem. New York: Penguin Books. 1995.

"Section VIII. Discrimination against children and in schools." A Documented Reference Guide to Intolerance & Discrimination Against the Scientology Community in Germany Today. The Human Rights Department of the Church of Scientology International. 23 March, 1999. <http://hatewatch.freedommag.org/press/eng/gen/dscr/page33.htm>.

Ziemer, Gregor. Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi. New York: Oxford University Press, 1941.

 


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Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.


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