EM 26: Can the Germans Be Re-educated? (1945)

By Robert Ulich
Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education
(Published December 1945)



How Did the Germans Get That Way?

  • Before there was a Germany
  • The dream of unity
  • The rising star of the Hohenzollerns
  • Prussian aggrandizement
  • Liberal hopes vs. Bismarckian realism
  • World War I and its aftermath
  • Decisive defeat this time
  • And then what?

Are There Factors Favorable to Re-Education?

  • Leadership in education
  • Religion and materialism
  • How Did Hitler Bring Out the Worst in Germany?
  • The Nazi conquest of Germany
  • Nazi ideology
  • How shall we judge the Germans?

Will Postwar Germany Want to Be Re-Educated?

  • Unwelcome conquerors
  • The heavy task
  • The goal of re-education
  • The limits of education

Who Should Teach in Germany’s Schools—and What?

  • The former teachers
  • The dilemma
  • Can foreign teachers be used?
  • Or refugees?

What Kind of Textbooks?

  • Modern means of education

Is Formal Education the Only Way to Re-Education?

  • Is relief instead of re-education the real task?
  • The arts

Can Adult Germans Be Re-Educated?

  • The same but different
  • What role will the churches play?
  • Should an international office of education be created?

Can Conditions for Re-Education Be Established?

To the Discussion Leader

  • How do you get people interested?
  • What type of discussion is best?
  • Can the discussion leader get other aids?
  • Questions for discussion

For Further Reading


The re-education of [the German] ... people may be difficult indeed.... For the victors to rely upon force alone would be futile. Any order, which hopes to survive, must ultimately appeal to the minds of men. Harry S. Truman, January 29, 1945

Hitler's REICH was to last a thousand years. It lasted twelve years and three months. Amid its ruins and ashes the Four Powers-the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and France-are now carrying forward certain policies.

First among them is that Germany must be deprived of the means of making war. The most obvious way to make sure that Germany never again starts a world conflict is to see that Germany is stripped of arms.

That, in the long-time view, is a negative kind of policy. It requires enforcement and supervision from the outside. It presumes that the Germans will always want to break loose if they can get their hands on weapons, and therefore it requires either permanent military occupation of Germany or very close supervision coupled with the constant threat of occupation.

No American can examine this policy without immediately sensing that it is alien both to our deep dislike of ruling other people against their will and to our equally deep dislike of keeping an army of occupation in Europe any longer than necessary.

For us, occupation as long, as necessary means only until the Germans no longer hunger for domination and war. That, in turn, means a fundamental change in the outlook of the German people. It means their re-education to be good citizens-and to want to be good citizens-in a peaceful and orderly world.

In the long-time view, all policies that do not contribute to the achievement of this positive purpose will be open to challenge. But before we turn away from the purely negative aim of keeping the Germans from trying aggression again we have to know if a positive aim will succeed. Will we be sorry some day if we build on the hope that a future Germany, chastened and peaceful, can ask for readmittance to the family of nations? Must we forever fear and suppress them, or can the Germans be re-educated?