Published Date

December 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 26: Can the Germans Be Re-educated? (1945)

When the German army was dissolved in 1918 and the soldiers and their officers had to take up civil occupations, a large group were unable to adjust themselves to normal life. They joined the secret military societies whose members assassinated such leaders of the leftist and liberal parties as Walter Rathenau, minister of foreign affairs, and one of the most constructive of modern thinkers and statesmen. When the National Socialist Party rose to power these men were Hitler’s vanguard. They trained his brown shirts and black shirts. They used their previous military training for the elimination of opposing groups and for the total control of Germany. They also formed the link between the Nazis and the professional army.

Now, after twelve years of Hitlerism—six of those years in military service for many of the German veterans—the difficult of readjustment will be still greater. The main problem will be to give the men work and food. Of work there will probably be enough, provided there is sufficient raw material and some kind of inner peace. For, unless a gigantic rebuilding program is started, about one-third of the German population will be forced to live in shanties and to get their food from public kitchens.

But as man does not live on bread alone, so he does not live on work alone. If he is a German he will want to have some explanation for the defeats he has gone through. Like other men he needs some understanding of the conditions which make him happy and unhappy, and he also needs something to lift himself above the daily routine.


The same but different

Most methods for satisfying these needs in adults will be similar to those used in the re-education of youth: pamphlets for general enlightenment, radio, movies, television, athletic sports, and as much active participation in the arts as possible. Generally speaking, active participation instead of passive acceptance will be the deciding factor in the success of adult re-education.

Fortunately there will still be people who took part in the adult education movement of the democratic era. The tendency of this movement was to replace the old lecture method by roundtable discussions and by seminars which required thorough and constant cooperation on the part of the learner. Many of the students were the best type of German worker; there are signs that despite all Nazi pressure they have not forgotten their traditions.

There were also Volkshochschulheime (literally “folk high school homes”) on the Danish and Swedish pattern. These were schools situated in the country where adult students lived for a period of three to six months. Most of these schools were strongly democratic in character. Whether they can be revived in some modified form will depend on the general development of Germany. But sometimes the will toward a better education develops most strongly under the worst conditions.

The trade unions destroyed by the Hitler system showed from their very beginning an intense interest in the intellectual improvement of the working class. The most important of these associations were the socialist and the Christian, especially the Catholic trade unions. The socialist trade unions derived their views about society mainly from the teachings of Karl Marx, though, in contrast to the communists, in a very moderate and essentially democratic form. The Christian trade unions emphasized the principles of Christianity as the best means to overcome the conflict of classes and to fight the evils of industrial exploitation and competition. If the trade unions are received in one or the ether form they will presumably take up their educational tradition again.

What role will the churches play?

Both Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany can show an honor roll with the names of many martyrs persecuted by the Nazis, though the honor roll of the leftist parties is much longer. Both churches could have fought harder than they did against Hitler’s nationalist and imperialist tendencies. They criticized him mainly for his religious and racial persecutions, less for his wars of conquest. Nevertheless, in hours of danger and shame they have been a source of strength for the decent German.

The churches, perhaps more than any other organization, will be able to re-establish international contacts and help with relief work. And they will be concerned with the education of their people just as much as schools, though by different means. After the surrender, the services and sermons of some of them gave the first encouraging signs of German repudiation of Nazism and its deeds.

Should an international office of education be created?

In 1942 the British Council, which is- the agency of the British government responsible for cultural relations with other countries, called together the ministers of education of the governments which had to take refuge in England while their own countries were occupied. The negotiations first centered around the educational problems likely to confront the occupied countries after their liberation.

The Conference of Allied Ministers of Education invited the United States government to participate in its deliberations. The invitation was accepted, and an American delegation went to London.

Several important commissions have developed out of this conference. All are concerned with the establishment of sound cultural and educational conditions in the various war-stricken countries. There is a commission on basic school equipment, one on scientific and laboratory equipment, one on books and periodicals, one on films and visual aids, and one on the protection and restitution of cultural materials.

Also, in connection with the work of the conference, a plan long cherished by American and other democratic educators may materialize. This is the establishment of a permanent international office for educational and cultural relations.

It is said that such an office could serve as a center in the study of international cultural relations, advise governments on the organization of schools and the methods of teaching in other countries, promote the exchange of students, teachers, publications, and cultural materials.

Such an office could also be of great help in building bridges between the United Nations and their former enemies. But like all education, it could succeed only if the attitude and cultural atmosphere in the participating nations themselves are favorable to international cooperation. All education is an equilibrium between influence from outside and response from within. An international office of education might spread the most admirable suggestions about international cooperation, but if there were no response from within the individual nations, its labor would be in vain.

Next section: Can Conditions for Re-Education Be Established?