Published Date

December 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

Textbooks will not play the same decisive role they do in the typical American school. Of course the Nazi textbooks with their insidious propaganda and their application of the doctrines of Hitlerism to every mathematical, scientific, or social problem will have to be replaced. They may become a cause of shame and a target of ridicule anyhow.

But what is to be done before the new textbooks are available? And who is going to write them?

The Nazis burned pre-Hitler textbooks whenever they laid hands oil them. Fortunately there were copies in this country which could be and have been shipped to Germany, revised, and reprinted for the lower grades. Where such pre-Nazi texts are not available teachers will have to use more general sources of information and organize their classes without the he1p of any textbook. In earlier times the good German teacher was supposed to be independent of such devices anyhow. That is a major reason why the teacher in Germany was so important and influential.

Why not use German textbooks prepared in foreign countries, especially in the United States?

This problem has been long in the minds of educators, particularly of refugees from Germany. It is difficult to foresee whether the textbooks prepared by some of them will be accepted by the Germans. The books would be imposed lay external authority, and therefore probably read with a feeling of resentment. Every German teacher could produce such a feeling in his children simply by an occasional remark that the new textbook was “prefabricated” for them while they were being bombed.

Great care will have to be taken that such hostile attitudes do not arise. One suggestion has been made to prepare the textbooks outside of Germany and send the manuscripts to cooperative German teachers for discussion. This might give them the sense that they have participated in the process and that the books they use have not been foisted upon them.

Textbooks in history and literature raise another and rather difficult problem. Every nation, in every period of its existence, writes history anew, so to speak. That means that its own particular experiences, the hopes it cherishes for the future, the ideals it believes in, and the economic and social organization it has or wishes to have, color its historical viewpoints.

The Germans; as we have seen, have no clear historical outlook. The : past is gone, together with happiness and property. What will be the future? Democratic? Communistic? A new kind of internationally tolerated fascism? Each case would demand a different history. Certain features of the past would be condemned in each, others favored. Certain possibilities for the future would be recommended, others rejected.


Modern means of education

There are now means of information more dynamic and flexible than textbooks and able to reach wider audiences. Inexpensive pamphlets, the movies, the radio, and television could be used in re-education. For instance, a series of pamphlets could tell the Germans what people in other countries have been thinking and doing during the twelve years of Nazi-enforced isolation, tell them about different forms of government from Hitlerism, bring them up to date on world events and progress, and thus reincorporate them into international society. Well-documented pamphlets could also be used for informing the Germans of all the lies, the insanities, and the cruelties the Nazis have committed against other nations and their own people. Such booklets are now in preparation, especially on the history of the last dozen years that has been concealed from the Germans.

People often know very little about the events which concern their own nation, even when living in a free society. This is all the more true when books, newspapers, radio, even private conversations have been controlled for a decade by censors and Gestapo officers. Even persons with keen minds gradually fall prey to an unceasing form of control and propaganda. Only a very few men with extremely strong characters can swim against the stream for a long time.

Goebbels and his propaganda ministry used the movies and the radio with great skill. This has a certain disadvantage for the future. Disillusioned, the Germans may not believe anything. The authorities of the Four Powers who are responsible for the educational use of the movies and the radio in Germany will need a fine sense for what can be offered at the right moment. Cheap attempts to become popular may backfire. After the vulgarity in the propaganda, the speech, and even the gestures of such men as Hitler and Goebbels, nothing the Four Powers do in the field of re-education will impress the Germans so much as an attitude of dignity and restraint.

Next section: Is Formal Education the Only Way to Re-Education?