Published Date

December 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

Nothing impresses a pupil more than the personality of the teacher. In the complex problem of reincorporating the Germans into international life this circumstance may be decisive. Every American soldier represents his nation. The way in which he behaves to his own comrades and the degree to which he impresses the Germans as a disciplined serviceman and as a human being will contribute more to the re-education of the former enemy than the most skillful speeches, movies, and radio addresses.


The former teachers

In reopening the German schools, a negative measure is necessary first. This is the removal from the schools of all German educators who openly and consistently helped to bring about the victory of the Nazi party, who persecuted the children of Jews or of parents with liberal convictions, or who used their influence in the party for intimidating their colleagues. The very definition of re-education demands that men and women who stood voluntarily behind the cruelties of the Nazi regime cannot be entrusted with the upbringing of youth.

The removal of convinced and dangerous Nazis from the schools raises the problem of whether enough teachers will be left for regular instruction. In all likelihood several hundreds of thousands of teachers and prospective teachers died on the battlefields.

One of the many disastrous consequences which Hitler brought upon the Germany he pretended to raise to a new period of grandeur is that Germany will have a totally unbalanced population, with old people and children in the great majority. In addition, with approximately 5 million dead and permanently disabled in their armed forces, the numerical balance between the two sexes will be completely upset.

The consequences are obvious. The relatively small group of men and women of earning age will have to take care of too many young and old people in a country full of ruins and insecurity. Several million women will be deprived of normal fulfillment of their maternal instincts. All this will affect the schools; and no administrative skill can avoid it.

It is from this surplus of women that the Four Powers could probably draw a large part of the teaching staff needed for German re-education. The German schools have been primarily in the hands of men. Men predominated in boys’ schools clear down to the first grade. Only kindergarten teachers were women. Even in girls’ schools there were many male teachers.

The Germans believe that the American educational system suffers from an excess of women teachers. They have asserted that the influence of these women has made our children, especially our boys, too soft and pacifistic. The Nazis derided the influence of the Christian church as making us too forgiving and too sentimental. If the Germans thought that women teachers had a softening effect upon our youth, the smashing victories of our armies must have knocked that idea out of their heads by now.

The dilemma

The situation will force a certain caution upon the responsible authorities of the Four Powers. They face a dilemma through the removal from the schools of all teachers tainted with Nazism. Is it possible to keep the schools going when all teachers who belonged to the Nazi party are fired? Which evil is the greater: keeping on a considerable number of teachers who were members of the party or allowing an already mentally twisted younger generation to run around without guidance, instruction, or purpose? During the last three years of the war the shortage of teachers prevented any regular teaching in the rural districts of Germany. The bombing of the cities and the warfare in Germany itself had the same effect on the urban population. Already, therefore, the children of Germany are short on formal schooling.

But perhaps there is not so much reason to worry about. future Nazi influence in the schools. How many teachers, after all, will want to repeat to the children of the devastated nation all the pompous phrases of Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, and Rosenberg about the glorious “Third Reich of Hitler” or the “Thousand Years’ Empire” of German fascism, about the superiority of the German race or the invincibility of the German army? The once famous slogan “We are grateful to our Führer” would have a hollow ring in the bomb-scarred classrooms.

Can foreign teachers be used?

In order to get out of this dilemma some people have educated the employment of American, British, French, Russian, and other non-German teachers in German schools.

Before and even during the Hitler regime, many foreign instructors were employed to teach their own languages in German schools. There- is no reason why foreign language instructors should not continue to instruct Germans in other languages now that the war is ended, provided enough non-German teachers can be found who want to go to Germany. They might be highly useful not only for teaching French, English, or Russian, but also as pioneers of intercultural contact. But that is about all they can be expected to do, and even that only for a very small number of children.

If foreign teachers were to be used for influencing and controlling German education, thousands of them would have to be imported. It is more than doubtful that they would be available. In order to teach children of a foreign nation a teacher must have mastery of their language such as is generally acquired only with several years of living in the particular country. The younger the children and the less they and their parents are familiar with foreign culture, the more a teacher with a foreign accent and inevitable mistakes in his speech exposes himself to ridicule. A teacher who appears ridiculous in his pupils’ eyes is useless.

In addition, a foreign teacher might be considered a spy or at least an unwelcome alien even by those of his German colleagues who would otherwise be glad to establish international contacts. Such an isolation is, in the long run, unbearable, especially for the type of person who loves to teach.

For these and other reasons, the mass importation of teachers from four different nations already short of teachers at home can hardly be considered seriously.

Or refugees?

There are many competent teachers among the great number of German political and racial exiles who tools refuge from Nazism in foreign countries. With respect to them the answer is not so easy. They know the language and the cultural tradition of the people. Their return might be regarded as a natural result of the changed situation.

However, the record shows that returning emigrants often have lost touch with their home country., They have not shared the experiences of the most critical years of its existence. Moreover, Germans in the service of foreign occupation authorities may be looked upon with even more suspicion than real foreigners. And lastly, many of the exiled teachers do not want to go back to Germany.

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