Helen Roche's Work Examines the Elite Schools Nazis Modeled on EtonHistorians in the News
tags: education, Nazism, German history
Nazi Germany’s elite schools, which were set up to train future leaders of the Third Reich, used British private schools such as Eton and Harrow as their models, a new book reveals.
The historian Helen Roche has written the first comprehensive history of Nazi elite schools, known as Napolas. Drawing on research undertaken in 80 archives in six countries as well as testimonies from more than 100 former pupils, Roche discovered just how keen the Nazis were to learn from the “character-forming” example of the British system.
Between 1934 and 1939 there was a blizzard of reciprocal exchanges between British and German schools, with boys from Britain’s most prestigious private schools spending extended periods at the Napolas.
Roche, an associate professor at Durham University, said the Napola authorities wanted to learn from the British system, ultimately hoping to create a superior model for their own schools.
While British private schools had been educating “the rulers of the centuries-old British empire”, Roche said it was envisaged “that the Napolas should train the rulers of the ‘thousand-year Reich’.”
The first three Napolas were created in 1933 as a birthday present for Hitler by the then Prussian culture minister, Bernhard Rust. By the end of the war there were 40 Napolas, including four for girls.
Roche’s research found the Napolas were much more effective at indoctrinating pupils politically than, for example, the Hitler Youth. That was because children attended from a young age and were highly segregated.
They were tough places. One of Roche’s witnesses described the regime at Napola Rügen in Putbus. One common ordeal during the entrance exam, the witness said, was making 10-year-old non-swimmers walk 80 metres along a jetty and jump from a 3-metre diving board into the Baltic Sea.
The Third Reich’s Elite Schools – a History of the Napolas, is published by Oxford University Press.
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