How a Defeated Empire Never Ceased to Exist
Cultural change is slow. History shows us many examples: Slavery in the United States, female mutilation in Africa, monarchies in Europe. It appears only violent interruptions in form of wars, civil uprisings, revolutions, and military putsches lead towards a rapid change. Nazi Germany is viewed as such a rapid change, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Granted, Germany’s first 50 years of the 20th century were tumultuous to say the least. Three different forms of government: monarchy, democracy, totalitarianism; two instigated World Wars, two lost World Wars, in between the Roaring Twenties and the Great Recession, from restricted voting rights to general suffrage, from an economy in kid shoes to a leading industrial producer.
But rather than reinventing the wheel, the national socialistic movement hijacked deep engrained systems, concepts, and traditions. Like no other organization was the NSDAP able to play on sentiments and nostalgia, fear and hate. The lawmakers of the Weimar Republic played into the hands of the inventors of the Holocaust, and so did the voters in 1933.
Germany’s walk into oblivion is not the Deutsche Sonderweg, the theorized absolution for mass murder. Germania walked into the voting with both blue eyes wide open, weary of political lethargy and paralysis. Willingly did the voter give some failed artist a shot to run the broke-down and blank broke country. He did turn the country around and he did turn back time. Adolf Hitler renewed first faith then anti-Semitism. But he didn’t invent the basic concepts of German culture. He used, he perverted, he recycled. National-socialism as this great social experiment was not great- it was cheap copy enabled by a nation, by foreign disinterest, appeasement, and disbelief.
I argue that the Nazi party commandeered a deeply rooted, well- functioning and maintained base within the social structure of the Weimar Republic, which in turn took the concepts from the last Empire of Germany under Wilhelm II. For this we don’t have to look far, examples are plentiful. In spirit of this exercise, I have chosen the educational system, the military concept, and the tradition of anti-Semitism.
Education is a reflection of societies’ values and economies. In the Wilhelmine Germany, the school system was militaristic and short, seen as a tool against socialistic and communistic ideas.The motto ‘Wissen ist Macht’ used by the socialist Liebknecht was viewed as a threat to the German Empire. Rather, his criticism “The Volkschule is the preschool to the barracks; the barracks are the secondary education to the Volksschule. Without teacher no sergeant” displays educational reality in the Kaiserreich. Children attended for a minimum of four years the Volksschule, which was to ensure a basic knowledge in reading, writing, and math, but also in music, religion, and physical education. This move was desired by the industry and military alike: both complained about the desolate health deficits of children; the regulation protected the young bodies of early exposure to brutal working conditions and allowed for a longer physical development. Trade unions welcomed the move to keep competition out of the work place.
Childhood was not defined in the same terms as today. Childhood today acknowledges the development into adulthood through learning in meaningful and playful manners. Childhood in the Wilhelmine era consisted of discipline, corporal punishment, and shame. Individuality was emphasized only in the upper class and was encouraged through higher education, music, art, and military studies. All lessons were conducted with a militaristic discipline: “All pupils sit up straight; they will put down their pencils if they don’t have to write, to draw, etc. their hands clasped over their easel, their feet put parallel on the floor and will look the teacher during the lecture straight in the eye.” The teachers were mostly poorly educated and received low pay.
This was not to change during the Weimar Republic. Although social reformers were hoping for a better educational system through better teachers and a child friendly curriculum, they were to be disappointed. The idea of democracy did not extend to children. The on bankruptcy teetering republic was not able to find consensus on a prolonged mandatory school attendance, which was in some circles seen as essential to lower the unemployment rate which reached its peak by 1932. However, in 1938 the Nazi regime extended the school attendance to eight years. Example was Austria’s school system. Another factor of that extension was the idea to raise a youth that was ‘agile as greyhounds, tough as leather and hard as Kruppstahl’. By the summer of 1933 the curriculum changed as Kurt Elfering recalls: “[…] somehow we were sucked up by the changes […]The lessons in school changed slowly but surely […] They trained us for national socialism […] At the age of fourteen my apprenticeship started and we were transferred to the Hitlerjugend. This is when the real pre-militaristic education began” while teachers were indoctrinating their students: “… and before we knew it, our teachers talked exclusively of the new dawn.” Not being part of the Jungvolk and later the HJ could lead to expulsion from public schools, which consequently nullified any ambition towards upward mobility.
Already in 1933, the Nazi party opened their own schools “as successors of the old Prussian cadet academies.” The Napola was to shape an elite officer corps in which only children of pure Aryan and true Nazi party patriots were able to attend. The militaristic aim was obvious and the brutality against the children was to harden them for battle. Daily roll calls, formations, and drills prepared the boys for war true to the motto “Only when one has learned how to obey orders one can give orders.” Furthermore, the boys’ physical training included any future value of military use: field exercises, shooting, sailing, horseback riding, navigation, boxing, etc. Academically, Latin, English, and Greek were mandatory foreign languages (in this order); racial education and Nazi ideology were of course part of the curriculum. Hazing of students was common and so were the dreaded tests of courage in which the children often got injured. Napolas were boarding schools and attendance was not free, however, parents got charged on a sliding scale and especially talented boys were sponsored. This elite school system offered a secondary education within Nazi Germany that was under Wilhelm II or during Weimar impossible to obtain by regular means, standing in direct “competition” to the public schools. In the mid 1930’s the SS became the main supporter of the Napolas. Part of the doctrine was also to eliminate the class stratification. Similar to the AD, HJ, and later the BDM, the boys from the Napola were working on farms and public projects. The future officers –indoctrinated with Nazi ideology- also served as Nazi messengers by outstanding work ethics and political knowledge. Rural families were impressed that despite their ‘guaranteed’ upward mobility the boys remained humble and de-emphasized social status- the ideal picture of the Volksgemeinschaft. While the Napolas shaped future Wehrmacht and SS leaders, the AHS was aiming towards forming political elites but maintained the military drill of the Napolas. Alumni of the Napolas were later known as the ‘Werewolves’, who by the end of the war provided futile attempts to defended Königsberg and Breslau against the Russian offensive at a enormously high casualty rate. The regime insisted of a separation of those alumni from the regular Wehrmacht as the leadership feared the soldiers could harm the children’s convictions. The fanaticisms those children and adolescence showed led to several executions through allied forces’ firing squads due to the war crimes committed by the Werewolves.
 (Vonde 2012, 67)
 ‘Knowledge is Power’; W. Liebknecht, socialist, founder of the SPD
 (Vonde 2012, 65)
 Unemployment peaked at 5.575 million unemployed (Lebendiges virtuelles Museum Online ).
 March 13, 1938: Annexation of Austria
 Adolf Hitler first used this expression in his book ‘Mein Kampf’ (Hitler 2002) and later at the Reichsparteitag in 1935 during a speech to the HJ.
 Kurt Elfering (*1922) wrote about growing up in Nazi Germany (Lebendiges virtuelles Museum Online ).
 (Schoenbaum 1980, 265)
 Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten
 „Erst wer gelernt hat zu gehorchen, darf auch befehlen” Dr. Schlieffen, 1935
 (Schoenbaum 1980, 265)
 Bund Deutscher Mädel
 Adolf Hitler Schule (Schoenbaum 1980, 265-67)