NAPOLA EXCHANGE PROGRAMS
From Cruel World by Lynn H. Nicholas, pp. 117-119
[Comment: How is it possible for a professional researcher like this to write “Die Stürmer” instead of Der Stürmer, and to do this twice? It’s a small thing, but I find this level of ignorance quite incredible.
Anyway, as someone in Northern Ireland once said, “If we’d been born where they were born, and were taught what they were taught, we would believe what they believe”. I like the bit where it says that America is a democracy and everyone is free to do as he likes, but if you have anything positive to say about the Third Reich you had better change your ideas! Plus ça change... – C.P]
The training of future Nazi leaders was not limited to extracurricular activities: a many-faceted school system was also created for them. Within a year of the takeover of the government there were forty-nine Hitler Youth leadership training academies, foremost among them the Reichsführer school at Potsdam and entrance into the higher levels of the HJ was greatly expanded (51). But these short-term programs were not considered to be enough. The real need was for a complete Nazi education that would not be contaminated by other influences. Two secondary school systems, the so-called NAPOLAs and the Adolf Hitler Schools, were set up to provide such instruction. For high-school graduates there were the Ordensburgen, with three-year courses, and a graduate-level Hohe Schule, personally authorised by Hitler in January 1940, which was supposed to become the center for Nazi ideological and educational research after the conclusion of the war (52).
The Nazi Party was not united on the format of control of these institutions. The Hitler Youth, the Army, the SS, and other agencies competed to use the schools as recruiting grounds. Time also mitigated against them. The Hohe Schule, which planned an Institute for Research into the Jewish Question, with a library made up of items confiscated from synagogues and Jewish collectors, would never open. The fantastic Ordensburgen (53), set up by Labor Front Leader Robert Ley, were also limited by the war. The students, known as “Junkers”, a title taken from the Prussian nobility,
were to be housed in very fancy new “castles” that began to be built at the expense of the Labor Front in 1934. In these luxurious palaces, strong, blond young men would receive much indoctrination and sport and little academic training. Indeed, it was discovered that only one lecture every two or three days was not unusual. Some Party leaders noted that “many Junkers cannot digest a lecture delivered with spirit and intellectual content. They do their best to understand and retain it, but even then what does has been learnt is isolated and a relationship to other proceeding lectures does not exist” (54). Remedial tutorials did not seem to improve things, and some of the disillusioned students tried to get out of the program altogether, despite the fact that Ordenburgjunkers got big allowances, were to be allowed to travel abroad, and, if married, could have their wives come for long visits.
The secondary schools, controlled by various Nazi interests, were far more serious. The NAPOLAs, or National Political High Schools, were started in 1933, and the Adolf Hitler schools in 1937. The Adolf Hitler Schools, entirely controlled by the Nazi Party, were, like the Ordensburgen, academically weak and little more than controlled sources for SS recruiting (55).
The NAPOLAs and the similar Oberschule at Feldafing, near Munich, founded by the SA, were a different story. These were traditional, military style boarding schools, whose classes were called “platoons”. They were not a Nazi invention, but were related to the cadet schools of imperial Germany and Prussia, which had been closed by the Allies at the end of World War I. Revived in1933, their director and most of their faculty came from the pre-war German youth movement and not from the Hitler Youth, and they reported to the Minster of Education and not to the Nazi Party. These schools succumbed only gradually to the control of Himmler, who greatly expanded the Nazi secondary school system during the war and even set up similar Reichsschule, aimed at the Nazification of racially acceptable boys and girls, in the occupied lands (36).
By 1942, there were forty-two NAPOLAs, two of which were for girls. Each school had its own orientation towards a certain discipline, but the basic curriculum was that of mainstream German secondary schools. Their mission was to provide a well-educated supply of dedicated Nazi youth who would become functionaries for all sectors of public service at home and abroad. Students from all social classes were to be put into a highly structured setting theoretically reminiscent of the famous British public schools, where “removed from the spoiling influence of the parental home” the “need to survive wakens” and the boy is toughened and provided with ”security and firmness of will”. For all of this “the authoritarian principle was considered “indispensable” (57).
The NAPOLAs, which became very popular, were ferociously selective. Ten-year-old children were nominated by their local elementary schools and interviewed by NAPOLA representatives. Only 20 percent normally made the first cut. This triage was followed by an eight-day examination at the nearest NAPOLA. During the ordeal, academic exams were given in the mornings and athletic tests in the afternoon. Physical capacity and character were closely observed. This was not always fun: non-swimmers, for example, might be thrown into the deep end of a pool (with lifeguards ready) to see how they would cope; others were dropped miles from the school at night and ordered to find their way home through unknown terrain. Of those taking the exam, only 30 percent were admitted, and even then they had a six-month probation period. In glaring contrast to England and the United States, where mothers and fathers normally schemed and plotted for their children’s admission to the schools, parental desire was not considered. One widow who had lost a son in the war, and who wanted to keep her remaining child at home, was told:
My dear lady, you had better adjust your ideas. Your son is not your personal property, solely at your disposal. He is on loan to you, but he is the property of the German Volk. To object to his name being put forward for an elite school is tantamount to insulting the Führer and the Reich (58).
Once in, these children received a very solid, if completely Nazified basic education. Hours were spent listening to the speeches of Goebbels and Hitler, and every Nazi ceremonial occasion was celebrated. Reading lists, while including the German classics, were heavily laden with military and Nazi texts. But there was an excellent pupil-student ratio, and the teachers were not mere Party hacks. Community service was required, as were reports on such work and suggestions for the improvement of society. One boy who had worked with miners thought they needed more pay. Another boy felt juvenile delinquency was due to the absence of religion. They were also prepared to be an elite. A “colonial” attitude with “an air of superiority and aloofness, impeccable manners and style” was encouraged. Even the sports were rather gentlemanly: they included horseback riding, sailing and golf (59).
Cultural activities were not neglected. At the SA Oberschule in Feldafing, a short bus ride from Munich, the boys, chosen from families whose financial means would not normally have included such frills, were treated to an enormous variety of Munich attractions, which included its museums, concerts, theaters, and even a marionette show. They also went to Nazi propaganda extravaganzas such as the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, at which modern works unacceptable to Hitler were displayed in a negative light, and the “Eternal Jew” show, in which Jews and their culture received similar treatment. There were longer trips, too. They saw “Siegfried” at Bayreuth, cruised on the Rhine, and went to air bases, military memorials, and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
All of this was aimed at producing “a new human type needed by the future National Socialist Reich”. If the yearbook comments of the graduating class of 1938 of Oberschule Feldafing are any indicator, the experiment was a success. The graduates said that they had arrived at the school with many differing views and desires, but that within days they and their teachers had become “a firm community” and from then on had “lived National Socialism”. They were leaving the school with “a single goal in their hearts: to serve the whole of Germany and its people” and “act as young German National Socialists” (60).
So confident were the directors of these schools in their boys that, up to 1938, they ran exchange programs with elite British and American schools such as Rugby, St. Paul’s (London), Choate, and Philips Andover. The Feldafing school even had plans for an international summer school where German and foreign boys would form comradeships and build “bridges from people to people”.
It is not clear just how the International Schoolboy Fellowship, which sponsored the exchanges in the United States, decided to a selection of American prep school boys to these Nazi elite schools, but in the fall of 1937 a dozen or so recent graduates, who had little knowledge of Germany or Europe, arrived in Germany and, overnight, found themselves dressed in lederhosen or fatigues, marching to and from their classes. On formal occasions and in public, the uniforms were expanded to full Nazi panoply, complete with Swastika armbands.
The Americans were not required to take the full course load and did not have to worry about grades. Choate graduate Walter Filley, sent to Feldafing, concentrated on German language and history. He was particularly struck by the dominance of the theme of the “reawakening” of Germany. School plays and readings, written by the students themselves, ran heavily to skits on the heroism of soldiers and sailors dying at the lost battles of Langemarck and “Scapa Flow” (Jutland) and strident dramatizations of the “German spirit” in dialogues between such patriotic icons and reformers as Martin Luther , Baron von Stein, and Count Gerhard von Scharnhorst (61). Equally striking was the constant emphasis on the decadence of the “East”. Distinguished professors lectured on Germany’s “destiny in the East” and implied that since France and England had taken away all of its colonies elsewhere, Germany now would be justified in seeking others in that direction. Anti-Polish sentiment ran high, and Filley saw maps on which the borders with Poland, which had gained large chunks of German territory in 1918, were depicted as dripping with blood. When he innocently suggested that a classmate name Komorowski must be of Polish descent, the boy attacked him and had to be restrained by other students. Anti-Jewish comments were frequent, but when Filley objected to a particularly nasty cartoon in Die Stürmer [sic] [!], that was posted in the local village, the other students told him that that sort of thing was “not for us, but for the people”.
The German students were allowed to r ead newspapers and listen to the radio, but their knowledge of the world was as limited as was that of the Americans. Filley found that the oldest boys were the most open to discussion, up to a point. The American students were allowed to receive the New York Times, which upset their hosts when it ran anti-Hitler cartoons and articles. The German boys all believed that the Jews, which included President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ran the United States. Filley and his fellow American students defended their country and its ideas, but were determined to “learn and observe” and tried to avoid serious confrontations. This was more difficult the following fall for Frank Lee, another exchange student from Choate. He too was well received, but late in the fall he was called before the headmaster for having said to a chambermaid, who had reported him, that he considered Julius Streicher, editor of Die Stürmer [sic] [!], ”an animal”. The headmaster suggested that in the future he “keep quiet”. Lee’s mother did not like this story, and the boy simply did not return after Christmas vacation (62).
The Americans participated fully in the off-campus exclusions. So it was that, within days of his arrival in September 1937, Filley found himself dressed in full regalia, in the midst of a formation sent to take part in the ceremonies welcoming Italian dictator Mussolini to Munich. A few months later, holding a flaming torch in each hand, he formed part of the protective cordons on the streets as Hitler returned in triumph after his takeover in Austria. As Hitler noted, the crowd surged forward, and Filley was only a few feet away from the Führer’s open car. Later he mused that he could have changed history had he assassinated the German leader with his flaming torch at that moment, but the idea had not occurred to him then. Filley, like so many others at the time, including most of the Austrians, was not unsympathetic to the idea of the Germans “regaining” Austrian territory. The feeling was different a year later. Frank Lee had also seen Hitler close up during ceremonies surrounding the Munich Conference and the annual celebrations of the Beer Hall Putsch. But any positive feelings he had about the achievements of the Nazi government were “really turned around” by the “sight of kids laughing at burning stores and broken windows” after Kristallnacht.
Despite all the Nazi activity, the Americans made friends with their classmates and had as much fun as anybody on the many ski trips and camping excursions. Filley felt that his fellow students were a decent bunch and that few were fanatics, but that all were being conditioned by a “steady drumbeat of propaganda” to defend their country and restore its pride (63). Another Choate boy wrote in the school newspaper that students sent to Germany had “made many startling discoveries, such as that all Germans are not necessarily born criminals, and that Hitler is not Beelzebub, Machiavelli and Judas Iscariot combined and reincarnated” (63), an opinion they undoubtedly later would revise.
For the German boys who came to the United States there were also revelations. They were instructed to guard against exaggeration, and respect the institutions of other countries, but to know their facts and be able to provide convincing evidence of the worth of National Socialism lest they and Germany be put down. One boy horrified the Connecticut family he stayed with before the opening of school by immediately putting a photograph of Hitler on his bureau, and amazed his peers by declaring that he had “let his Fuehrer down” when he lost a tennis match to a girl. But, like the American students, the Germans soon learned to blend in. They were warmly welcome and some were quite taken with “this rather strange but lovely type of American girl” they met at school parties. They found that Americans were “interested in Germany and made comparisons between Roosevelt and Germany, between the New Deal and the German labor service”. But, concerning Kristallnacht, “even Americans who were very friendly toward Germany said, ‘Not this. This we can’t understand’” (65). In England, where they were also well received, they found “a lack of toughness” on the sports field and were surprised that anti-German propaganda” was so widespread and that poeple were “misinformed” about Hitler’s programs.
No one’s beliefs were changed by the exchanges. Rolf Stoves, a German student at Choate, though full of praise for American hospitality noted that although he was constantly assured that America was a free and democratic country where he could do as he pleased, everyone “tried to convince me how it was bad in Germany and that I had better change my belief”. With time, he continued , he had “learned to understand the reasons why our form of government looks so terrible to democratic observers”, but he hoped that the Americans would “understand that we Germans like the form of government we chose for our country as well as you like your political ideas” (66).
One thing the boys from all countries all agreed: the idea of confronting their new classmates on the battlefield filled them with dismay. Rolf Stoves hoped “with all my heart that someday the United States and Germany will come to a peaceful understanding...and safer peace for all nations”. This hope was not to be fulfilled for a long time; more than half of his class from Feldafing would perish in the war.
51) Koch, The Hitler Youth, p. 103.
52) NA RG 260/185, Nuremberg Doc. 136-PS.
53) Koch, The Hitler Youth, pp. 199-203.
54) Ibid, pp. 196-99.
56. NA RG 238 M894/14, Doc. NO-3736 Heissemeyer to Brandt, 21 September 1944.
57. Koch, The Hitler Youth, p. 181.
58) Ibid, p. 185.
59. P. Peterson, in Steinhoff et al, eds. Voices from the Third Reich, p. 8
60. Hans Bieber, in NSD Obserschule Starnbergersee, 1937-38 (Munich, 1938), p. 26. The yearbook was kindly provided to me by Dr. Walter Filley.
61. Interview with Walter: yearbook pp. 15-17.
62) Conversation with Frank Lee, March 2002.
63) Gene Keith, in The Choate News, June4, 1938, p. 1
64) Filley interview.
65) Theo Koch, in Steinhoff et al, ,eds. Voices from the Third Reich, p. 11.
66) The Choate News, May 14, 1938, p. 2.