'Classics and Education in the Third Reich'

Forthcoming in Brill's Companion to the Classics, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, ed. Helen Roche, Kyriakos Demetriou Leiden (Brill).

Focusing upon a specific corpus of articles published in Die Alten Sprachen, the Classics teachers’ periodical produced by the National Socialist Teachers’ League (the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund or NSLB), this chapter examines some of the ways in which the Classics became politicized for propagandistic purposes under the Nazi regime. Whether seeking to portray ancient Sparta as a prototype of the Nazi “racial state”, identifying Socrates as an ancient representative of the Jewish intelligentsia, or treating the Roman Empire as a model for Hitler’s own imperial project, Classics teachers in the Third Reich sought to present the ancient past as an explicit “paradigm and warning” for the National Socialist present.

In addition to providing a general overview of the permeation of secondary-school Classics-teaching with National Socialist ideology, the chapter explores one specific case study in greater detail, an essay by Kurt Schmidt entitled ‘The Teaching of Xenophon’s Anabasis in National-Socialist Schools’ (1937). Schmidt describes in detail how Xenophon’s work should be interpreted in order to instil pupils with the correct political Weltanschauung; prevailing presentism relentlessly demanded that passages in the Anabasis should constantly be connected to events in modern German history, and that Xenophon himself be portrayed as a Führer-personality, a great dictator avant la lettre.

However, the chapter as a whole also aims to demonstrate the surprising variety of the contributions which Die Alten Sprachen accepted, reflecting both the diverse status of those involved – from university professors to trainee teachers – and the extent of their assimilation of National Socialist politics (some articles meet recognized scholarly standards, whilst others are unashamedly demagogic, laced through with racial buzzwords and multiple exclamation marks). Through a fuller appreciation of the compromises and shades of grey which coloured the journal’s material, we not only avoid being taken in by the post-war canard that Classicists were never true collaborators, but also by the correspondingly one-sided view that Classics-teaching during the Third Reich was always irredeemably ideological.