"Recreating a shared Graeco-German Aryan heritage": The ideal of Greek education for citizenship in National Socialist pedagogy

Presented at the Legacy of Greek Political Thought Network Workshop, University of Bristol, 8 December 2012.

This paper provides an overview of the ways in which Greek ideals were seen as having intrinsic relevance to educational questions in the Third Reich. As pure-blooded Aryans, the Greeks fitted the Nazis’ racial worldview; they could be portrayed as providing a paradigm of political-versus-personal relations which privileged the community at the expense of the individual; additionally, examples from Greek literature and history could always be used to provide fodder for numerous Nazi educational tropes, such as self-sacrifice, the Führer-principle, or the necessity of rigorous physical training.

We cannot speak of one systematic ideological drive here, but rather of a continual selection by individual educators of those aspects of ‘the glory that was Greece’ and ‘the grandeur that was Rome’ which in their view could best sustain and inspire the new Germany. Ultimately, the Nazi regime encouraged its advocates to behave as ‘cultural magpies’, snatching from the dust-heap of history whatever gleamed most brightly by their current cultural lights, and, in particular, anything which might provide the regime with historical legitimation.

Material from this paper has now been published in an article entitled Classics and Education in the Third Reich: Die Alten Sprachen and the Nazification of Latin- and Greek-Teaching in Secondary Schools’, in Brill’s Companion to the Classics, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, ed. Helen Roche, Kyriakos Demetriou, Leiden 2018, pp. 3-29.