Zwischen Freundschaft und Feindschaft: Exploring relationships between pupils at the Napolas and British public schoolboys

Presented at an international conference on AngloGerman Perceptions and Prejudices since 1800, organised by the DAAD as part of a conference and research programme entitled ‘Germany and the World: Cultural Exchanges and Mutual Perceptions’, University of Cambridge, 21-22 March 2013.

Between 1934 and 1939, pupils from the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten (aka Napolas), the most prominent type of National Socialist elite school, engaged in a series of exchanges with boys from British public schools, including Harrow, Winchester, Rugby, Lancing, and even the Leys School in Cambridge. Some of these trips were themselves funded or facilitated by the DAAD, and the Napola pupils who embarked upon them were seen as performing the function of ‘cultural ambassadors’ for the ‘new Germany’.

The paper aims to explore in detail the Anglo-German relationships – including tensions and prejudices – which were forged between pupils and staff during these exchanges. Additionally, the ideological conceptions behind the exchange programme are examined. The British public schools had long been perceived as an important model for the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten in general, but the Inspectorate of the Napolas intended that the National Socialist model of Gemeinschaftserziehung should prove itself incontrovertibly superior to that of the ‘Eton schools’. In the minds of the Napola authorities, then, the ideal outcome of the programme would be for Napola pupils and staff to learn how things were done in England, and then use that knowledge to improve their own educational techniques. The public schools might have educated the rulers of the centuries-old British Empire, but it was ultimately envisaged that the Napolas should train the rulers of the ‘Thousand Year Reich’.

An article based on this paper has now been published in Angermion: Yearbook for Anglo-German Literary Criticism, Intellectual History and Cultural Transfers / Jahrbuch für britisch-deutsche Kulturbeziehungen 6, 2013, pp. 101-126.