Fight or Flight? Narrating the fate of Nazi elite-school pupils during the collapse of the Third Reich

Presented at an international conference entitled Children and War: Past and Present, University of Salzburg, 10 July 2013.

This paper considers the experiences of one particular, rarely-discussed group of ‘war children’: former pupils of the Napolas, aka Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten – the most prominent type of Nazi elite-school.

Drawing upon a wealth of original material, the paper explores the hardships and dilemmas which Napola-pupils (often as young as 12 or 13) faced as the Second World War drew to a close. Should they defend the Fatherland to the last, as the Inspector of the Napolas, August Heißmeyer, demanded? Or should they ‘desert’ and attempt to find their families before it was too late? Many boys experienced extreme disillusionment when they realised that their teachers – who had conditioned them to accept military self-sacrifice as their ultimate goal – had no desire to die for Volk and Fatherland. For some former-pupils, discovery of their educational background led to internment in Soviet work-camps, even if they were under 16.

In particular, the paper will examine the ways in which ex-pupils have attempted to present this aspect of their pasts, both in contemporary documents such as diaries, and in more recent memoir-literature and recollections.  Public attitudes have certainly influenced these former pupils’ self-presentation, and their personal narratives of victimhood.

An article based on this paper, entitled ‘Surviving Stunde Null: Narrating the fate of Nazi elite-school pupils during the collapse of the Third Reich’, has now been published in German History journal, and was awarded the journal’s ‘Best Article Prize’ for 2015.