Nazi Elite-School Pupils' Anti-Semitic Activism and the Holocaust

Presented at the British Association for Holocaust Studies Annual Conference, University of Leeds, 24 July 2018.

In recent years, researchers on the Holocaust and the Third Reich have begun to acknowledge the importance of children’s agency, and of the experiences of children and adolescents on both the victim and the perpetrator side. Works such as Nick Stargardt’s Witnesses of War (2005), Heidi Rosenbaum’s “Und trotzdem war’s ‘ne schöne Zeit”: Kinderalltag im Nationalsozialismus (2014), and Bastian Fleermann and Benedikt Mauer’s Kriegskinder (2015) all encourage us to treat children as actors in their own right, rather than as passive, inarticulate and isolated sufferers of ‘trauma’ – ‘the objects rather than the subjects of history’.

This paper aims to give an overview of some of the ways in which pupils at the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten or Napolas, the Third Reich’s most prominent elite schools, have engaged with the Holocaust – both during their childhood in the Third Reich, and as adults. Pupils who passed the schools’ rigorous selection process were educated from the age of ten upwards with the aim of their subsequently becoming the future elite of the Third Reich in all walks of life – whether political, military, economic or intellectual.

The paper explores and analyses two case-studies which illuminate some of the ways in which anti-Semitic attitudes were fostered at the schools before World War II. In 1935, pupils at Napola Berlin-Spandau singlehandedly undertook a propaganda campaign against the Jewish population of Wyk auf Föhr, one of the North Frisian islands, which unquestionably formed the catalyst for their subsequent persecution and expulsion by a native “Aryan” population who had previously been unusually well-disposed towards their Jewish compatriots. Napola pupils were also regularly taken on trips to ghettos in the occupied territories, many accounts of which survive in contemporary school newsletters. The paper would also touch upon former pupils’ recollections of some of the close encounters which took place between Napola-pupils and concentration-camp prisoners towards the end of World War II.

Some initial findings of this research have already been published in German in a piece entitled ‘Antisemitismus und Eliteerziehung in den Nationalpolitischen Erziehungsanstalten’, Stiftung niedersächsische Gedenkstätten – Jahresbericht: Schwerpunktthema – Kindheit im Nationalsozialismus (2017), pp. 12-17.

A full-length article based on this lecture, entitled ‘”Der Versuch einer Antwort, warum ich von Auschwitz nichts wußte”: The evolution of Napola-pupils’ responses to the Holocaust’, is forthcoming in a volume entitled Früher/später: Zeugnisse in der Zeit, ed. A.S. Sarhangi, A. Bothe.