The Austrian Bundeserziehungsanstalten, 1919-1933: Hotbeds Of Radicalism Or Seedbeds Of Reaction?

Presented at an international conference entitled Aftermath: German and Austrian cultural responses to the end of World War I’, King’s College London, 15 September 2018.

As instruments of state power and political socialisation, educational institutions arguably possess an extraordinary capacity for effecting cultural change. This paper considers the impact of the Bundeserziehungsanstalten, the First Republic’s state boarding schools, which had been refashioned by Otto Glöckel in 1918-19 out of the former k.u.k. cadet schools in Wien-Breitensee, Traiskirchen and the Theresianum.

These erstwhile officer-training schools were transformed with lightning swiftness into Versuchsanstalten imbued with a new and radical leftwing ethos, putting into practice a fresh vision for education in postwar Austrian society which focused on child-centred learning, pupils’ self-governance, integral vocational training, the prioritisation of arts and handicrafts, and other key reform-pedagogical principles. Despite stiff opposition from conservatives both within and outside the educational system, the Bundeserziehungsanstalten were able to forge a new pedagogical paradigm which swiftly became the envy of reformers throughout the world, welcoming visitors from as far afield as the United States, as well as forming a key model for the Weimar Republic’s Staatliche Bildungsanstalten, the similarly-oriented offspring of the Royal Prussian Cadet Schools (which had been banned under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles).

Nevertheless, military mindsets and conservative codes of conduct proved harder to eradicate from these institutions than Glöckel and his acolytes might ideally have wished, and the schools’ transformation into tools of, first, the Dolfuß-Schuschnigg regime, and then the National Socialist regime, took place far less problematically than the only extant chronicles of these institutions – hagiographic histories by former pupils and teachers – might imply. This paper therefore aims to explore some of these paradoxes and dichotomies in the development of the Bundeserziehungsanstalten, as well as tracing their significance for the culture of the First Republic in more general terms, and comparing their trajectory with that of the German Staatliche Bildungsanstalten.

This paper draws on material now published in Chapter 7 of Helen’s monograph The Third Reich’s Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas (OUP, 2021).