Presented at an international conference entitled Comparing the Cultural History of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Freie Universität Berlin, 22 March 2019.
This paper explored the role played by pupils of the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten (aka Napolas), the Third Reich’s most prominent elite schools, as youthful ambassadors between Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Italy was one of the most frequent destinations for several-week-long extended trips by Napola-pupils, who would often be quartered with (or compete against) members of the GIL. The aim of these visits was a form of soft “cultural diplomacy”, whereby potentially useful contacts and acquaintances could be fostered, and the youth of each nation could gain an appreciation of the other’s customs and political ideals. These trips became especially important after the outbreak of World War II, when Italy remained one of the relatively few foreign countries which it was possible for Napola-pupils to continue visiting, due to the Axis alliance.
Drawing on a number of first-hand accounts written at the time by Napola-pupils who travelled to Italy as part of this programme of trips and exchanges, some of which were published for wider consumption in school newsletters, and some of which are based on personal diary entries, the paper explored the ramifications of this form of youth diplomacy, and the success (or otherwise) of the schools’ Italian “missions”.
An article based on this paper is forthcoming in European History Quarterly.