Between Forgetting and Demonisation: Nazi elite-school pupils and German collective memory

Presented at a conference entitled ‘Places of Amnesia’, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 6 April 2016.

Based on freshly-elicited eyewitness testimony from former pupils of the Napolas (Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten), the most prominent type of Nazi elite-school, this paper explores the ways in which very specific forms of collective memory may be created by groups who feel marginalised by national narratives of remembering. 

The Napolas are rarely mentioned in memory discourses about the Third Reich. Every so often, publications and media events, such as Dennis Gansel’s 2005 film Napola: Elite für den Führer, may release a brief flurry of public interest in the schools and their pupils, but otherwise these institutions have been more or less erased from popular memory culture in Germany. 

For former pupils themselves, this cultural amnesia is not always something to be welcomed. Some of the schools’ old boys’ networks are still active (though their numbers are constantly dwindling), and their members are keen to revive popular interest in the history of these institutions. This paper considers a number of the strategies employed by former pupils of the schools, as they seek to insert this aspect of their personal histories into wider strategies of German remembrance of the Third Reich.

This paper forms part of a long-standing research project on the history of the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten.

Material from this research has now been published in Helen’s monograph The Third Reich’s Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas.