Between Innocence and Implication? Approaching Testimonies from Former Nazi Elite-School Pupils

Presented at an international conference on ‘Culture and its Uses as Testimony’, University of Birmingham, 12 April 2018.

How do Germans who grew up under National Socialism cope with negotiating the tension between an often happily remembered personal “reality”, and current attitudes towards the Nazi past? This problem is particularly acute when considering the experiences of former pupils of the Napolas (Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten), the Third Reich’s most prominent elite schools.

This paper explores the ways in which men of this peer-group – too young to be implicated in the Nazi regime’s crimes, yet old enough to have lived in its embrace from infancy to late adolescence – have presented memories of their schooldays at these institutions, which aimed to prepare them for positions as future leaders of the ‘Thousand-Year Reich’.

The paper analyses the depoliticisation and contestation of these men’s memories of the Nazi past, investigating some of the problems which occur when considering testimonies by eyewitnesses who lie somewhere on the cusp between innocence and implication.

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

Material from this research has now been published in Chapter 12 of Helen’s monograph The Third Reich’s Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas, and in ‘Testimonies in Historiography and Oral History’ in The Palgrave Handbook of Testimony and Culture, ed. Sara Jones, Roger Woods, Basingstoke (Palgrave Macmillan), 2023, pp. 65-90 (co-written with Achim Saupe).