Education in National Socialist Germany

Germany's support of compulsory education and institutional regimentation traces back to at least 1717, when the concept was championed by King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia. Known as "the Soldier King," the autocratic Wilhelm consolidated, centralized, and militarized Prussia. Wihelm's pride and joy was the "Potsdam Giants," a Prussian infantry regiment composed of the tallest, fittest men Wilhelm could find. Wilhelm accepted gifts of tall men from Russia, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire.

Wilhelm utilized eugenic tactics to improve his military. He abducted tall men who were unwilling to join his Potsdam Giants voluntarily, and kept his prized unit isolated and carefully controlled. Wilhem also forced tall women to reproduce with his Giants in order to breed more stock. Like Napolean, Wilhelm was very short himself. However, he glorified physical stature and military acumen. Wilhelm even subjected his own children to abuse and constant military training from a very early age.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Otto von Bismarck built upon Wilhelm's legacy. Bismarck used an expansionist, militaristic, autocratic approach to create the German Empire. He annexed Denmark, Austria, and other territory, and engaged in war with France. Bismarck also waged the Kulturkampf ("culture war"), a purge involving laws and other tactics designed to curtail freedom of the press, Catholic culture, and unapproved educational institutions in the German Empire.

During World War I, Germany teamed up with the other "Central Powers," Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman-Empire. This period impoverished Germany and reinforced Germany's militaristic, autocratic, centralized culture.

Over the course of the 1930's and 1940's, Germany (political successor of Prussia and Otto von Bismarck's martial, strident tradition of parens patriae) revived its absolutist parens patriae ("Father of the Nation") legal doctrine for a third time, extending the doctrine to its predictable extreme pursuant to this written admonition of Adolph Hitler:

It is of paramount interest to the state and the nation to prevent these ["splendid people"] from falling into the hands of bad, ignorant, or even vicious educators. The state, therefore, has the duty of watching over their education and preventing any mischief. It must exercise strict control over the press . . . . In the uniformity and constant repetition of this instruction lies its tremendous power. If anywhere, therefore, it is here that the state must not forget that all means must serve an end; it must not let itself be talked be . . . talked into neglecting its duty and denying the nation the food which it needs and which is good for it; with ruthless determination it must make sure of this instrument of popular education, and place it in the service of the state and the nation.
. . . [I]n this school [the boy] must . . . learn to be silent not only when he is justly blamed but must also learn, when necessary, to bear injustice in silence. . . .
. . . .
. . . His citizen's diploma, a legal document which admits him to public activity, [should be issued] . . . .
. . . .
. . . Youth has its own state . . . . The ten year-old's bond with his playmate of the same age is more natural and greater than his bond with grown-ups. A boy who snitches on his comrades practices treason . . . .
. . . . [I]n the present method of teaching history a change must be made. . . . [O]ur historical education is directed by the nature of our political activity. . . .
. . . [I]n historical instruction an abridgment of the material must be undertaken. . . . [A]n advantage will later accrue to the individual from his knowledge, which summed up will also benefit the community . . . [and] the continued existence of our own nationality.
. . . .
Science, too, must be regarded by the folkish state as an instrument for the advancement of national pride . . . .
. . . .
Important as the type of physical and mental education will be in the folkish state, equally important will be the human selection as such.

Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf 242, 414-15, 420-21, 426, 428 (Ralph Manheim trans., Houghton Mifflin Co. 1971)(1925)(italics in original).

Adolph Hitler used Germany's compulsory education system to consolidate political power, seize control of Germany's human intellectual capital, and identify his ideological opponents. He committed numerous acts of cultural genocide and educational abduction, particularly against the families and schools of demographic minorities who happened to live in Germany.

Hitler purged the Jews, who had a distinct and incompatible tradition of scholarship, social solidarity, and civil rights. He attacked the Roma (Gypsies), who presented similar problems for him because of their migratory social and economic behavior. He executed members of religious sects, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, who refused to participate in his military or political organizations. Hitler subjected ethnic minority children to hideous psychological and medical experiments. Hitler's regime also committed minority children to death and confinement in concentration camps and psychiatric institutions.

Hitler banned the Boy Scouts and other independent youth groups. He replaced private youth charities with the "Hitler-Jugend" ("Hitler Youth"), a paramilitary organization that stressed a form of service learning. The "Hitler-Jugend" for German boys was complemented by the "Bund Deutscher Mädel" ("League of German Girls") for teenage girls from fourteen to eighteen, and a coed group for even younger German children called the "Deutsches Jungvolk." Even today, Hitler's paradigm continues to cast a dark shadow over modern Germany's "Jugendamt" (youth welfare office).

Hitler also created the "Lebensborn" (German for "Source of Life") program to facilitate a Platonic system of childraising designed to create an "elite" cadre of Aryan children who could provide future leadership for the Third Reich. Lebensborn included selection of parents for eugenic child breeding, systemic foster care, and state-supervised education. Due to intense anti-German sentiment after World War II, many innocent Lebensborn children in Norway and other countries were subjected to institutionalization and severe abuse.

Hitler's methodology represented a sophisticated, updated, and most unfortunate template for achieving monolithic social control in a modern body politic. His approach built upon the legal tradition of Roman Civil Law and the Napoleanic Code, as well as the institutional concept of the devshirme as originally championed by the Ottoman Empire (Germany's ally during World War I). He also exchanged ideas and encouragement with his allies, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan.

After World War II, similar practices persisted in East Germany, which had been placed under Communist control. Children of suspected political and religious dissidents were forcibly removed by the government and placed for adoption with reliable Communist Party members. Fear of losing children or other harm to family members was a systemic tool for maintaining social and political control. Youth who had promising athletic talent were removed, placed into sports farming systems, and often subjected to performance-enhancing drugs, in order to help East Germany obtain propoganda victories at the Olympics and other events. East Germany's system had other features similar to the systems for education and child-rearing used in Romania and other Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Germany has a long history of animosity towards demographic minorities (including the Mennonites), parental liberty, and alternative education. Indeed, the epicenter of this political and legal tradition was Humboldt University, the oldest university in Berlin and an intellectual ally of the compulsory-attendance and eugenics initiatives championed by Harvard and the Ivy League. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Otto von Bismarck, W.E.B. Du Bois, Georg Hegel, Max Planck, and Arthur Schopenhauer studied or taught at this crown jewel of German education, and Adolph Hitler conducted his book-burning rituals in the same place.

One of the most important recent developments in Europe occurred in the case of Konrad and Others against Germany, Application No. 35504/03, European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), (Sep. 11, 2006). In Konrad, the European Court of Human Rights considered a string of incidents in Germany involving about forty families engaged in alternative education. German officials acted to enforce German laws and policies that had been established during the era of National Socialism by imprisoning and fining home-educating parents. German officials seized home-educated children who refused to attend German public schools. Alternative educators referred to the campaign as "Hitler's Ghost." Some of them fled to other countries or went underground in Germany. The Konrad family and others brought a case to the European Court of Human Rights to stop the German persecution, but the Court essentially decided that each European nation has power to either allow or disallow home education by means of national law.

Melissa Busekros, a 16-year-old German, has been one particularly notable early victim of the Konrad decision. A protracted battle between the Busekros family, who are home educators, and German public educators who were aggressively asserting the German compulsory attendance law, gathered impetus from 2005 to 2007. A German government official indicated that "In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the [Christian] religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement." In late January 2007, the German Youth Welfare Office ("Jugendamt") brought a case against the Busekros family in Erlangen Family Court, which issued a removal order on January 29, 2007. Soon thereafter, a squad of social officers and law enforcement officers arrived at Melissa's home, removed her by force, and held her incognito in a Nuremburg Child Psychiatry Unit for an extended period of time. The incident has stirred intensified criticism of Germany from international alternative education and human rights communities.

Decades after the end of World War II, Germany still remains tragically wed to its gruesome tradition of hostility towards alternative education, demographic minorities, parental liberty, and intellectual freedom. Germany's threat to home education has long been noted by legal commentators, and continues to imperil the rights of alternative educators beyond Germany's own borders. Daniel E. Witte, Comment, People v. Bennett: Analytic Approaches to Recognizing a Fundamental Parental Right Under the Ninth Amendment, 1996 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 183, 244 n.209. Despite Germany's general enthusiasm for international organizations and treaties, Germany's own national practices are out of step with international human rights norms. Council of Europe Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as amended by Protocol No. 11, Paris, 20.III.1952, Article 2 ("In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."); United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 13.3 (adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966 entry into force 3 January 1976, in accordance with article 27) ("The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.").

Fortunately, however, other nations such as Ireland, the United Kingdom,and Poland have progressive laws that are much more favorable to alternative education. The Konrad decision does not mandate backward educational laws of the kind in place in Germany. Instead, Konrad simply allows retrograde nations such as Germany an unfortunate amount of latitude to continue violating human rights on a national basis. Germany is now about twenty-five years behind the United States with respect to alternative education, and it has now fallen behind Eastern European nations such as Poland. It is possible that over time, economic and intellectual competition will motivate Germany in a way that conscience alone apparently cannot.

The Konrad opinion applies throughout the European Union and is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the laws that pertain to alternative education in Germany and other nations of Europe.

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