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Decision-Making in Times of Injustice Lesson 12

Decision-Making in Times of Injustice Lesson 12

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In this lesson, students read narratives describing life for German youth in the 1930s.
In this lesson, students read narratives describing life for German youth in the 1930s.

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Published by: Facing History and Ourselves on Mar 26, 2009
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Lesson 12
teach this material?
In this lesson, students read narratives describing life for German youth in the 1930s.Many of these narratives focus on experiences in school and in youth groups whereteenagers received powerful messages from teachers, peers, Nazi officials, and parentsabout the proper way to act and think. The activities suggested in this lesson encouragestudents to recognize how factors such as pride, fear, obedience, and peer pressure influ-enced how German youth responded to messages disseminated by the Nazis. Analyzinghow German youth responded to messages about the proper way to think and act canhelp students reflect on their own responses to such messages in their lives. In particular,the material in this lesson provides opportunities for students to consider the messagesthey receive in school about their responsibilities as citizens, and to evaluate the role of civic education in a democracy.
The purpose of this lesson is to help students
:Reflect on these
guiding questions:
What was life like for teenagers living in Germany between 1933 and 1939? • What messages did they receive about the proper way to think and act? Where did these messages come from? How did German youth interpret and respond to these messages? What influenced their choices? What messages do you receive about the proper way to think and act? Where do these messages come from? How do you interpret and respond to these messages? What influences your choices? What is the role of school in preparing young people for their role as citizens? What might be the difference between preparing students to live in a dictatorship versus a democracy? 
Practice these
interdisciplinary skills
Interpreting narrative historical documents Synthesizing information to answer questions about a historical time period Defending ideas with evidence Drawing connections between history and their lives 
Deepen understanding of these
key terms
Propaganda Conformity Obedience Education 
To deepen your understanding of the ideas in this lesson, read Chapter Five in
FacingHistory and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior
Lesson 12
MessagDictatorship Democracy CitizeCivic education 
(See the main glossary in the unit’s “Introduction” for definitions of these key terms.)
is this lesson about?
In Lesson 11, students explored the impact of Nazi propaganda on the attitudes andactions of the German public. One of the critical audiences for this propaganda was German youth. Time and time again, Hitler spoke of the importance of indoctri-nating German youth to Nazi ideals. In a 1935 speech to Nazi party officials, Hitlerdeclared, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future,”
and four years later heannounced, “I am beginning with the young. . . . With them I can make a new world.”
 What kind of youth did the Nazis believe would best support their plans for Germany?On that point, Hitler was very specific. In the following speech, he described the idealGerman youth:
 A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth—that is what I am after. Youthmust be all those things. It must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness ortenderness in it. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independ-ence of the beast of prey. . . . I intend to have an athletic youth—that is the first andthe chief thing. . . . I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men.
 As soon as the Nazis came to power, they set in motion the process of permeating the lifeof German youth with Nazi propaganda. One of the critical spaces where the Nazishoped to indoctrinate German youth was in the schools. Recalling his experience as astudent in Nazi Germany, Alfons Heck shares:
Unlike our elders, we children of the 1930s had never known a Germany withoutNazis. From our very first year in the
or elementary school, we receiveddaily doses of Nazism. These we swallowed as naturally as our morning milk. Neverdid we question what our teachers said. We simply believed what was crammed intous. And never for a moment did we doubt how fortunate we were to live in a country  with such a promising future.
Heck’s memory illustrates how the Nazis redesigned the school curriculum toward teach-ing students not to think but to unquestioningly accept. They changed the curriculum inother ways, too. The teaching of race science in all subjects became mandatory and physi-cal education was emphasized. Additionally, girls and boys were offered different course- work, usually in separate schools. While the boys took classes in military history and sci-ence, the girls took classes in cooking and child-rearing. When studying this history, it is important to focus not only on what the Nazis did, buton how Germans responded to their actions. In order for Hitler’s plans to work, teachersneeded to execute the Nazi curriculum in the classroom. But did they? According to
Lesson 12
 A page from the antisemitic children’s book,
The Poisonous Mushroom.
Lesson 12
Holocaust scholars Richard Rubenstein and John Roth, teachers were among Hitler’sstaunchest supporters. They explain:
German school teachers and university professors were not Hitler’s adversaries. . . .Quite the opposite; the teaching profession proved one of the most reliable segmentsof the population as far as National Socialism was concerned. Throughout the Weimar era, Germany’s educational establishment, continuing its long authoritariantradition, remained unreconciled to democracy and nationalism. Once in power, theNazis expunged dissenting instructors, but there were not many. On the other hand,at least two leading Nazis, the rabid antisemites Heinrich Himmler and JuliusStreicher, had formerly been teachers. Eventually more than 30% of the top NaziParty leadership came from that background. Teachers, especially from elementary schools, were by far the largest professional group represented in the party. Altogetheralmost 97% of them belonged to the Nazi Teachers’ Association, and more than 30%of that number were members of the Nazi Party itself. From such instructors, Germanboys and girls learned what the Nazis wanted them to know. Hatred of Jews was cen-tral in that curriculum.
 As Rubenstein and Roth point out, the Nazis had the power to remove any teachers whodid not support their agenda. This was demonstrated in 1933 with the passage of the“Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” which fired all Jewish instruc-tors in schools and universities, and records show that teachers suspicious of Jewish sym-pathies or not strictly teaching the curriculum were quickly fired, or even arrested. Thus, when understanding why teachers went along with changes in instructions, it is impor-tant to recognize that many factors, including opportunism, fear, conformity, nationalpride, and antisemitism, may have been at play.Schools were not the only space whereGerman youth received Nazi propaganda.Following through on their belief in theimportance of capturing the hearts andminds of German youth, the Nazis passeda law in 1936 mandating that all Germanyouth participate in the Hitler YouthMovement. Hitler Youth groups started atthe age of six. At ten, boys were initiatedinto the
and at fourteen pro-moted to the Hitler Youth or HJ (forHitler Jugend). Girls belonged to the Jungmaedel and then the BDM (the
Bund Deutscher Maedel 
or the League of GermanGirls). In such groups, said Hitler, “Theseyoung people will learn nothing else buthow to think German and act German.... And they will never be free again, not intheir whole lives.”
Parents could be pun-ished if their children did not regularly attend meetings. By 1939, about 90% of the Aryan children in Germany belongedto Nazi youth groups.

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