Teaching Of Nazi Germany in British Schools

Some of us struggle to remember everything we’ve ever been taught in school. Sometimes, it’s easier to look back on the good times that were had, or the peculiar teachers that roamed the corridors, rather than the content of a history lesson. However, I remember mine and I know that although the topic of Nazi Germany was touched on at three stages of my schooling (year six, year nine and year eleven) there wasn’t any real depth to it. Auschwitz, Anne Frank and Hitler were spoken about a little before Schindler’s List was put on the telly which had been rolled in before the lesson and the teacher sat back and barked at the students who whispered to each other for an hour. There was the odd shock factor, a girl might cry for a moment and the class would fall silent, but as soon as that bell rang and the class clambered out, everything was forgotten for most.

The importance of Nazi Germany as a whole, rather than just through the war years, is skimmed over. If I hadn’t been interested in the subject myself and not actively sought out my own material to read about the subject, Nazi Germany would have simply of been an enemy that caused the Second World War and ultimately lost. This thin overview creates the idea that Adolf Hitler and his party were a mess, unable to grasp reality, when in actual fact, the Nazi’s spent years slowly moulding Germany into what their ideal was – they were much too calculating and cunning to be simple madmen. A common lasting lesson is: ‘Hitler and the Nazi’s hated the Jews.’ Ask why and the answer will be a shrug of the shoulders or, as I heard recently, ‘A Jewish man was horrible to Hitler once.’

Once! That is hardly enough to build a political party on. Just because one man hates another of a certain religion doesn’t mean that this man, no matter how charismatic he might be, would be able to create a new party, a new ideology on his own. It’s hard to explain that it wasn’t just Adolf Hitler who hated Jewish people, it is a prejudice that had always been clear in Europe and was exacerbated in Germany after the First World War. It could be argued that if Germany had won the Great War, then there would not have been the need for a ‘scapegoat’ for the blame. The Jewish population, especially after the Depression, was resented by many hard-up Germans and this, along with Germany’s defeat, made it easier for Hitler to have his views listened too.

Even with that being explained, it doesn’t quite cover the whole of the Nazi regime. For one, it wasn’t just the Jewish population which was persecuted – Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists, disabled people, people of any ethnic group which wasn’t caucasian. The fundamentals of Nazi policy could hardly be understood without knowing that these groups were also targeted by them; groups who could not conform to their idea of the ‘Master Race.’

The relevancy of knowing in detail the Nazi regime and ideologies if often questioned. Of course, importance should be placed on the face that the Nazi’s killed over six million Jews and persecuted countless more because it is an unprecedented and shocking thing, however, everything that encompasses the Nazi’s is relevant today. The use of propaganda, fear tactics and racism to name a few is wholly relevant today across the world.

It is both sad and disappointing that such material, which covers a whole range of examples, is so easily and readily available and able to be used in a current as well as thought-provoking context, is ignored. Many of us live in a ‘non-predjucied’ society today and yet the prejudices are still there, alarmingly so at the moment. Shouldn’t this material, this infamous example, be taught and applied in today’s world?

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