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?


Why This? 

I was six when I was introduced to World War Two. I had listened to stories from my old nan about the ‘Jerries’ and the bombs they dropped, enthralled before this. They could hardly be real!

My grandad took me to the Imperial War Museum in London, with the great ship guns sitting proudly and victoriously outside. I looked at the planes, the cars, the bomb shells and then, on the second floor, we stopped outside the cinema room. I wasn’t that bothered about going in until the man at the door shook his head and told my grandad: “I wouldn’t, mate. It’s a Holocuast film,” and he looked at me.

I couldn’t go in and now, I was desperate to see why. What kind of film was being shown in a museum of all places that I couldn’t see? Aged six, my preconceptions of museums were that they were interesting but sometimes dull places, not places with things that I was too small for.

Nineties children couldn’t run home and boot up (literally) the internet as easily and readily as children now and so I begged my nan to take me to the library, I didn’t say why. We walked to the library, all the while I was trying to work out how that word I had heard in the museum just days earlier would be spelled.

The children’s section of the local library had worn out red and yellow carpet with brightly coloured book shelves. The history section was minimal- vikings, Henry VIII (my interest in him would come later) and Romans- and I felt a little disappointed. I kept looking and looking until I found a large, hard back book with a colourful drawn picture of a girl with brown hair and large smile. It wasn’t the girl who made me pull the book from the shelf but the little writing in italic under the title which read: ‘A girl’s story of the Holocaust.’

The girl was of course Anne Frank. I suppose a lot of children are introduced to the Nazi’s and their prejudices through Anne Frank, probably because she was a child herself. The book which I opened eagerly however was not her diary but a simplified story of her life. Drawn pictures and shiney black and white photographs filled the pages. I didn’t have time to read it before I checked it out but I know I was so pleased to have found it. My nan was surprised that I should choose such a book but it was for children after all and so I nearly ran home.

I can still remember that book, I’ve tried to order it but I can’t find any good versions. It turned my interest into obsession and since then I have devoured every book, article and website that I could find. The Holocuast, the Nazi domestic regime, the Nazi war front- everything and anything. At the beginning I think I was trying to read as much as I could to understand then I turned fifteen and realised I would never understand because Hitler and his party’s actions and beliefs are incomprehensible.

I’m not a historian in the qualified sense. I boast no degree or anything like that (except both a GCSE and an A-Level in the subject) so I know that whatever I post, it won’t be as academic as what some may want to read. The reason why I’ve decided to start this is because I do know a lot and I am still so interested. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how so many of both the perpetrators and the victims are getting older and older. Eventually, and very soon, there will not be any witnesses and there is the very real chance that people’s knowledge and interest will fade.

It is imperative that this does not happen. Everything to do with Nazi Germany is still relatable to events today- dictatorship, propaganda, genocide, war- it still happens everyday. We have not learnt from this horrific period of history and if it is forgotten then we never will. It should never be forgotten.