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Behind the Headlines the Holocaust in German Education

March 6, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

It is always the same. Whenever we meet young Germans in Europe, after a while they ask in a curious tone. “How come you — Americans — speak such a flawless German” The answer is always the same: “We were thrown out of Germany by the Germans.” Then there is silence and after a while a shy embarrassed almost whispering answer emerges: “We heard about it.” But how much did they hear? How much do they know? How much has this knowledge affected their lives?

A young engineer is not afraid to confess We never learned in school about it; whenever it came to details of Nazi policies, the teachers managed to avoid the topic. Recent history, anyway, could come up only at the end of the semester; and at that point the teacher saw to it that there was no time left to treat this topic in any depth. We wanted to know about it, so we wanted to conduct our own history course about the Nazi-time. The principal of the school prohibited it.

This was in the middle 1950s. It was the time when teachers who were active under the Nazi regime dominated German schools. They did not want to be confronted with their misdeeds or laughed out of the classroom for their adoration for the Fuehrer. It was embarrassing to them. They all had a bad conscience.

Now, many years have gone by. Is there any change in the attitude of both teachers and students? Do they know the full story? Do they want to know the full history of the Hiller years?


There is ample talk about a generation that is far removed from the events of the past. Some say the new generation does not even want to understand how their elders behaved in those times. There are complaints that nobody can explain to them the absence of any organized resistance to Hitler. These complaints were especially loud and clear when, a few months ago, Germany, remembered the attempt on Hitler’s life by a group of German officers on July 20, 1944.

A study of teaching directives and history books found that the rudiments of an organized resistance to Hitler were hardly mentioned or superficially treated in 49 books examined. A perusal of several history books used in the 10th grade in high schools shows that the same judgement could be applied to the description and analysis of the persecution of Jews in the Third Reich.

There is, in some books, a description and even a picture of concentration camps and the horror of extermination. But there are always excuses. Speaking of the organization of concentration camps, one book flatly states: “Administrative personnel and supervisors, technicians and physicians were supplied by the SS. Very seldom were they diabetic torturers; most of them were simple family men, correct and dutiful citizens in their private lives who imagined their dirty ‘work’ was a service to the Vaterland.”

Every opportunity is taken to explain that they were simply overwhelmed by Nazi propaganda. It is significant that some of the authors hesitate to state the number of Jews killed. One book says it clearly: “the total number of those murdered can only be roughly estimated at four million out of the entire European countries.” Another book speaks of five or six million killed.


No attempt is mode to go into the history of the Jews in Germany. Their participation and role in German culture is not mentioned. Judging from some of the history books the prosecution of the Jews began in 1935 with the race laws of Nuremberg. Not one word is mentioned that, immediately after Hitler came to power, Jews were removed as officials in government as judges and lawyers unless they had been active combatants in World War I.

The student who reads these history books can hardly be aware of the systematic education of the German people to hate the Jews, to regard them as fit to be exterminated. On the other hand, the revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto is called a turning point in the history of the Jewish people.

“For the first time since ancient times Jews fought again against their fate which

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