Education: The Jewish experience

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During April 1933, very soon after the Enabling Act had been passed, Jewish teachers were dismissed from German schools and universities. During the same year the proportion of Jewish students at universities was decreased to less than 1 per cent, to correspond to the proportion of Jews in Germany.

However, although in some areas many Jewish children were removed from schools, it was not until 1938 that all Jewish children were finally banned from attending German schools. Discrimination and isolation within education, as in all other areas of society, was gradual.

In Germany education was a major tool by which the Nazis’ racial policies were promoted and implemented. Initially, many teachers ignored the political changes. However, very soon, those German teachers who supported the Nazis or had been converted to Nazism began to develop new daily rituals and routines. Many of the 32 per cent of teachers who became Nazi Party members would wear their uniform to school. 

Once teachers began to show their support for the Nazi Party in schools, the atmosphere within the classroom became very different from the one students had known previously. The teacher would enter the classroom and welcome the group with a ‘Hitler salute’, shouting “Heil Hitler!” Students would have to respond in the same manner, often eight times each day – at the start and end of the day, in addition to the beginning and end of each lesson.

 

Abuse and isolation

It became common for Jewish children to be subjected to verbal and physical abuse by fellow students and teachers. Textbooks were rewritten in line with Nazi ideology, leading to Jews becoming the subject of increased antisemitism

For example, teachers would begin to pick out Jewish students in classrooms to use as examples of ‘non-Aryans’ during biology lessons about racial purity. Jewish children would be told to stand at the front of the class, whilst teachers pointed to their eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair; comparing these to characteristics on Nazi propaganda sheets. They measured skull size and nose length, and recorded features to determine whether students belonged to the true Aryan race. During history lessons, whilst the class was taught about the First World War, Jews would be ridiculed and branded as traitors in front of their classmates. 

The process of denying Jews a state education was a gradual one. Jewish children would be sent to the back of the classroom, before their eventual isolation from the school. But the Nazi laws did not fully exclude Jews from education; they allowed Jewish teachers to set up separate schools for Jewish students.

 

Attacks

However, the experience of Jewish children attending Jewish schools was also not without its problems. Often members of the Hitler Youth would wait outside at the end of the school day and set about beating Jewish boys as they left school.

Other than attempting to fight back, there was very little that these boys could do to fend off their attackers.

Bernard (a German-Jewish kindertransport refugee) remembers being bullied in this way for over three years while at school. Only two non-Jewish students refrained from bullying him.

Steven (also a kindertransport refugee) remembers being beaten by Hitler Youth. He points out that "they would never attack you if they were on their own; they were always in groups." He also points out that they would never attack the girls.