Erika Welkerling, Falk Wiesemann, eds. Unerwünschte Jugend im Nationalsozialismus: "Jugendpflege" und Hilfsschule im Rheinland 1933-1945. Düsseldorfer Schriften zur neueren Landesgeschichte und zur Geschichte Nordrhein-Westfalens. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2005. 280 pp. EUR 24.90 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-89861-525-9.
Reviewed by Alexander Peter d'Erizans (Department of Social Science, Borough of Manhattan Community College [CUNY])
Published on H-German (March, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Nurturing the Volksgemeinschaft
Increasingly, historians are questioning the view of National Socialism as a deviation from the "normal" trajectory of modernity. Challenging the notion of a peculiarly backward Sonderweg of German development, these scholars indicate that Nazis were "modern" in the sense that, as Marshall Berman states, they sought to confront confidently and to make themselves secure within the dangerous zones of a constantly changing world. Instead of seeking to rekindle a comforting past, Nazis were innovators seeking novel, albeit extreme solutions to contemporary social challenges. In describing Nazism as "cutting-edge," these same historians often point towards the dynamism of the movement as well, refuting totalitarian theories that conceptualize the Third Reich as a uniform "top-down" system of control over a passive populace. In their analysis of the concepts and practices impacting youth in the Rhineland throughout the Nazi period, the various contributors to Unerwünschte Jugend im Nationalsozialismus:"Jugendpflege" und Hilfsschule im Rheinland lend their voices to an ever-growing chorus presenting National Socialism as a dynamic, forward-looking utopian project of change.
The volume is divided into four sections. The first explores the particular type of "state youth" the National Socialists sought to mobilize and the extent to which young people promoted or resisted such efforts. In "'Erziehung für Deutschland': Nationalsozialistische Staatsjugend in Düsseldorf," Falk Wiesemann details the role the Hitler Jugend played in promoting Nazism among youths. Despite the genuine popularity of HJ activities, the author argues, as the net of regimentation thickened during the war years, discomfort and escapism spread. In "Das BDM-Werk 'Glaube und Schönheit' in Düsseldorf: Propagandapathos und die Pragmatik der Verhältnisse," Gisela Miller-Kipp explores the experiences of young women in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) Werk Glaube und Schönheit. Formed in January 1938, the organization offered a series of Arbeitsgemeinschaften (AGs), or activity groups, on a voluntary basis to women ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-one. The groups organized around a variety of issues: beauty, style, and natural grace by means of health education, vigorous body conditioning, the National Socialist worldview, and practical "female" skills, most notably domestic work. According to Miller-Kipp, the BDM-Werk was popular, but instead of exemplifying a means by which the Nazis regimented youth, the organization ultimately enabled its members to assert their own individuality and cultivate relatively autonomous "spaces" of freedom. In content as well as form, AGs responded to grassroots supply and demand rather than any central directives from "above." Looking back, members spoke positively of the BDM-Werk, but they perceived its benefits in a personal way and conceptualized their experiences as primarily episodic.
In the second section, contributors wrestle with the relationship between the nurturing of youth and work placement in the Third Reich. In "'Arbeitereinsatz und Berufsberufung werden somit zugleich zu einem rassischen Ausleseproblem': Aspekte Öffentlicher Berufsberatung und Berufslenkung der Jugend in der Rheinprovinz," Michael Jankowski highlights the use of racial considerations by professional organizations that consulted with government bodies and school administrations on career advising and apprenticeship selection. The author makes clear that such bodies were not just a product of Nazism. Indeed, the institute under analysis opened in 1926, and the questions with which it wrestled extended back to the nineteenth century. Researchers saw themselves at the forefront of an intensely rational field of inquiry. Several factors, however, hindered the institute's work, even during the Third Reich. First, scientists struggled with how to evaluate a subject on the basis of race. In addition, some experts questioned the findings of racial psychologists by pointing to the importance of environmental factors for youth development. The author concludes by gesturing towards continuities beyond 1945, after which leading institute officials often assumed new positions. In "Jugendliche und Ihre 'Erziehung' in der Arbeitsanstalt Brauweiler," Hermann Daners scrutinizes the development of a forced work facility with origins extending back to early industrialization. Intimidation and discipline through forced labor, military drill, and intense sport were its principle means of "improvement." Like earlier contributors, the author notes a fluid shift to the Third Reich. By establishing a rigid system of determining an individual's societal "usefulness," the institution was able to accommodate much of Nazi welfare policy.
Contributors to the third section of the book grapple with youth care in schools for students with developmental and educational delays. In "Erwerbsfähigkeit, ein Bildungsziel der Hilfsschulpädagogik in historischer Perspektive," Sieglind Ellger-Rüttgardt notes that public debates about pupils have traditionally judged the success of such educational efforts by demonstrating whether the youth in question were able to gain employment. Any concern for the particular rights of the students themselves as self-autonomous individuals was of secondary importance. In this regard, Nazi youth policy was quite consistent with pre-1933 trends. Even 1945 did not constitute a break in this respect, for until the 1970s most special-student educators were still principally concerned with the occupational integration of the youth under their charge. In "Hilfsschule im 'Dritten Reich': Konformes and nicht konformes Verhalten von Hilfsschullehrern," Ellger-Rüttgardt indicates that the task of such schools in the Third Reich was to free primary schools from "unnecessary ballast." The author notes that, although many teachers evaluated their students within a eugenicist framework in their reports, a number of teachers did seek to value each student as an individual with a unique life story. In "Die Rolle der Medizin in der Schulpolitik des Nationalsozialismus--Das Beispiel Hilfsschule," Wolfgang Woelk analyzes the impact of eugenics on medicine in Nazi school policy. Since such racialist thinking extended back decades before 1933, the Third Reich was consistent with some of the most recent "progressive" trends in health care. In "Sittlichkeitsdenken und Zwangssterilisation: Die Hilfsschulanstalt Neudüsseltal im Nationalsozialismus," Uwe Kaminsky analyzes one of the largest evangelical special schools. During the final crisis years of Weimar, the institution cut costs by expelling youths it considered incapable of benefiting from corrective training. Such an "exclusionary" approach provided for a smooth transition to more blatantly eugenicist Nazi youth policy following 1933. The traditional religious notion that a child should assume the morals of a wider nurturing community ultimately dovetailed nicely with the Third Reich's vision of an individual's subordination to the entirety of the people. In "Zwischen Erziehung und Vernichtung: Das Franz-Sales-Haus in Essen," Volker van der Locht reveals similar pedagogical goals in a Catholic reform school for mentally disabled children that opened in the 1880s. Characterized by harsh systematic categorization of students depending on the severity of the handicap, evaluations of subjects increasingly conformed to exclusionary eugenicist considerations. Such emergency "triage" continued in the Third Reich. In "Die Erziehung unserer Mädchen zur Frau und Mutter: Die Düsseldorfer Dorotheenheim im Nationalsozialismus," Ute Kaminsky surveys female corrective training in an evangelical youth home. Having opened its doors in 1910, the home sought to cultivate a "motherly personality" among mothers and girls in its care and prepare the latter to carry out the familial duties of orderly homemakers. The readiness of the directors of this institution to exclude apparently incorrigible inmates during the depression in the final years of Weimar served as an essential precondition for acceptance of Third Reich eugenicist social policies. In their care and counseling of sterilized inmates and their families, directors believed that they were reconciling Christian ethics with eugenic laws championing the "morality of the people."
In the final section, scholars zero in on particular groups of marginalized youth in the Third Reich. In "Katholische Jugendarbeit in Düsseldorf," Norbert Czerwinski argues that a mixture of affinity and hostility ultimately characterized the approach of Catholic youth to National Socialism. Despite certain stylistic and ideological affinities to Nazism, Catholic youth clashed with the HJ, which made an exclusive claim to all young people. In addition, Catholic youths were sometimes troubled by the emphasis the Nazis placed on race and by their insistence on obedience to the nation. At first, the Nazis accommodated Catholic youth groups. As time went on, however, especially during the war years, the Nazis increasingly cracked down on their activities. In "Ausgefallen--ausgegrenzt--verfolgt: Die 'andere' Jugend im Nationalsozialismus," Hildegard Jakobs engages with two main groups of victimized youth in the Third Reich. The first encompasses youths who consciously challenged Nazism. Examples included the so-called Edelweiss pirates and Swing Youth, as well as a number of young Catholics, evangelicals, and Jehovah's Witnesses. As a result of massive casualty rates, economic disruptions, and increased burdens on the home front during the war, the number of youths who flocked to such groups dramatically increased, leading in turn to intensified government repression. The second category included young homosexuals, Jews, and gypsies, who found themselves excluded from the Volksgemeinschaft due to Third Reich notions of racial hygiene. Vulnerable to discriminatory and exclusionary legislation as well as violence following 1933, such youths became victims of increasingly annihilationist policies after 1939.
By harnessing voices of the large variety of local and regional stakeholders involved in devising and implementing Nazi youth policy, along with a number of its young victims, the contributors reveal convincingly the extent to which the Nazis were modern in their aim to establish a racially conscious Volksgemeinschaft that addressed contemporary social problems. For those outside the nation, this vision of "progress" meant removal and destruction. Revitalized life for so-called Aryans necessitated uncompromising brutality against "non-Aryans." The scholars challenge totalitarian conceptualizations of the Third Reich by indicating that energetic initiative and manipulation "from below" rather than mere direction "from above" often shaped Nazi youth policy. Ultimately, the authors challenge us to place Nazism alongside other forms of "progressive" nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideologies imbued with the spirit of science, rationality, and an engaged and critical citizenry. Noting continuities across the divide of 1945 in ideas and personnel, the authors question the traditional notion of a Stunde Null and call upon their readers to reflect upon the legacies of Nazism for the development of postwar German democracy.
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Alexander Peter d'Erizans. Review of Welkerling, Erika; Wiesemann, Falk, eds., Unerwünschte Jugend im Nationalsozialismus: "Jugendpflege" und Hilfsschule im Rheinland 1933-1945.
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