Stefan Zauner. Erziehung und Kulturmission: Frankreichs Bildungs-Politik in Deutschland, 1945-1949. Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1994. 351 pp. DM 78.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-486-56056-5.
Reviewed by Bertram M. Gordon (Mills College)
Published on H-German (February, 1996)
In Erziehung und Kulturmission, Stefan Zauner argues that "Stunde Null" -- the concept that the end of World War II in 1945 marked a "zero hour" in German history -- makes no sense in terms of education from 1945 through 1949 in France's occupation zone in the southwest. Originally a dissertation written for the history faculty of the University of Tuebingen, the book makes exhaustive use of both German and French sources. It addresses France's cultural policy in its occupation zone and shows how the competing French bureaucracies often impeded the expressed goal of denazifying and democratizing Germany. Focusing on French attempts to reform the educational system, Zauner also discusses efforts to spread French culture throughout all of Germany and touches upon the impact of French-sponsored tourism as well.
Zauner's account revolves around Raymond Schmittlein, an early Gaullist who, as France's director of public instruction, was put in charge of the effort to reform education in the French zone. A product of what Zauner calls the generation of 1905, Schmittlein was himself educated during the ascendancy of the secularist Third Republic and the separation of Church and state in France. In French-occupied Germany, he oversaw efforts to undo the effects not only of National Socialism but also of Prussian state centralism in German education. French efforts concentrated on purging the teaching corps of Nazis, changing textbooks, and reforming the structure and content of the educational programs.
As Zauner notes, French endeavors to influence German culture under military threat after World War II were not new; they paralleled similar efforts of Jacobinism a century and a half earlier. The French had also tried to shape German cultural development during their occupation of the Rhineland after the First World War. Committed to a democratization of French society in 1944 and 1945 that included the extension of Popular Front reforms for popular leisure and mass tourism, the new French Provisional Government also planned educational reforms toward this end at home. Their policy toward occupied Germany at first aimed, insofar as possible, to exploit the occupation zone economically and to detach it from the rest of the country, linking it administratively and culturally to France.
French culture and history, for example, were taught in French, as were teacher-training courses. Not only was German culture de-emphasized, but American textbooks were kept out of the French zone as well. To get the German clergy to accept French cultural penetration, the occupation authorities threatened the introduction of France's own secular educational laws. Not surprisingly, Schmittlein encountered resistance on the part of local officials and secular teachers, as well as from clerical circles in the French zone. In the summer of 1947, with the Cold War intensifying and the Communists having left the French government, there was growing pressure from the Americans to amalgamate the French zone with their own and with that of the British. By late 1947, preferring a reconstructed Germany anchored in the West to the threat of one tied to the East, the French began to shift away from the economic exploitation of their zone. Still, they kept working to influence the educational system there, as well as to bring French culture to the other zones of Germany, including the Soviet zone, where they were notably unsuccessful.
Ultimately, French education reforms were undermined not only by German resistance but also by rivalries between French agencies in Germany. In the primary education system, little would remain of Schmittlein's reforms, apart from a more unified system of Gymnasien and a modified Zentralabitur in Baden-Wuerttemberg. French attempts to secularize denominational schools either failed or were reversed after 1949. The French did better in higher education, leaving behind new universities in Mainz and Saarbruecken, an administrative training school in Speyer, and an interpreters' institute in Germersheim; all were subsequently integrated into the Federal Republic's educational system. Zauner concludes that the degree to which the reforms contributed to a "new beginning" in moving away from Nazism to a more democratic society cannot be determined without a study of the long-term formation of political consciousness. He adds, however, that enhanced Franco-German cultural and tourist exchanges during the occupation years were a necessary first step toward a previously unknown linkage of the German and French states and peoples.
Zauner's analysis of French educational policies in occupied Germany is excellent as far as it goes. In reality, the opportunity for reform in 1945 was limited by the elitist structures of both the German and French educational systems, each characterized by state examinations which winnowed out the majority of poorer students and served as entrees to specialty university programs. The French system of lycee and baccalaureate resembled that of the Germans in the 1930s. Curricula in France and Germany were similar, notably in physics, mathematics, and the medical sciences, and both countries were quite vocal about the need for patriotic public educational organization in the interwar years. After World War II, the French system became slightly more open because of the social justice arguments of the Communists and the Socialists. Even today, however, the French system is largely unchanged from the nineteenth century, containing a series of state examinations and a limited library system which favor the affluent; the common division into technical and fine arts, polytechniques, and ultimately the Grandes Ecoles for the elites; and layers of centralized specialty institutes, notably the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences sociales -- a maze of elitist units on a base that is called democratic. In 1945 the French entered Germany with two specific educational goals: first, to rewrite German texts slightly to justify the return of Alsace-Lorraine and second, to denazify the system. The French really wanted to restore the German school system to what it might have been in 1935 had Hitler had not come to power, as the French had essentially the same model.
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Bertram M. Gordon. Review of Zauner, Stefan, Erziehung und Kulturmission: Frankreichs Bildungs-Politik in Deutschland, 1945-1949.
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