Heinz P. Wassermann. Verfälschte Geschichte im Unterricht: Nationalsozialismus und Österrreich nach 1945. Innsbruck: StudienVerlag, 2004. 253 pp. EUR 27.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-7065-1880-2.
Reviewed by Matthew Berg (Department of History, John Carroll University)
Published on H-German (September, 2005)
Fostering Austrian Identity through History and Civics Textbooks
"Sofern es die Lehrpläne betrifft, sind Faschismus und Nationalsozialismus selbstverständlich im Geschichtsunterricht integriert--am Papier zumindest" (p. 199). Heinz Wassermann arrives at this conclusion through a combined qualitative and quantitative analysis of a sizable sample of textbooks adopted for use in Hauptschulen and AHS Oberstufen, through a review of lesson plans for these levels, and examination of a series of decrees and directives issued by the Austrian Education Ministry since the second half of the 1940s. Wassermann's primary concern is to assess the ways in which Austrian pupils--the larger portion of whom would have passed through these school tracks--would have been exposed to an earnest attempt at Vergangenheitsbewältigung. The result is a study that charts the evolution of Education Ministry policy and pedagogic materials treating the interwar period, Anschluß, and Austria as a constituent element of the Third Reich in curriculum development between the 1945-46 school year and the early 1990s.
The book's first three substantive chapters address efforts to denazify and "de-Germanize" curriculum conceptualization and implementation in the Volks-, Haupt- and Mittelschulen, and early efforts to introduce civics education. As early as September 3, 1945, Wassermann notes, a directive from federal education authorities mandated that the school cultivate within pupils an understanding that the Austrian is "bescheidenen, kosmopolitisch, versöhnend, humorvoll und gütig"--an obvious counterpoint to the allegedly arrogant, xenophobic, aggressive, humorless, and evil Prusso-German/Nazi ("Piefke"). Thus marked the beginning of a re-positioning of Austria's history, an emphasis away from the German-speaking Holy Roman Empire tradition towards a conceptualization of Austria as "zu aller Zeit ein integrierender Bestandteil des Donauraumes, seine Geschichte ist mit der Geschichte dieses Donauraumes aufs innigste verbunden" (pp. 21-22).
Even as such directives sought to (re-)introduce principles that would foster a formal, "teachable" sense of Austrian identity, certain Nazi education-related laws, lesson plans, films, and textbooks continued in use until 1947, albeit subject to sanitization (pp. 12-13). Shortages of paper and other materials prevented speedy adoption of new texts, and the need for qualified teachers at times worked against the strict fulfillment of denazification measures. Wassermann acknowledges that such factors posed challenges to initial identity-fostering efforts. His work is concerned less with the relationship between social, political, and economic factors on the one hand, and the assertion of distinctly "Austrian characteristics" on the other. Rather, Wassermann focuses on the mediation of a sense of "Austrianness" purged of any problematic associations with indigenous authoritarianism or National Socialism--an approach that allows the reader to trace the slow and, in many respects, incomplete evolution of Vergangenheitsbewältigung in the classroom.
Wassermann is certainly correct that lesson plans stressed "Faschismus und Nationalsozialismus als Störer des Weltfriedens" and that the Second World War was limited to detailing externally directed aggression ("Lehrplan 1946" [p.38]); that lessons plans referred to fascism and Nazism under the absurdly broad rubric "die weltgeschichtlichen Vorgänge nach dem ersten Weltkrieg" ("Lehrplan 1962" [p.39]); and that racial ideology, antisemitism, and organized genocide did not take explicit shape until the "Lehrplan 1985" (p. 41). Such points are among a host of well-documented references to a Vergangenheitsbewältigung that was, in essence, a paper fiction, unless individual teachers chose to place emphasis upon fascism and National Socialism, and Austrians' involvement in them, in a more systematic and thoughtful fashion.
The above strengths notwithstanding, Wassermann's approach in the first half of the book suffers by not being situated in Second Republic political debate. Most notably, he does not acknowledge the intensity of disagreement over the politics of pedagogy in Nationalrat sessions devoted to the education budget, nor does he explore the vigorous discussion of pedagogy and identity formation in party-specific journals and periodicals published for members of teachers' or parent-children associations. Instead, his narrow focus on Education Ministry-determined learning goals--manifested in lesson plans--suggests that Austrian experts and policy makers expressed either univocal sentiment on these points or that differences were so minor as to be insignificant. While neither the governing Catholic-conservative Volkspartei nor the junior coalition partner Socialists were particularly eager to directly address Austrian involvement in the Third Reich during the first decades of the Second Republic, Wassermann's readers should not draw the conclusion that this reluctance derived from the same sources or that differences did not manifest themselves clearly enough to be significant. This state of affairs is particularly true with respect to civics education. Indeed, Socialist education experts stressed a future-looking Austrian republic that would find solidarity with like-minded peoples in the pursuit of a peaceful and just international order, values derived from social democratic Marxist--or, after 1958, ethical humanist, or progressive Christian social--principles. On the other hand, Volkspartei notions stressed a revitalized greater Danubian mission for the Second Republic, one in which the integrative (during the imperial era, "civilizing") function of old Austria took on the form of a trans-Iron Curtain outreach to Eastern and Southeastern Europe that, after 1955, might allow Austria to capitalize on its neutrality for economic gain and the possibility of social/political dialogue. These rival self-conceptions represented more than trivial differences.
Wassermann is at is best in his large section on the analysis of history books, to which just over 50 percent of his study is devoted. He submits each of the just over three dozen texts to rigorous quantitative analysis in which he takes into consideration how many of each work's total pages are dedicated to fascism and National Socialism in general; indigenous Austrian fascism of the 1920s and 1930s culminating in the 1934-38 Fatherland Front regime; other forms of fascism; Nazism prior to 1933; Nazism between 1933-39; Nazism between 1939-45; Austria under the Third Reich; the Holocaust; and "other" victims of the Third Reich. Close content analysis of each text supplements this quantitative component. It is difficult to conceive of a more systematic and thorough approach than Wassermann has undertaken, although there is an important respect in which his content analysis is by no means an entirely fresh contribution; indeed, he would have been well served if he had consulted Peter Utgaard's Remembering and Forgetting Nazism: Education, National Identity and the Victim Myth in Postwar Austria (2003), a study that offered fresh insights into Vergangenheitsbewältigung_--or lack thereof--in Austrian history texts.
Ultimately, the audience to whom Wassermann has directed this book is not quite clear. If it is for historians concerned with the politics of pedagogy and their translation into school texts, the absence of contextualization renders the book a collection of data with quite little in the way of exciting new conclusions. However, as a research resource, it is a work that may be of considerable value to historians, education specialists, political scientists, and sociologists interested in Austrian or comparative Austrian-German Vergangenheitsbewältigung in historical and civics instruction.
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Matthew Berg. Review of Wassermann, Heinz P., Verfälschte Geschichte im Unterricht: Nationalsozialismus und Österrreich nach 1945.
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