The following article reveals the connection between the high-end schools in UK and the Nazi youth moulding schools of Nazi Germany.
In spring 1936, teenage schoolboy â and later war hero â Dick Hargreaves was given the chance to go on an all-expenses-paid exchange trip to Germany. But this was no ordinary school exchange â Hargreavesâ destination was Oranienstein, one of a system of new elite boarding schools known as National Political Education Institutes (âNapolasâ for short).
These Nazi colleges were explicitly modelled on an amalgam of the British public schools, the Prussian cadet corps, and the harsh educational practices of ancient Sparta. The schools educated boys from the age of ten upwards, training them as future leaders of the Third Reich. By taking part in the exchange, Hargreaves and his ten companions from Dauntseyâs School in Wiltshire, England, would soon be exposed to the Napolasâ âtotalâ programme of education, indoctrination and National Socialist propaganda.
Hargreavesâ initial impressions, recorded in his diary at the time, are overwhelmingly favourable. The school, situated in the town of Diez an der Lahn, near Koblenz, is described as âa damn good place âŠ a huge castle, done up modern and very posh â armchairs, super labs, stables âŠ school bicycles and heaven [knows] what!â According to the diary, everyone is âextraordinarily decentâ, and the boysâ Nazi uniforms are âvery smart indeed â light khaki corduroy breeches, black riding boots, khaki coat, red arm band with swastika, brown coat lapels, blue shoulder straps and a dagger thingâ.
âVery smart indeedâ: young German schoolboys reading a Nazi newspaper at NPEA RĂŒgen, 1943. Dietrich Schulz
Most interesting, though, is Dickâs dispassionate observation of the Nazi Mayday celebrations in the neighbouring town of Diez. On April 30, 1936, his diary records a trip âwith our Kameradenâ to watch the Maypole being hoisted and folk dances by the Hitler Youth. The boys heard speeches by some of the âbig bugs of the townâ. There was also community singing in which they all took part.
There was a good bit of âHeilingâ which we also did because we were in a huge crowd. It was a magnificent scene â the old castle towering above the market place in which were thousands of enthusiastic peasants lit by torch and candle lightâŠ
The following Friday, May 1, which was the spring festival or âFrĂŒhlingsfestâ, Hargreavesâ diary records that the boys had to get up at six oâclock to salute the flag and parade. They then marched to Diez where they assembled with the local Hitler Youth to listen to a 90-minute speech by Hitler being broadcast on the radio.
The same afternoon, the boys returned to Diez to hear another lengthy speech by âder FĂŒhrerâ. Hargreaves noted:
He worked himself into such a frenzy and was able to move the crowd so tremendously that we saw three people faint. Not from fatigue or crush but just by his amazing oratory powers. Then after Hitler had been âHeiledâ off the earth Goering spoke for Âœ hour!
Here, the way in which foreign observers could easily be swept up in the fervour of âheilingâ and Hitlerism around them is made poignantly clear â although the interminable speeches by Hitler and his henchmen seem to have palled soon enough.
My decade-long research project on the history of the Napolas â just published as the book The Third Reichâs Elite Schools: A History of the Napolas â has shown that, during the 1930s, hundreds of pupils took part in this programme of exchanges and sporting tournaments.
Just to take one example, between 1935 and 1938, Napola Oranienstein took part in exchanges with British private schools, including Westminster, St Paulâs, Tonbridge School, Dauntseyâs and Bingley School in Yorkshire. The school also entertained headmasters and exchange teachers from Shrewsbury School, Dauntseyâs and Bolton School, and was also involved in sports tournaments with Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester, Shrewsbury, Bradfield and Bryanston.