Poisoning Young Minds in Nazi Germany: Children and Propaganda in the Third Reich

Article excerpt

THE MUSICAL SOUTH PACIFIC by Rodgers and Hammerstein made its debut on the American stage in April 1949--almost four years after World War II ended. Based on a collection of stories by James Michener, the play deals with the shattering effects of racism on human happiness. The story reaches its climax when an American lieutenant, in love with a young Tonkinese woman, overcomes his fear of marrying her. In a song regarded as daring for the time, he concludes that racial intolerance is not something inborn in humans, but something that must be "carefully taught." (1)

Nazi propagandists would have agreed, as is evident from the manner in which the "Jewish question" was introduced to German schoolchildren. Within months after Hitler carne to power in 1933, the government moved to expel Jews from civil service positions (including school teachers) and limit the number of Jewish students in any school to 1.5 percent. The Nuremburg Laws of 1935 furthered the aims of nazification by defining Jews as having different "blood" from Germans and depriving them of the rights belonging to citizens in the Reich. (2) By 1937, 97 percent of all German school teachers belonged to the National Socialist Teachers' Union, each member having to submit an ancestry table in triplicate and official documents proving that he/she had no Jewish ancestry. In 1939, German Jews lost their citizenship altogether, and Jewish children were barred from the remaining public schools they attended.

School courses and textbooks reflected the Nazi aim of instilling anti-Semitism in children through the advocacy of racial theory. Even mathematics was claimed as "Aryan spiritual property ... an expression of the nordic fighting spirit, of the nordic struggle for the supremacy of the world." (3) The following math problem demonstrates how racial propaganda could be incorporated into the most unlikely curriculum:

 
   The Jews are aliens in Germany--in 1933 there were 66,060,000 inhabitants 
   in the German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the percent of 
   aliens? (4) 

A key proponent of anti-Semitic propaganda for children was Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Sturmer (The Storm Trooper) and head of a publishing house used to disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda throughout the Hitler years. (5) Streicher was once an elementary school teacher, who left teaching to volunteer for active duty in World War I. He was suspended from schoolteaching in 1923 because of his participation in the putsch of that year.

In order to entice young children into the attitudes of the Third Reich, Streicher published storybook propaganda. Children received primers with contents focusing on outdoor camp life and martial themes. Along with the primers came supplementary storybooks. Characteristic of these propaganda picture books was the recurring image of the Jew as subhuman, unnatural, and immoral. This article describes three storybooks published by Streicher that were widely circulated to children (6) and are cautionary examples of the techniques that can be used by propagandists to implant hatred in young and impressionable minds.

Don't Trust a Fox (1935-6)

One of the most widely circulated propaganda storybooks was Trau keinem Fuchs auf gruner Heid und keinem Jud bei seinem Eid (Don't Trust a Fox in a Green Meadow or the Oath of a Jew). (7) This book, written by an eighteen-year-old art student named Elvira Bauer, did not have a story in the traditional sense. Its anti-Semitic theme, conveyed through primitive rhymes and lurid illustrations, focused on presumed differences between the German and the Jew that provided the moral justification for making war on Jews. According to Nazi ideology, this war was being fought to save the Aryan world from the Jewish invaders within its midst.

On the book's cover were two images bearing malicious expressions: one was a fox eager to trap his prey, the other was a Jew swearing a false oath under the Star of David. …