Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Hitlerism and the German Universities

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Hitlerism and the German Universities

Article excerpt

Last year's revolution in Germany has a special significance from the standpoint of education, and deserves the close attention of American educators. Acclaimed by its exponents as the spiritual rebirth of the nation, this amazing social eruption was largely the work of the young generation of Germany. Youths between the ages of eighteen and thirty constitute the backbone of the National Socialist party. The victims of an almost religious fanaticism, they won the victory for the movement against great odds; they are, in a large measure, to blame for the deplorable acts which have aroused the indignation of foreign critics. Thus the upheaval presents itself as another phase of the worldwide revolt of youth, and takes its place beside Italy's fascism (whose war song is characteristically entitled "Giovinezza," youth) and the godless movement of the young communists in Russia.

Many of these German revolutionists are still in the process of being educated at some institution of higher learning. Three-fourths of the student bodies of the universities are estimated to have National Socialist leanings, and a large portion are filling the ranks of the Brown Army as storm troopers and shock troopers. The students are making history, while their professors have to take the back seats in the political arena. Many of the latter are perhaps in sympathy with the new leadership; if they are not and were foolish enough to say so, they have probably lost their jobs. For the Nazi students owe implicit obedience to their party leaders, most of whom are outside the universities, and their revered commander-in-chief is Adolf Hitler, who finished his schooling with the eighth grade of an Austrian elementary school.

At the University of Berlin, world renowned for its brilliant faculty and at one time the mecca of American scholars, the student body is overzealous; it marches in the forefront of the movement, setting its pace. On the campus of this university there was conceived the grand idea of burning books with inimical contents in a public bonfire. There the students compelled the rector of the university, a man of international reputation, to resign because he refused to accede to their demands. Gone is the time-cherished tradition, equally respected by the republican and monarchial rulers of Germany for decades, which vested the university with absolute freedom of teaching and research, thus making it a state within the state. The ruling party has already announced that it will not tolerate any expression of opinion which is at variance with its own proclaimed philosophy of life. At some future time the government may make some profound changes in the organization and educational routine of the higher institutions of learning. If so, the views of the faculties will be ignored; the reform will be imposed, as it were, at a top-sergeant's command; for the doctrines of the National Socialist party are the supreme law of the land to which everyone must bow.

All this should give pause to educators abroad, as the astounding news emerges from a country whose educational plan seems to have made a deep impression on many American educators. In research, at least, the accomplishments of this system are undisputed. How was it possible that the German professors lost their hold on the minds of the students so completely? Why is the leadership of the great men of learning so conspicuously absent from the movement that is about to deflect the stream of German life into a new bed?

As a product of higher German education, I shall attempt to expose some of its intrinsic shortcomings so as to build up a plea for the curbing of certain pernicious tendencies in American education. To achieve this purpose it is necessary to illuminate the prominent differences in the philosophy and routine of the American and German universities. Let us suppose a student from an American college be transferred to a German university. What will impress him most strongly will be the great independence of the German students. …

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