Integration and Formation of Identity; Exile Schools in Great Britain

By Feidel-Mertz, Hildegard | Shofar, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Integration and Formation of Identity; Exile Schools in Great Britain


Feidel-Mertz, Hildegard, Shofar


ABSTRACT. Teachers and educators who were forced out of Germany after y933 on political grounds or as a result of their Jewish ancestry founded more than 20 schools in exile worldwide. These were largely boarding schools oriented towards the German progressive educational reform tradition of Landerziehungsheime (literally "countryside educational homes"). They all had one common task: to support the uprooted and confused refugee children as they developed a new and complex identity, and as they came to terms with an alien environment. Using the example of two schools supported by the Quakers and influenced by their philosophy of tolerance, the author illustrates how this task was performed. The contribution of the directorship and staff of these two schools in solving the problems connected with the Kindertransport is illuminated.

Teachers and educators who were forced out of Germany after y933 on political grounds or as a result of their Jewish ancestry founded more than 20 schools in exile all over the world.(1) These were largely boarding schools oriented towards the German progressive educational reform tradition of Landerziehungsheime (literally "countryside educational homes"). In Great Britain alone there were at least seven such foundations,(2) the conditions in the "land of private schools" being particularly suitable for this purpose.(3) However, this development began not in 1938/39 as a result of the Kindertransports, but as early as 1933. The exile schools differed from one another conceptually and organizationally in several respects, and not only in Great Britain, but they all had one common task: to support the uprooted and confused refugee children as they developed a new and complex identity and came to terms with an alien environment.

As early as autumn 1933 Anna Essinger moved almost in entirety her Landerziehungsheim, which had been founded in 1926 in Herrlingen near Ulm, to Otterden in Kent. Germany had increasingly appeared to her as a place in which one could not bring up children in freedom and integrity.(4) At first the transferred institution was named the Country Home School, New Herrlingen, and after 1936 it became Bunce Court School and as such continued to exist until 1948.

In 1934 three further school foundations followed. There was the Beltane School in Wimbledon,(5) where Ernst and Ilse Bulowa continued until 1941 to teach thirty refugee children by means of the Montessori method which they had practiced in Berlin. Gordonstoun,(6) near Aberdeen in Scotland, was founded by Kurt Hahn on the model of his Schloss Salem School, embodying his educational philosophy of self-realization and social responsibility through community service. It survives today as a highly regarded British institution. It is often forgotten that Gordonstoun started as a school for refugee children and teachers from Germany. The third foundation at this time was Stoatley Rough School(7) at Haslemere in Surrey. This school owed its existence to the social scientist and distinguished representative of the women's movement, Hilde Lion. Laying particular emphasis on social education, Stoatley Rough survived until 1960.

The Anschluss of Austria to National Socialist Germany in 1938 was the signal for Karl König, an Austrian doctor and remedial educator, to move with fifteen colleagues to Aberdeen. Despite his Jewish background König had early in his career warmed towards Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy. At Camp Hill House(8) he founded an educational workshop for the integration of handicapped and non-handicapped children, which had far-reaching influence.

In the same year the non-Jewish social reform educator, Minna Specht, transferred her school from Denmark to Wales with the help of the Quakers. From 1926 to 1933 she had run a Landerziehungsheim at Walkemühle near Melsungen, after which she founded the successor school in Denmark. At first the intention in Wales had been to reconstruct the school on a co-operative basis in a miners' settlement. …

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