The Sextant Christopher Newport University’s On-Line History Journal

Vol. 9, Fall/Winter 2012-13


“Unless [children] understand deeply the sources of our democracy, they will take it for granted and fail to exercise their rights and responsibilities... The best protection for a democratic society is well-educated citizens.” [1]

—Diane Ravich


In the late 1940’, a young German girl awaited a democratic discussion to begin. Throughout the room several young Germans were situated alongside American counselors and mentors, all there to conduct a student mock government discussion. The young girl noticed a general enter the room unceremoniously and without protocol. Receiving no special recognition, he simply sat down among the others to join in with the event. Young and impressionable, the German girl later recalled “that this treatment of a general revealed to her in a way nothing else could what democracy means in America .” [2] She had discovered the true meaning of equality in America . With the help of interactive democratic programs and American promoted school reforms, many young Germans, much like the young girl at the student discussion, learned the meaning of being citizens in a newly democratic West Germany .

The American occupation of Germany after WWII marked an important opportunity for the U.S. military government to spread democratic culture throughout Western Germany and craft a more peaceful future for Europe . Although it was slow to start in the beginning years of 1945-46, overshadowed in the beginning by the de-Nazification process and the need to reopen public schools, reeducation was an influential aspect of the four year occupation. As soon as the occupation began, American officials began franticly de-Nazifying teachers and collecting as many usable textbooks as possible.  Once the schools were safe to reopen, according to American leaders’ standards, the Education branch embarked on plans for school reform and the establishment of after school programs. The chief goal was to reverse the damage done to school curriculums by the Nazi Party during the war, and to instate schooling based on ideals of equality and interactive citizenship. More important than the development of American educational reforms during the actual occupation were the after effects. The fact that reforms established in the late 1940’s became permanent in the 1950’s illustrated the Americans’ ultimate success in guiding West German schooling in a new and more democratic direction. Through the introduction of these curricular reforms and interactive programs, American occupiers initiated the transformation of West German youths into active citizens of a democratic nation.

Several scholars over the years have assessed reeducation in West Germany , arguing what programs and reforms were most significant, and even challenging whether or not reeducation was noteworthy at all. Whatever scholars chose to focus on or argue, they had one thing in common. All felt the subject of reeducation and its effects were noteworthy enough to incite discussion and debate.

Michael Kater and Susan Bartoletti both present detailed accounts of the Hitler Youth in their books, which assist in developing an understanding of the youth situation before 1945. Both authors dedicate a section of their books to education during the Third Reich and the problems therein. In The Hitler Youth, Kater explained how the school curriculum was inundated with eugenics and teachings of Aryan superiority. [3] Bartoletti, in The Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, also described the power members of the Hitler Youth had over their school teachers, explaining that “entire Hitler Youth squads—as many as a hundred boys—showed up at classroom doors to intimidate teachers who did not espouse the Nazi overview.” [4] This information concerning education under Hitler is useful in establishing the situation of the schools when American occupiers arrived. Books that focus entirely on the Hitler Youth, however, are only useful in setting up the problem at hand, not in explaining the efforts during the occupation to solve it.

In Democracy Imposed, Richard Merritt provides useful insight into the process with which American occupiers helped to transform West Germany into a democratic society and how the efforts were embraced by the Germans. Merritt discusses American efforts to promote social and political change without enforcing it on a conquered country.  Merritt’s focused his research on how Americans sought not to completely restructure German society, but to “modify sociopolitical perspectives” to augment “prospects for democracy and peace.” [5] His chapter concerning education provides exceptional detail concerning teacher training, as well as the after school programs that were established by both Germans and American GIs. Merritt primary focus, however, is centered more around effects of democracy on the West German government, while this paper seeks to study the impact on education. The efforts made in the field of education were only a small aspect of his overall argument, which focused on the results of the occupation as a whole. While Merritt has collected valuable research concerning the German response to the occupation, including polls regarding youth programs, his work does not focus solely on the effects of youth education on German democratization.

James Tent was the first to lay its main focus on denazification and reeducation in the American zone in his book, Mission on the Rhine. Tent focused on educational reforms as one of the most important and effective aspects of reeducation, particularly the success of the comprehensive school system. Tent also emphasized the exchange program, which he argued was essential for reorienting Germany back into Western society, as well as being the most effective program in the long term. [6] He argued that, in comparison to the structural changes Americans imposed, “the cultural-exchange program was a success,” and “continued to exert profound...influence a generation later.” [7] Although Tent’s work covers the reeducation of Germany , his spotlight on the leading figures in reeducation rarely draws attention away from the youth in Germany . Typically, Tent’s focus was centered on the head men of OMGUS’ Education Department and the policies they implemented, rather than the actual experiences of children in public schools as a result of the occupation.  Tent also argues that an inability to recognize the complexity of reeducation and reorientation, the lack of recognition education received at the outset, and a lack of knowledge concerning varied cultural needs of the different states, or Länders, all would “hinder American efforts at ‘reeducating’ the Germans toward democracy.” [8] Tent refers to the occupiers as naïve “in the assumption that one people can ‘reeducate’ another toward democracy.” [9] Between Tent’s focus on leaders more than the children themselves and his doubt concerning the American’s influence, Mission on the Rhine is in some ways unsupportive of this essay’s argument that Americans executed sufficient change during the occupation.

Henry Kellermann, a member of the Division of Cultural Relations, believed the cultural exchange program was essential in reintroducing Germans to the outside world after a long period of isolation.  Moreover, he argued that exchanges allowed the German people to come in contact with, and learn from, Western democratic societies. As the West German government and its citizens grew more willing to participate, “the exchange program helped turn the reorientation program itself into a bi-national undertaking.” [10] Once this change began to occur, according to Kellermann, the process of reorientation transferred from a controlled American effort to a shared effort between the Americans and the Germans. To support his claim of the exchange program’s significance, Kellermann provides the statistics that between 1948 and 1956, 14,000 people went between the U.S. and Germany , and 2,228 people went between Germany and other countries in Europe . [11] Kellermann also drew attention to the Fulbright Act, passed by Congress after the occupation to “strengthen mutual knowledge and understanding between countries,” which Kellermann sensed would help to build “closer ties of friendship between the United States and Germany .” [12] The Fulbright program was significant to Kellermann because it allowed German students to attend and take classes at American Universities. Although Kellermann’s book serves to describe a valuable program that outlived the occupation, the exchanges program is only one change the Americans succeeded in establishing in West Germany . Kellermann focuses on a very narrow piece of the reeducation process, essentially because it was his area of expertise, but Cultural Relations as an Instrument of Foreign Policy fails to note other important programs and reforms that emerged from the American’s four year occupation.

While other scholars, such as Tent and Merritt, focus their research on the events occurring inside of Germany , Ron Robin focuses his attention on reeducation in the POW camps in America . Robin’s book, The Barbed-Wire College, is of interest because it discusses American scholars’ attempts to reeducate German soldiers, and influence their opinions of the United States . Robin notes that American scholars hoped, “given a correct and selective presentation of American values, the POW’s could conceivably be transformed from adversaries to disciples.” [13] Members of the Special Projects Division went about choosing “safe prisoners” in order to prepare “a significant bloc of trustworthy Germans to spearhead change in Germany itself.” [14] Unlike other scholars chronicling Germany ’s reeducation, Robin argues that POW reeducation only played a marginal role in the overall reeducation in Germany , and that the teaching officials involved had alternative reasons for their work in the POW camps. [15] Robin centers his argument more on the troubles in academia in the 1940’s, and how professors used POW colleges to meet their own personal goals. [16]

While past scholars have sought to center their focus on smaller and more specific elements of reeducation in Germany , as well as questioned the overall success of the venture, this essay seeks to address how several aspects of reeducation were successful in establishing a democratic youth. Teacher training, scholar and student exchanges, the introduction of social studies and civics, and after school programs, were all essential for a triumphant reeducation process. Without the dedication of American officials in education, these changes in education may not have been possible. This essay seeks to prove that, through the introduction of curricular reforms and interactive programs, American occupiers initiated the transformation of West German youths into active citizens of a democratic nation.

To explore reeducation in West Germany , it is vital to first understand the situation of German schools when American officials arrived in 1945. Between 1933 and 1945, German schools had been centralized and overtaken by Nazi indoctrination. Teachers were provided two simple choices: join the National Socialist Party or step down from the teaching profession. The Preamble to the 1936 manual for new teachers stated as follows: “The Chief purpose of school is to train human beings in the doctrine that the state is more important than individual, that individuals must be willing and ready to sacrifice themselves for the Nation and Fuehrer.” [17] Although most teachers were compelled to join the Teacher’s National Socialist Party, only about 25 % actually joined the party. Members of the Hitler Youth would show up in packs to classrooms, however, intimidating teachers to follow the Nazis’ curriculum. As Manfred Rommel recalled, “we tended to be against the school and in our HJ uniforms felt like grown-ups and strong in a group.” [18] Hitler Youth meetings often took precedence over school, while at the same time children were being drawn away from the influence of family life and church.

Gregor Ziemer, President of the American Colony School in Berlin , asked Baldur von Shirach, leader of the Hitler Youth, in 1939: “When does the Nazi Party become interested in the German child?” Shirach, replied, “Before it is conceived.” [19] The Nazis wished to force their doctrine on German children, according to Susanne Engelmann, throughout the child’s entire life “from the cradle to the grave.” [20] As more and more mothers were forced to pick up jobs during the war-time, an increasing number of children were sent to the once optional preschools and kindergartens. Between the ages of two and six, children where not merely trained to have complete love and obedience for the Fuehrer, but “were taught to look at themselves as future soldiers.” [21]

Under the Third Reich, education was deemed to be of lesser importance than instruction in Aryan ideology and intensive physical training. Students were harshly disciplined to be strong in both body and mind. Hitler justified his idea of intensive schooling in stating: “A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth—that is what I am after.” [22] One member of the Hitler Youth recalled, “Learning was postponed to the period after the Final Victory.” [23] School time was gradually shortened to be replaced with physical education, and the number of years a child attended school was also decreased in order to bring young men into military service at a more rapid rate. Historically, class difference was also an issue, for the majority of German children were denied the right to a higher education. Most children at this time did not attend secondary school at all, for the school system was not comprehensive, and free schooling ended abruptly after the elementary level. Secondary schooling in Germany up until 1945 was a strictly middle to upper class phenomenon.

Racial science and eugenics were added to the Nazi curriculum, informing children of their ‘Aryan’ heritage and urging them to marry fellow Aryans. [24] Even story time in German schools was severely altered. Rather than learn about Grimm’s fairy tales, children were fed old Nordic folklore of warriors and heroes. German children were given the false impression of German history as “one continuous heroic fight against cruel enemies...” [25] Race was factored into subjects such as history and biology and mathematics focused on military based equations. Kater explained “the Nazi concept of the superior Aryan race constituted the framework for subjects such as biology, history, and geography, and some teachers adapted neutral subjects like those in the hard sciences or mathematics to ideology by dwelling on military examples.” [26] Even more extreme was the exclusion of all Jewish children from the regular schools, forced to form separate Jewish schools. Alfons Heck recalled Jewish children’s ill treatment in the schools: “It was the first time I had experienced discrimination...Suddenly, the awesome figure of authority...proclaimed that some people were bad because they were Jewish.” Heck remembered his teacher announcing the removal of the Jewish students, saying, “They have no business being among us true Germans.” [27]

The concept of democracy was another casualty of the Nazi regime. Gregor Ziemer related his experience at a Berlin elementary school where a teacher insulted the Americans: “They have a low type of government, a democracy. What is a Democracy?” the teacher asked. The students replied with answers such as “A democracy is a government in which people waste much time,” and “A democracy is a government in which there is no real leadership,” and most disturbing of all, “A democracy is a government that will be defeated by the Fuehrer.” [28] This distressing evidence attested that German children were being conditioned look to upon democracy with scorn and distaste. Over the course of the Nazi regime, young Germans were encouraged not only to turn away from democracy, but to despise it as “weak, inefficient, and corrupt.” [29]

Before the war had even reached its conclusion, as early as 1943, discussions arose concerning what was to be done with Germany . According to a journalist named Gilbert Murray, in his 1943 article from the New York Times, reeducation of Germany was so important because it was seen as the key to preventing a third war. Murray argued that “unlike any other nation, the German people have been for ten years put through a concentrated and intensive education whose whole object and purpose is war.” [30] Reeducation was considered the only possibility for a future peaceful Europe . The only issue with reeducation, however, was the difficulty of enforcing foreign ideals on a nation. Murray suggested that Germans be reminded of the old German values from a time when Germany was among the most respected nations. The object was to “change the direction of [their] self-admiration,” Murray explained, “by making them think more of the old German honesty, kindliness and Sittlichkeit and less of military glory.” [31] Every nation experiences a certain measure of national pride, but Murray argued that the Nazis severely manipulated this idea and focused it solely on Germany ’s military prowess. Murray claimed the Nazis took hold of a “highly intellectual nation,” and “lowered the standard of education” by focusing it entirely on the training of soldiers and soldier bearers. Murray ’s hope was that a small inkling of Germany ’s cultural past still survived. “It does not seem possible,” he said, “that the whole higher culture of nations can be destroyed in the space of one generation.” [32] It would be America ’s job to find that small flicker of old Germany and help it to grow once more.

Another New York Times article appearing in 1943, by Anne O’Hare McCormick, had a somewhat more cynical tone. McCormick noted that history in Germany was so well taught and deeply engrained that it was likely that the Germans knew their history better than American children. Since German history during the Third Reich, though mostly false, was so forcefully applied in schools, McCormick worried it would “take a generation or more to uproot it.” [33] American high schools had failed, according to McCormick, to properly educate students about democracy and the development of the country. McCormick strongly suggested that educators “improve their technique at home before they set out to re-educate the Germans and rewrite the too-well-taught history of Germany .” [34] American officials needed to be certain they understood the ideals they meant to introduce. The basis of a new government cannot grow out of blurry thoughts and concepts. Although she felt reeducation was essential if a peaceful Germany were to last, unlike the temporary peace that existed between two world wars, McCormick remarked that it would be “surprising if the new education can be given from the outside.” [35]

In 1945, closely following the war’s conclusion, Henry Morgenthau wrote his book entitled Germany is our Problem. Therein Morgenthau dedicated two chapters to Germany ’s history with democracy and the best way in which Americans could steer Germans in the direction of democracy once again. Morgenthau reminded the reader that democracy is not only a form of government, but a way of life for those who uphold it. Germans at this time believed deeply in “supremacy of the state over the individual” and the “absolute rightness of might.” [36] While democracy allots rights to the individual, Germans were used to obeying authority and recognizing their ruler’s right to control them. It was a strange phenomenon to Americans, who found such pleasure in “telling off the government,” that “the average German would no more think of questioning the wisdom and rightness of his rulers than he would think of objecting to military service.” [37]

The Weimar Republic failed in large part, according to Morgenthau, because the democratic government did not succeed in removing anti-Republicans from positions of public office. It is impossible to solidify a government that is not supported by the teachers and civil servants who are influencing children and society at large. Another issue that occupiers were bound to face was the effects of the family on the children of Germany . Even if Americans could entirely control what was taught in the classroom, a difficult feat in itself, the family had an undeniable impact on the thoughts and beliefs of a child. There again, like Anne McCormick, Morgenthau agreed that “there is no record in history of any civilized people permitting themselves to be educated in a whole new way of life by foreign masters.” [38] The Americans’ job was not to single handedly reverse German sentiments. The Germans themselves were to adjust their government with the assistance of American occupiers. If it was then the German’s responsibility alone to induce change, some Americans feared that any meaningful or long lasting reform would be difficult to achieve.

At the start of the occupation, the first priority was finding food and supplies for a defeated nation. American occupiers feared that the postwar hardships that Germans faced, such as a lack of food, would become irreversibly linked with their new democratic government. [39] General Lucius Clay, High Commissioner of the American zone in Germany , related: “I was certain that we could not arouse political interest for a democratic government in a hungry, apathetic population.” [40] Clay believed that “an adequate food supply...was essential to to the accomplishment of our [the Americans’] objectives.” [41] Clay understood that, although reeducation was important and necessary, dealing with the low supply of food took precedence over plans for education. One of Clay’s initial concerns at the time was to insure that children attended school to keep them off the streets and to prevent juvenile delinquency. Not only did schools need to be reopened to meet this end, but local communities were ordered to revive “pre-Hitler youth groups” that could welcome orphaned boy and girls who found themselves homeless after the war. [42] Although these plans contradicted literature at the time, which stressed the immediate transition to democracy, Clay understood that physical priorities must precede other ideological goals. The search for school buildings to house German children was difficult in the beginning, considering most had been either destroyed in bombings, or used for hospitals and housing troops. [43]

Improper textbooks, as well, served as an obstacle for reopening public schools. Textbooks were unsuitable and discarded, according to Clay, because they were “so impregnated with Nazi ideology that even mathematics problems were expressed in military terms and logistics” [44] For example, a typical arithmetic problem from a German text read: “The moneylender charged the farmer’s widow 12 percent interest per year on a loan of 600 marks for 4 years. Out of how much money did the Jewish swindler cheat the widow?” [45] Once acceptable textbooks were selected, paper shortages prevented them form being mass printed. It was not until 1948 that Congress provided occupiers with the funds to purchase paper in large quantities and publish a sufficient number of American approved textbooks. [46]

The third concern before schools could be reopened was that Germany had a worrisome lack of teachers after the thorough denazification process. According to Howard Zink, the High Commissioner’s official historian, 80 percent of German teachers had been members of the National Socialist Teacher’s League, and either required screenings or were asked to relinquish their positions altogether. [47] Upon the schools’ reopening on October 1, 1945, the student-teacher ratio was a startling 87:1. [48] Dire need for teachers was not conducive to the long and extensive teacher training. So, educational officials began developing several training institutions throughout the American zone where teachers could receive a quick, condensed education so long as they promised to return later on to complete their training. Prospective teachers had only two requirements, to be neither former members of the Nazi Party or Nazi military officers, and to be academically capable and possess the positive attitude necessary for democratic teaching. [49]

Werner Richter, a supporter of educational reform during the Weimar Republic , understood that useable teachers would be difficult to come by after the war, and suggested that the Germans turn to women as the salvation for elementary schools. Though it was against German culture for women to both dominate the teaching positions in elementary schools and teach both genders, Richter provided that “military influence would definitely be a thing of the past.” [50] Contrary to the traditional German beliefs, Richter assured that such an educational environment does not result in weakness. In fact, a female influence in education would inspire “empathy, flexibility, and lightness of touch—attributes not conspicuous in the German character...” [51] Besides, Richter pointed out, “where women have equality, democratic tendencies prevail.” [52]

Once schools were reopened and teachers provided, educational officials could begin working on other aspects of the German reeducation. The first leader of the Education Branch, Colonel John Taylor, had been forced to focus most of his efforts on the basics of reopening schools. In 1947, Dr. Thomas Alexander took Taylor ’s place as the new head of education when he returned to the United States . Once all the logistics of rebuilding the school systems were settled, Clay and Alexander were able to focus more in depth on incorporating democracy into education. The first step of this process was to introduce formerly isolated German teachers to the modern methods of teaching used internationally. Since 1933, the beginning of Hitler’s regime, the German people had been isolated from the ideas and developments of the outside world. During the first year or two of occupation this unfortunate pattern of isolation was continued as a safety precaution to prevent Nazi sentiments, or even communism, from percolating throughout the rest of Europe . [53] The Education Branch first developed an exchange program in 1947 to bring an end to Germany ’s isolation. The Educational and Cultural Affairs Division was also created, setting up locations where teachers could come and discuss educational methods with experts from other countries.

Clay claimed Americans applied much effort into exposing school children to the radio and motion pictures as a means for a broader education. Motion picture machines were loaned to schools in order to show documentaries, while American experts trained Germans in their methods of instructional radio. Clay described the success of American promoted radio programs, which “have done much to inform German children of the outside world,” and he felt that “educational radio is now a part of normal German life.” [54]

                   The exchange program also included sending “185 German experts and 359 German students and youth leaders” to the U.S. [55] Another example of this new cultural exchange was the International Youth Conference that was held in Munich in 1948, in which 2000 young Germans and 800 foreign students attended. [56] When OMGUS ended, the program was simply taken over by HICOG (the office of the High Commissioner). Exchanges continued to be successful of HICOG, and in the period of one year approximately 1,000 students came to the U.S. for the exchange program. [57] Leaders of the program selected potential leaders among the generation that would help guide Germany toward democracy. The only problem with exchanges was that some Germans would become so enamored with the U.S. they would choose to marry and remain there. [58]

                Henry Pilgert, a member of HICOG, evaluated interviews with German exchangees and attempted to calculate the overall effects on the U.S. on Germans, young and old alike. All exchangees were impressed, Pilgert explained, with the free society in which Americans lived. It was surprising to Germans “that the average American, the man on the street, has the ability to stand up in a public meeting and talk freely.” [59] Judging by the schools and after school clubs they witnessed, German exchangees gathered that America ’s free society was thanks mainly to its education, particularly the feelings of independence and self-confidence that was instilled in American children. [60] Pilgert noted that all professionals returning from the States wanted to bring community interaction, personal responsibility of the individual, and self-government into the new Western Germany . Returning exchangees also agreed on their aspirations for a reformed German school system. [61]

Understanding that change would not hold as long as it was being enforced or commanded, the American military did its best to step back and allow the Germans themselves most of the control over government and schooling reforms. The Americans simply focused on “positive advice and assistant programs.” [62] Beginning in 1946, individual Länder governments (state governments), ruled entirely by Germans, were formed throughout the American zone. Each individual Land government was responsible for passing its own reforms. Unfortunately, not all Lands, Bavaria more specifically, cooperated with reforms as the Americans had hoped. Hundhammer, Minister of Education Bavaria, was particularly hostile toward Americans restructuring German schools, arguing that their school system was already perfected. This defense of the school structure emphasizes “how important education was to German identity in this period.” [63]   Hundhammer refused to accept the reforms that Lucius Clay asked of him, claiming that youth and education in Germany were the responsibility of the Germans alone. [64] Hundhammer did not appreciate Americans drawing children from the influence and authority of their parents. He felt strongly that “children needed to be strictly disciplined by their generational elders, not liberated from authoritarian influences.” [65]

Fortunately, most land governments did cooperate with Americans as advisors and overseers. One of the first things HICOG noticed was that neither the vocational schools, nor the schools preparing students for the university, focused much of their curriculums on the responsibilities of being a good citizen. So, the HICOG hoped to “redirect the vocational objective of German education so as to include education for citizenship.” [66] The first step in changing the curriculum was to introduce the subject of social studies. Land Wuerttemberg-Baden was the first Land to implement social studies in its school curriculum, issuing a decree to introduce social studies to elementary, secondary, and vocational schools. [67] Effective by the 1950-51 school year, the process was slow to start, but Henry Pilgert noted that it had successfully taken shape by 1953 due to “in-service teacher training projects and some reasonable good test material.” [68] Another important factor was the introduction of guidance counseling in secondary schools. Such a thing was unfamiliar in Germany due to the fact that students’ individual strengths and weaknesses were not considered when they were assigned vocations. Counselors were necessary to get to know the students as individuals and guide them toward educational success. [69] So, exchanges of German experts to the U.S. were promoted in order for German educators to learn from American guidance counselors. Also, teacher workshops that were held toward the end of the occupation, such as the workshop in Esslingen in 1949, placed added emphasis on counseling. [70]

Americans also hoped that German schools would produce a stronger focus on the individual. While observing several schools at the Oberschule level, Margaret Schneeweiss noticed that Germans adhered to a strict curriculum in which students must perform perfectly if they wished to move on to higher education. So, rather than adjusting to the individual students’ needs, the curriculum forced them to conform to a rigid structure. [71] German schools were encouraged to move away from socialistic ideas that all students must be the same, and more toward the notion of respecting and embracing the individual. The focus on the individual student, a uniquely democratic idea, was yet another reason that the development of guidance counseling was such an important addition to public schools in Germany . A more flexible curriculum would also then lead to more opportunity for a greater number of students to reach the secondary school level.

Americans also hoped, as General Clay explained, for children to enjoy free and equal access to higher education. Clay was disturbed by the fact that, after the four elementary years of schooling, secondary schools required a tuition fee that lower class youths could not afford. [72] Students attended the Grundschule for four years, and only 10% moved on to the Gymnasium, Oberschule, and Aufbauschule, the German secondary schools. Then a mere 2% of young Germans went on to the university. [73] In 1946, an American mission was sent to Germany to observe German schools and report suggestions for reeducation. The mission reported that a school system in which a mere 10% of students reach high school “cultivates attitudes of superiority in one small group and inferiority in the majority members of German society, making possible the submission and lack of self-determination upon which authoritarian leadership has thrived.” [74] American educational officials pictured a comprehensive school system in Germany , like that seen in America , where the elementary and secondary school curriculums were interconnected and complimented one another. Before 1948, the Americans did manage to ensure a free 12 year educational program in Berlin , and Clay was under the impression that other areas in the French and British zones began to follow suite. Unfortunately, comprehensive schooling failed by the 1950’s mainly because the goal of restructuring the schools was unrealistic. For this reason, American education officials provided that “types of school organization, or structure...are of less importance to the future of Germany and the world than what is taught, how it is taught, and by whom it is taught.” [75]

Proper democratic teaching methods were essential for reformed German schooling. Ernest Melby wrote an article in 1949, noting German teacher’s lack of experience with democratic teaching. “It is hard to imagine the poverty of democratic experience on the part of these German teachers,” Melby stated. [76] Teachers had no problem lecturing on democracy, but when it came to holding interactive discussions they were inexperienced. Melby argued that Democratic education is useless unless it is taught through applied activities. “If we spend half the time we are now spending on acquisition of facts,” Melby explained, “and put it into the acquisition of share in the life of the community and actually learn by doing,” a Democratic government had a chance to be successful. [77] Teachers can lecture on democracy as much and as often as they please, but Melby pointed out that people cannot simply be told the facts and then be expected to retain them. The best way to ensure that a student is learning and understanding the meaning of democracy is to engage them in activities within their own community, where they can learn democratic principles firsthand. The key to a successful democratic society, Melby argues, is for each individual to feel that they have some role in not only their community but in the overall workings of the government. [78]

Another step for school reform was to provide students with hands-on knowledge of citizenship. Beginning in 1949, citizenship camps were created for vocational students. German and American educational officials worked together to run these day camps, teaching students to engage in discussions and to act on democratic principles. [79] Meanwhile, secondary schools began incorporating student governments into the school systems as early as 1948. Berlin passed a law, while Hesse and Wuerttemberg-Baden issued decrees allowing for participation in student governments and councils. [80] Student governments also benefited from the exchanges program, according to Pilgert, because “outstanding teachers and students who have traveled to the United States and other European countries are able to assist many German schools in organizing student councils” through the democratic knowledge they gained abroad. [81]

The Berlin Student Parliament (BSP) was one student government that rose out of these reforms. In its infancy, the BSP merely recruited a small number of students from the highest level of secondary schools, or pre-university schools. Throughout the next decade; however, the parliament began accepting students from all three levels of secondary schools, allowing a more significant number of students the opportunity to engage in a mock democratic government. The true value of this parliament was its ability to teach its young members how to actually act on their democratic principles, rather than simply learning in school how to be a democratic citizen. The BSP served as a means for student members to not only discuss school related issues, but to engage in discussions concerning political issues outside the realm of education. Separate meetings were developed to “promote discussion of contemporary political issues” and to “improve the knowledge of young West Berliners on a host of political subjects.” [82] Although it had no large scale effect on the outside world, and legislation was limited, the BSP was a valuable learning experience for students. A former member of the BSP recalled “we who had been in the Jungvolk or Hitler Youth learned here what democracy and democratic relations with one another meant” [83]

Another effective aspect of the occupation was the GYA (German Youth Activities), which was led by American GI’s. The program was created by General McNarney in 1946 in order to both directly and indirectly promote democracy through sports, fun activities, and student mock governments.  Facilities soon began to emerge anywhere that Americans were stationed. Under the influence of American group leaders, children learned to work together and respect each other as they would in a democratic society. According to the GYA handbook, GYA groups were taught “democratic values of fair play, tolerance, the rights of the minority, and the responsibility of the majority.” [84] Children were expected to treat one another as equals, and were discouraged from lashing out against minorities. No group of children had a distinct leader because “a club dominated and ‘ruled’ by a leader can inculcate the totalitarian frame of mind.” [85]

The GYA also supported after school group discussions which were modeled after a miniature democratic government. Forming discussion groups gave students the opportunity to teach themselves how to self-govern and work together. Although each group had a technical leader, their quality of leadership was frequently discussed and called into question. Having a say in major decisions and collectively choosing the leader assured the group that their leader did not possess complete authority. Discussion groups helped students to feel a more personal involvement with a democratic government, where each individual had the responsibility to get involved. This more personal democratic structure of government, according to Lucius Clay, made the citizen “conscious of his right to question his public officials” so that political leaders may “learn from the citizen the failures and success of their administration.” [86] In mock governments, students learn the dangers of following a leader blindly, and in turn, discover how to critically work out issues together.

By 1946-47, the GYA program was widely approved of by parents and children who were aware of it. German opinions of the program’s aims varied, however, from a high percentage asserting that it kept children off the streets to only a quarter believing it introduced children to American lifestyles. [87] In a 1946 poll in four major cities, 9% of children participating in the GYA professed that they joined to learn about America from the soldiers, and a mere 6% said they meant to learn about democracy. [88] In fact, the largest percentage of children, 40%, confessed they joined the GYA in order to receive food and candy, and 26% simply wished to take part in sports. [89] Overall, however, by 1950 the GYA was well accepted by informed Germans. And although the majority of children did not believe they were joining the GYA in order to learn about democracy, the GYA indirectly taught them the democratic values of equality and working together. Only one in five youths and one in six adults were opposed to American sponsored youth programs, preferring one dominant program like those seen during the Third Reich and in the GDR. [90] Americans were in fact quite disturbed by spectacle being made by Russians to persuade the German Youth that their hope for the future lay in the Free German Youth” [91] Although Americans were pleased by the success of the GYA, none of the U.S. programs were nearly so powerful and effective as the Free German Youth, or the Hitler Youth before it. Still, General Clay proudly stated that the GYA would “prove to have been one of our major contributions to a new Germany .” [92]

Education Service Centers were described by both Henry Pilgert and Alonzo Grace (Director of OMGUS in 1948) as one of the most effective additions to the organization of education. First created in 1947 as library facilities run by both German and American education officials, Education Service centers grew significantly by 1948. [93] These centers offered discussion groups for parents and teachers to help each other better understand the youth, [94] as well as provided literature, and other materials such as visual aids, for the use of public schools. [95] The centers also served as locations for teacher training. Once HICOG took the place of OMGUS, the Education Service Centers began to be transferred into the sole care of German officials. By July 1 of 1951, the Education Service Centers in four German Lands had been turned over to German control and three more were in the process. [96] The lasting success and growth of these service centers, eventually controlled entirely by Germans served as yet another sign of widespread cooperation among the Land Governments to participate in educational reform.

The long lasting effects of American reforms and programs are just as important as the reforms and programs that came out of the occupation. In order to assess the impact of reeducation, one must look at the state of West German schools in the 1950’s, after the occupation had ended. An example of this can be seen in the continuation and growth of the student exchanges program, a program first implemented by American occupiers that still survives today. By 1951, when Henry Pilgert produced his book The Exchange of Persons Program, he referred to the creation of new programs such as the “Youth Self-Help Project”, as well as the “Teen-age Program” where German teenagers were sent to the U.S. to stay with volunteer families and attend American High Schools. [97] Positive responses of the German exchangees to programs alluded to the exchange program’s ultimate success. Kellermann, as well, refers to the exchange program as a great experiment that would influence the future of cultural exchange. [98]

The Berlin Student Parliament, as well, was an example of the American’s successful reform in Germany . By the mid 1950’s the BSP was still in session, and reaching out to more and more students of all levels. Through the BSP, members were able to grasp the ideas of voting and individual rights, as well as the notion of group effort, and representation. Student governments not only lasted past the period of occupation but helped to produce informed students with an “appreciation for the rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship.” [99]

American reeducation, as a whole, made a significant impact on the West German children. American education officials accomplished this indirectly, through programs like the GYA, and also indirectly, with additions to the curriculum such as citizenship and social studies, the introduction of student counseling and a focus on the individual, as well as student democratic governments like the Berlin Student Parliament. With school reforms, educational democratic activities, and exchange programs with the U.S. and Western Europe , American occupiers managed to introduce German children to the values and ways of life of a democratic society. As General Clay articulated in his 1950 book, following the occupation, “I have a deep conviction that our work in the field of education is taking hold and that it may indeed succeed in creating a people more conscious of their rights and freedoms.” [100]



[1] Diane Ravich, “Education and Democracy” in Diane Ravich and Joseph P. Viteritti eds., Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society ( Yale University Press: New Haven , 2001), 28.

[2] United States . Army. European Command. Opot. Division, Training and Education Branch.; Germany (Territory under Allied occupation, 1945-1955 : U.S. Zone), Office of Military Government for Germany (United States), Internal Affairs and Communications Division, Education and Religious Affairs Branch, German Youth Activities: Army Assistance Program Guide (United States: 1948), 88.

[3] Michael H. Kater, The Hitler Youth ( Harvard University Press: Massachusetts , 2006), 43.

[4] Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow (Scholastic Inc., 2005), 39.

[5] Richard L. Merritt, Democracy Imposed: U.S. Occupation Policy and the German Public, 1945-1949 (London: Yale UP, 1995), xv.

[6] James F. Tent, Mission on the Rhine: Reeducation and Denazification in America-Occupied Germany (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1982), 304.

[7] Ibid, 304

[8] Tent, 12.

[9] Ibid, 318. Although many documents and accounts speak otherwise, Tent asserts that Americans were ultimately unable to reeducate Germans, assuming that all shared the feelings of those in Bavaria who refused to embrace American attitudes.

[10] Henry J. Kellermann, Cultural Relations as an Instrument of Foreign Policy: The Educational Exchange Program between the United States and Germany 1945-1954 (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs: Washington, 1978), 12.

[11] Kellermann, 10.

[12] Kellermann, 173.

[13] Ron Robin, The Barbed-Wire College: Reeducating German POW’s in the United States during World War II (Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 1995), 8.

[14] Ibid, 8-9.

[15] Robin, 9-10.

[16] Ibid, 11-12, Robin admits that teachers at the POW camps voiced their hopes that, rather than simply Americanize enemy soldiers, they would spread ideas of democracy to the men they believed were the future of Germany . He argues, however, that there were also personal motives behind the scholars’ actions.

[17] Susanne Charlotte Engelmann, German Education and Re-education (New York: International Universities Press, 1945), 79.

[18] Kater, Manfred Rommel qtd. on 43.

[19] Engelmann, Von Shirach qtd. on 77.

[20] Ibid, 77.

[21] Ibid, 79.

[22] Kater, Hitler qtd. on 43.

[23] Ibid, qtd. on 44.

[24] Ibid, 42.

[25] Engelmann, 83.

[26] Michael H. Kater, The Hitler Youth ( Harvard University Press: Massachusetts , 2006), 43.

[27] Alfons Heck, A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika, (Bantam Books: New York, 1985), 17-18.


[28] Engelmann, 87-88.

[29] Henry Morgenthau, Germany is Our Problem (New York: Harper & Bros., 1945), 140.

[30] Gilbert Murray, “The Task of Re-Educating Germany: Gilbert Murray tells how he would go about the work of reclaiming the young with the aid of the elders”, New York Times (1857-current file), (May 1943), 6.

[31] Ibid, 6.

[32] Murray , 6.

[33] Anne O’Hare McCormick, “Abroad :The Teachers of Democracy Need to Begin at Home”, New York Times (1857-current file), 18, (April 1943), 1.

[34] McCormick, 1.

[35] Ibid, 1.

[36] Morgenthau, 136.

[37] Ibid, 152.

[38] Ibid, 147.

[39] Ibid, 141.

[40] Gen. Lucius D. Clay, Decision in Germany : A personal Report on the Four Crucial Years that set the course of Future World History (Doubleday & Company, inc.: New York, 1950), 263.

[41] Ibid, 263.

[42] Ibid, 299.

[43] Ibid, 299.

[44] Ibid, 299.

[45] Merritt, 274.

[46] Clay, 300.

[47] Harold Zink, The United States in Germany , 1945-1955 (Van Nostrand Company inc.: Princeton, NJ, 1957), 197.

[48] Merritt, 273.

[49] Ibid, 273-74.

[50] Werner Richter, Re-educating Germany (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1945), 191.

[51] Ibid, 191.

[52] Ibid, 191.

[53] Zink, 215.

[54] Ibid, 301.

[55] Clay, 301.

[56] Ibid, 301.

[57] Zink, 224

[58] Ibid, 224.

[59] Henry P. Pilgert, The Exchange of Persons Program in Western Germany (Historical Division, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, 1951), 71.

[60] Ibid, 72

[61] Pilgert, The Exchange of Persons, 73.

[62] Henry P. Pilgert, The West German Educational System: with special reference to the policies and programsof the office of the U.S High Commissioner for Germany (Historical Division, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, 1953), 10.

[63] Jaimey Fisher, Disciplining Germany : Youth Reeducation, and Reconstruction after the Second World War ( Wayne State University Press: Detroit , 2007), 73.

[64] Ibid, 73.

[65] Fisher, 74.

[66] Pilgert, The West German Educational System, 46.

[67] Pilgert, 51.

[68] Ibid, 51.

[69] Ibid, 64.

[70] Ibid, 64.

[71] Margaret Schneeweiss, “The German Schools and Democracy”, The Modern Language Journal, 34 no. 2, (Feb. 1950), 14.

[72] Clay, 302.

[73] Fisher, 71.

[74] Ibid, qtd. on 71.

[75] Zink, 205.

[76] Ernest O. Melby, “Our Responsibility in Germany ”, Journal of Educational Sociology, 23 no. 2, (Oct. 1949), 73.

[77] Ibid, 75.

[78] Ibid, 75-76.

[79] Pilgert,The West German Educational System, 52.

[80] Ibid, 52.

[81] Ibid, 53.

[82] Brian Puaca, “We Learned What Democracy Really Meant”: The Berlin Student Parliament and Postwar School reform in the 1950’s”, History of Education Quarterly, 45 no.4 (Winter 2005), 621.

[83] Puaca, 622.

[84] United States Army, German Youth Activities, 59.

[85] Ibid, 59.

[86] Clay, 303

[87] Merritt, 281.

[88] Ibid, 281.

[89] Ibid, 281.

[90] Ibid, 284.

[91] Zink, 311.

[92] Clay, 228.

[93] Pilgert, West German Educational System, 23.

[94] Ibid, 23.

[95] Alonzo Grace, Basic Elements of educational reconstruction in Germany (American Council on Education: Washington D.C., 1949), 8.

[96] Pilgert, 24.

[97] Pilgert, The Exchange of Persons Program, 59-61.

[98] Kellermann, 244.

[99] Puaca, 623.

[100] Clay, 303.