Would you consider Hitler successful

Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

Thomas sand cooler

To person

Dr. phil., born 1962; Professor of History Didactics at the Humboldt University of Berlin, Institute for History, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin. [email protected]

The upcoming publication of a critically commented edition of Adolf Hitler's confessional book "Mein Kampf" gives rise to historical didactic considerations. Can "Mein Kampf" be part of school learning? What difficulties, but also what opportunities arise when today's young people grapple with this text? To answer these questions, I look back on previous history lessons and on a few empirical findings. Based on this, I formulate suggestions for the interpretation and assessment of "Mein Kampf" in the last section of the article.

Youth after Hitler

"It was Hitler". An essential part of the historical-political self-relief that shaped the climate of West German "coming to terms with the past" until the 1960s can be traced back to this short formula. By portraying Hitler as an all-powerful, terrorist dictator - in a sense the negative image of the National Socialist leadership cult - uncomfortable questions about the participation of German society and its elites did not have to be asked. [1]

The emphasis of elementary and secondary school teacher training was on telling the life stories of exemplary historical actors. Hitler was the negative counterexample, but the method remained the same. Teachers were expressly recommended not to speak of the "Third Reich" but of the "Hitler Reich". [2]

In 1967 around 130 ninth graders from Hessen were asked about their attitude towards National Socialism. For the then 15-year-olds, Hitler was a "symbolic figure" in whom the history of the Nazi dictatorship condensed. As a result, they attributed crimes of the regime to the dictator: "Hitler persecuted and murdered the Jews." After all, one in five test persons could not make up their own mind on this statement and imagined, for example, that Hitler personally "took away all the Jews' clothes and whipped them". [3] Because the "explanation" of the embarrassingly guilty by Hitler's personal characteristics did not open up any points of contact for a deeper understanding, the students were left alone with their questions and fears.

The unmistakable tendency to preserve pre-democratic attitudes in history lessons was already being called into question at this time. [4] In 1972 the history didactician Klaus Bergmann sharply criticized the "personalization" of history. Rather, the pupils should be put in a position to develop their own perspectives for action by critically dealing with historical tradition and to bring democratic standards to bear. [5]

In 1977 a book by the teacher Dieter Bossmann caused a veritable shock in German journalism and specialist public. Bossmann had over 3,000 children, adolescents and young adults write essays on the following topic: "What I heard about Adolf Hitler". [6] The result was sobering. There was hardly any reliable knowledge of the history of the Nazi state, and partial knowledge mixed with bits and pieces of popular myths. [7] Whenever there was talk of Hitler's "Mein Kampf", the book appeared to the students as a kind of "Holy Scripture" that was given to the Germans as compulsory reading instead of the Christian Bible, but also as a warning sign that was ignored before 1933 and forbidden object for young people after 1945 Interest. [8]

The program of a renewal of historical education based on criteria of reason and enlightenment, on objective pupil interests and emancipation, clashed blatantly with such "trivial" contents of childish-youthful historical consciousness. [9] Bossmann criticized the continued tabooing of the Nazi state in history lessons and a fatal tendency towards Hitler's biography, which he dismissed as a collection of trivialities. [10] This harsh criticism was aimed at the "Hitler wave", which reached its peak in 1976/77 and was reflected in the student essays. [11] What was overlooked, however, was what appeared to be aloof statements by the test subjects, which are highly informative from a psychological point of view. [12]

If you read the texts of BoƟmann's test subjects at a distance of 40 years, it is noticeable that they also Reproduced statements made by teachers. [13] The now significantly expanded state of contemporary history also found its way into the student essays, albeit in an often crude form. Therefore one can hardly speak of a taboo against National Socialism, but of the fatal effects of the teacher's story, which in the meantime was frowned upon in historical didactic terms, but was still practiced.

The echo of the multi-part television program "Holocaust", which was equally unexpected by historians and history educators, gave additional cause in 1979 to reflect on the relationship between the forms of teaching and the reception habits of the public. [14] National Socialism became a media phenomenon, the impact of which on the historical awareness of young people was still largely unexplored. Against the background of the Bossmann and "Holocaust" shocks, the history didactician Bodo von Borries pointed out that history lessons had always had little effect. [15] Consequently, empirical research in history didactics had to concentrate on the consciousness of history in all its manifestations and dimensions, including the present of the past in public life, which was later commonly called "history culture". [16]

In line with essential parts of contemporary history research, history educators of the 1980s and 1990s were skeptical of biographical explanations of the Nazi regime. Hitler continued to play an important role in teaching history outside of school, which had never been able to begin with the demanding structural-historical interpretation of the Nazi state, and Hitlerism was just about to experience its rebirth in popular history television in the 1990s. In 1995, German ninth graders lively agreed to characterizations of Hitler as a cynical dictator and criminal, a totalitarian tyrant and an insane criminal. The "feature film" was already her most popular historical information medium. [17]

Let us first state that the initial question about the risks and side effects of "Mein Kampf" should not be asked of history lessons alone. Hitler has meanwhile become a media figure who confronts young people of the fourth post-war generation in a wide variety of contexts and does not necessarily encourage historical thinking. [18] Consequently, an important task of history teaching will be to integrate "Mein Kampf" into its historical context or to lead it back.