What are the key points you were taught about World War II during your education?
Okay, World War II is a big topic in German history classes. I think the main part is about the Holocaust and the horrible things Germans did. So, it’s very much we have the perspective “we did unimaginable horrible things” and that’s the way we talk about it. Not like, “oh too bad we lost a war” or anything like that. We do have a consciousness about what we did. So yes, it’s mainly about the Holocaust and we learn about it in the context of the 20th century how WWI was like the starting point of most of the things that happened afterwards. I think the Holocaust is a big part of like German class, you read, for example, the Anne Frank diary or other books relating to the topic. Also, at least that’s what we did in my school. I think it works the same in other schools and in other federal states too but I’m not sure- we for example went to a place that used to be a concentration camp in the Czech Republic. You visit this and do projects about it and write papers.
We noticed that it’s very, like the Soviet Memorial, there’s a presence here but we weren’t sure how it was taught in schools.
I think what’s changed from when it was taught in the GDR, it was very much focused on Communist victims and any east German towns and cities you have these memorials for the murdered communist during the time of the GDR and not so much for murdered Jews. And this has changed. When we first learn about the Jews, we do not focus on Communist victims very much.
What do you think German students should be taught about WWII?
I actually think the things we learn are the things that should be taught. Well, maybe we could but that’s probably too specific, talk about the Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
What about on a global scale? Is there something non-German students should know?
I do think Germany and Germans have a responsibility to be taught this in detail. But this should be taught all over the world as the worst example of what could happen.
Thinking about when you started your education compared to now, has there always been so much information available regarding World War II?
Well historians learn more every year, I guess. I did not recognize any difference.
When you talk to your mom, is there a difference talking about what you were taught and what you know now?
Oh yeah, she learned about the communist heros that died which we did not and Communist resistance in the concentration camps. I think what has changed, I’m not sure when, is that when you hear the word Holocaust you normally think about just the concentration camps- they’re like a synonym for the holocaust. But I think they also try to focus on these others like the Topography of Terror, the groups of SS men murdering thousands of people, which are part of the holocaust but what most people don’t think about. I think that historians have done a lot of research on these SS men- who were they? why did they do what they did? How could they spend the evening dancing and drinking and then during the day they murdered thousands of people?
When World War II is taught or talked about, do you see any stereotypes? What about when they talk about the Allied countries?
I’m sure there was during the GDR, I’m sure there was. But now a days there’s a stereotype of the Red Army that they all came to rape women and were really the bad guys. And not that this didn’t happen, but also they did liberate many concentration camps. Most of the people who died were russians who were murdered by Germans in the Soviet union. I think people forget that most of the time. Americans, on the other hand, are the good guys who brought chocolate and chewing gum and talked to children. They were the nice guys. Also, some there’s a more right wing rhetoric or people who lived in cities who were bombed by ____ airplanes, they have a feeling that actually they are the victims. For example, there’s the _____________ and it was bombed pretty badly. The right wing people have, they came up with this word called, “bomb holocaust” which is like a really bad words. They wanted to compare the experience the people had in these bombed cities to the experiences people had in the concentration camps- which is not at all accurate.
Is the Holocaust a touchy subject because of the part that Hitler played in that and the background of all the concentration camps that were established in Germany? It’s not something that we talk about every day but it’s also, it’s difficult to think about but we actually talk about it in many different subjects. Is that what it is like here?
It’s okay that we talk about it in Germany but it is kind of a touchy subject. There’s been research on anti-semitism in Germany now and after the Holocaust and there’s this new anti-semitism that happens or is there because of the Holocaust. That’s the theory, Germans feel guilty and they don’t know how to cope with the guilt. So they project it on Jews and say that they just want to make money off the holocaust and things like this.
Is there a textbook that all the students use? Or how are you given this information?
You have your history textbook and the Holocaust or WW2 is one section of it, but history books differ from one federal state to another federal state. And you watch movies about _______ and read texts by people who were in the concentration camps. Also some schools, somebody who was in the concentration camp visits and talks to the students. But these people are dying so this was what happened during my schooling.
Was the Holocaust/WW2 something that you knew about or did you hear it for the first time in school?
I did not- I think my parents they gave me Anne Frank’s diary before we had it as a topic in school so I could read it.
I went to secondary school during the 1980s in what was then West Germany; I think things may have changed since then.
I also think that the slant we got on things depended very much on the political opinions of the individual teacher.
What are the key points that you were taught regarding WWII during your education?
In my memory, the war did not get a lot of attention. We learnt about dates, countries involved, that Germany started it, about the persecution of the Jews.
What do you think German students should be taught about WWII? What about students globally?
I think perhaps the most important thing is to get people to realise how easy it is to just go along with whatever is perceived as the “prevalent opinion” and to become completely de-humanised in the process.
How important it is to develop your own opinion and not to be afraid to stand by it. Don’t just accept without question things that seem wrong to you just because somebody in “authority” does them. Don’t assume that they “know what they are doing”.
I think that this applies to people everywhere, not just Germans.
Non-fiction young adult literature dealing with WWII is becoming more popular is the U.S. Is there literature like this available in Germany? Do you recall any specific titles or authors?
I cannot think of any non-fiction. Schools generally work with authentic source material. There is a lot of fiction though, which is also taught in schools, in German classes.
What should Americans be taught about WWII?
Dates, facts, same as everybody else. I don’t think that specific countries should be teaching specific “truths” about the war.
Thinking about when you started your education compared to now, has there always been so much information available regarding WWII?
Barbara: I think information was available but maybe not as easily accessible as it is today via the internet.
How has information being taught changed through the years?
I think maybe teaching media have changed. When I was in school, it was mostly paper-based and teachers relating information by talking to us. Today maybe there are more visual media and more internet.
Do you see stereotypes when evaluating how WWII is taught/talked about?
Germans are generally portrayed as the guilty party and the Allies as the heroes. Questionable allied actions are usually ignored in German teaching.
I think this is done with good reason so as not to support any right-wing leanings with a theoretical base.
My history lessons go back to the 70s. I was taught in a school with extended Russian lessons in Bernsdorf Karl-Marx-Stadt. In 1975, the year of the 30th anniversary of the Day of Deliberation-in Germany (former and today Chemnitz). Tag der Befreiung May 8, 1945, I was a member of a youth delegation sent to the Soviet Union (3 weeks stay, focused on the region of Kursk-battle at the arc of Kursk was known for many victims from the Soviets’ side). We were a delegation of 40-50 students between age 10 and 17. We saw the places of this battle, had the chance to speak to Soviet families, were invited and met them in their houses. It was an atmosphere of hospitality and interest. However, the hosts were members of the Soviet communist party, that is, selected hosted.
We as young people felt ashamed against the results of World War II in this region. Destroyed houses, companies, and families. The spirit of friendship, as our both governments, those of the USSR and the GDR, had in mind and did all to strengthen it, was sometimes difficult to live and imagine. The time span between the war and the anniversary was too short for feelings of real friendship and forgetting -that is my personal opinion. As I see it, we had an in-depth discussion of the reasons, the ongoing and the results of World War II. Focus was on resistance by the communists, the international brigades in Spain, the Jewish and communist victims out of the concentration camps. In GDR schools, the students visited the concentration camp in Buchenwald at the age of 14 or 15. This was part of the activities leading to the so-called Jugendweihe, a governmentally conducted procedure as an alternative to the religious confirmation, which was offered by the church. Parents who decided not to send their children to receive or take part in (start of page 2) the Jugendweihe, took the risk for their children that they could not be released to the gymnasium-like “Extended Secondary School-____________ Oberschule”. This was the other side of the coin.
The procedure of World War Two and anti-fascism was a subject of several school subjects: History, Russian, German literature, governmental education (Staaks burges kundle). This was good for a complex understanding. The main guideline was: It must not happen again-be careful also against the early beginnings. In my home town, which was destroyed by Anglo-American bombs on 5/03/1945. Terribly, every year, there was held a memorial meeting by the Lord-Mayor. This tradition is still alive. In my school days, we also listened to stories of witnesses, about their life and struggle against fascism. Additionally, we read novels by Bruno Apitz “Nacktunter Wölfen” a child survived in the Buchenwald concentration camp, Anna Seghers “Das Siebte Kreuz-The 7th Cross”, Bertolt Brecht “Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar” “Multer Courage und Ihre Kinder.”. In German literature lessons, we discussed the development of the acting persons and their political opinions. We also dealt with Soviet literature, for instance by Sholokhov Ein Menschenschicksal- the tragedy of a soldiers who returned and found an empty village. From today’s experience, these books are/were mostly, but sometimes, they dominated the topics we discussed at school, and it seemed to be oversized in comparison with other subjects and topics. So it was an obligation to see Soviet films, series of them like Epos “Befreiung”- Deliberation.
I was born in 1959, my stay in ___________ Secondary School was from 1973-1977. In 1977, I started my studies in mechanical engineering at the Dresden University of Technology.