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  • The German Antifascist Classroom: Denazification in Soviet-Occupied Germany, 1945–1949
  • Andrew Donson
The German Antifascist Classroom: Denazification in Soviet-Occupied Germany, 1945–1949. Benita Blessing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. xvi + 288 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $65.00 cloth.

In few eras was the task of revamping an education system more daunting than in Germany immediately after 1945. Under the direction of the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, German officials had to rebuild thousands of damaged or destroyed schools, reintroduce a curriculum untainted by racism and chauvinism, purge teachers and administrators who were members or sympathizers of the Nazi Party, and reach a consensus on how to use schools to denazify Germany and restore a modicum of normalcy. Educators had to undertake this mammoth task while the Cold War and its political constraints unfolded. The contribution of this book shows that educational changes from 1945 to 1949 vacillated between the emerging Cold War policies and discussions in Germany before 1933 about progressive school reform. Though the Soviet influence on education in their occupation zone increased during this time, the shape of postwar education was very much in the hands of Weimarera pedagogues until the division of Germany in 1949. The author argues that in pursuing a middle ground between the demands of the Soviet occupiers and German hopes for a Western-style democracy, school reformers in the Soviet zone created their own, distinctly German antifascist classrooms.

The introduction of coeducation and a meritocratic school system was the most profound of the antifascist educational measures. German schools before 1945 generally obstructed social mobility by making tuition fees for secondary schools prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest families, preventing working-class children from having careers as professionals or government officials. Postwar education reformers in the Soviet zone redressed this fundamental inequality by implementing a "unity school" (Einheitsschule). German pedagogues had discussed this idea spiritedly in the decades before 1933. This new education system was national rather than federal and advanced pupils based [End Page 304] on merit rather than ability to pay. As radical a change was the new requirement that all schools had to be coeducational: before 1945 all but the smallest German schools were segregated by gender. In practice, boys and girls received separate education in many subjects—girls took courses in childcare and home economics, boys in wood- and metalwork, for example. But the overall policy was to overcome rather than reproduce biological differences. Coeducation and the unity school contrasted sharply to policies in the Western Allies' zones, where the still powerful churches opposed coeducation, and where the occupation officials, most themselves graduates of the elite secondary schools, were slow to introduce meritocracy into the educational system. Though Marxist-Leninist ideology could accommodate for coeducation and the meritocratic unity school, the author rightly argues that they were less an imposition by the Soviet occupiers than a choice by German educators to realize their decades-old goal of democratizing schools.

The author's analysis of the curricula in the Soviet zone also highlights the independence educators had, to promote pride in Germany in the first years of the occupation. The Soviet government purged approximately one-third of all teachers for their connection to Nazism but did not require that teachers be communist ideologues. Most of the remaining teachers were not members of the SED, the reconstituted Communist Party. While the Soviet occupiers had the final say in all matters, the German administration had considerable autonomy in decisions about textbooks, curricula, and teacher training. For example, though instructional guides on history issued by the Soviets were crude Marxist-Leninist narratives, the Soviet occupiers generally allowed the German educators to determine the content in history classes. Ignoring Marxist Leninist theory that the nation state was an apparatus of bourgeois oppression, they even gave the German educators permission to praise their nation for the contributions that figures like Goethe made to the Enlightenment and world literature. In the first years after the war, the antifascist classrooms aimed not to impose communism but to democratize society, unify Germany, promote national identity, and erase the stains of National Socialism.

However, as the ideological confrontation between the Soviets and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1941-3599
Print ISSN
1939-6724
Pages
pp. 304-306
Launched on MUSE
2008-05-25
Open Access
No
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