THE Germans must be "reëducated;" on this the occupying Powers are unanimous. At Potsdam in 1945 they agreed that education in Germany should be controlled, with the aim of eliminating Nazi doctrines and making possible the development of democratic ideas. Each Power has subsequently proceeded to carry out the agreement in its own way. Each has initiated reforms in the methods and content of instruction in schools and universities in its own zone and, with varying degrees of thoroughness, has "denazified" the teaching and administrative personnel. In these endeavors the educational officers have naturally tended to transplant the pedagogical methods and principles which experience in their own country has shown to have produced good results.

Each occupying Power recognizes that the reëducation of the Germans must be more than skin deep. It is not merely a matter of changing curricula and textbooks. An attempt must be made to transform the outlook on life, the Weltanschauung, of millions of adolescent and adult Germans, and if possible to convert aggressive nationalism into a spirit of peaceful coöperation. For support of this broader and deeper purpose each of the four Powers has developed a cultural program supplementing its educational reforms. These programs, even more than the school reforms, reflect the national ideals of the sponsors. Characteristically, the French program is marked by a sincere belief that learning and culture can produce civilized men, coupled with an anchor to windward in the form of strict economic controls.

In their attack on the problem of reforming German education the French have been faced with the lack of teachers and textbooks, inadequate buildings and shortage of teaching materials common to all the zones. Like other occupying Powers, the French have eliminated from their schools practically all of the textbooks introduced during the Nazi régime, substituting for them new books written by German émigrés in the United States or by Germans in Switzerland. In printing new textbooks the French have done an admirable job both as regards quantity and quality. As of April 1, 1948, the presses in the zone, some of them working on a 24-hour schedule, had put out 8,500,000 books to supply a total enrollment of about 1,000,000, or 850 books per 100 students. In the Russian Zone the figures were 800 books per 100 students, and in the American Zone only 160. The textbooks now issuing from presses in the French Zone are excellently printed, on good paper. Naturally the students are on the alert to detect anti-Nazi propaganda. When I asked a group what they thought of the new books, one replied, "We know that the Nazis had falsified and distorted German history. We don't know whether the new histories are false or true. We need time to consult the source materials for ourselves."

Before the war there were in the French Zone about 18,000 teachers in primary schools; at present the number is about 13,500. In secondary schools the number of professors has fallen from 3,600 to 3,200. Yet in both types of institutions the number of pupils exceeds very considerably the prewar figure. Denazification procedures are partly responsible for the present shortage of teachers; 75 percent of the former teaching staff in the zone were suspended on the ground of membership in the Nazi Party or in affiliated organizations. Gradually, however, the majority of these officials, after having been examined by a denazification commission, were restored on probation. On this point a French report reads as follows: "It is undeniable that all Germany was nazified and that the fact that a German belonged or did not belong to the Party does not indicate automatically whether he should be condemned or whitewashed." The French Department of Justice and the secret police took care of teachers and adminstrators who had criminal records, as well as those who had been leaders in the Nazi Party. Denazification committees in the provinces, composed of approved Germans, examined the credentials of the remainder, pronouncing sentence according to the gravity of their offenses. Many teachers who had been thus purged of the Nazi taint were allowed to resume their work. But the Direction de l'Education Publique has ruled that no instructor or professor who had been a party member could occupy an administrative position under the new régime, or could enjoy his former statutory rights as a government official. Hence, he can be dismissed at any time on order of the Military Government.

In brief, the French policy was to restore the bulk of the teaching personnel to their former positions but to keep them under very close observation. An official report states: "It seemed wise to make use of trained teachers who had been rendered docile by the events and who would feel themselves continually threatened by possible dismissal, who would be anxious about their daily bread and that of their family. They would be forced, not to direct the German youth on the road of true democracy -- they would be incapable of that -- but to teach them the elements of education, how to speak, how to read and write and to perform simple arithmetic."


The French educational officials in the zone seem to have little confidence in their ability to change the attitudes, or reform the outlook on life, of adult Germans. With respect to the German youth, i.e., those who are now in the secondary schools and the universities, they are somewhat less pessimistic. As a matter of fact, the French educational officials are conducting, as are similar officials in the other zones, various sorts of activities for the German youth and organizing conferences in which French students participate. They are also putting out a number of attractive periodicals, in German, designed particularly for young people. The emphasis in all of this work is, of course, laid upon democratic outlook on life and on the reintegration of German culture with that of France and Western Europe.

Something can be done, the French believe, to change the outlook on life of young Germans of high school age and beyond, but they expect to accomplish the most solid results in the primary schools, among children who have never experienced the indoctrination of the Hitler régime. The occupying authorities, however, cannot deal with German children directly. They must work through German teachers. Consequently, they lay great emphasis upon the training of teachers for primary schools, the Volksschule. At present they have in operation about 20 training schools for primary school teachers. These schools are of two classes, preparatory schools which give a four-year general education and normal schools which provide a two-year professional training. From the latter the French turned out last year about 1,000 well-trained teachers, competent to give a new and democratic point of view to the pupils under their charge.

The new system of teacher training constitutes a sharp departure from the methods of the Hitler régime; it also differs considerably from the system in force under the Weimar Republic. Under the Nazis, the training of teachers, carried on principally in the universities, not in specialized teachers' training institutions, was largely indoctrination. Before 1933 teachers had been trained in specialized institutions which, however, were accessible only to students from middle class and upper middle class families. In order to make access to the teaching profession easier, thus broadening the social base of the German educational system, the French have abolished all fees for instruction in their teachers' training institutions, and they furnish board and lodging to the prospective teachers without cost.

Administration and instruction in the teachers' training schools are exclusively in the hands of Germans. The French, however, maintain in each institution one or more lecteurs français. They are specialists in German language, literature and cultural history, and are selected with attention to personal as well as professional qualifications. They give instruction in the French language and literature and in addition observe the conduct of affairs in the schools and report to the French educational authorities. In addition to 120 lecteurs, all of whom are holders of university degrees, there are 150 assistants -- candidates for degrees in French universities -- engaged in similar work but in less responsible positions. Thus, without actual intervention in educational affairs, the French authorities are able to keep informed on the character of instruction and to check anti-democratic tendencies.

I recently observed the operation of the French policies in four teachers' training schools -- in Grumbach, Gengenbach, Worms and Alzey -- and at the University of Mayence. I attended classes and also had opportunity to talk with both teachers and pupils without French officials being present. From these visits and interviews I gained the impression that the German teachers and administrators support the policies which the French have introduced. They are particularly appreciative of the efforts which the French administrators have made to secure suitable buildings for instruction and for living quarters. In present-day Germany, where building materials of all kinds, as well as furniture and school equipment, are practically non-existent, what the French have accomplished seems almost miraculous. For the new schools they have taken over buildings previously used as convents, military barracks, and even in one case a fortress built more than 100 years ago which had been lying vacant for more than 20 years. Although not ideally designed for their present purposes, these buildings have been thoroughly renovated and now seem to be adequate for their purposes.

The students seem well pleased with their educational opportunities. Their quarters are crowded according to American standards, and their food meager and unappetizing; nevertheless, they are much better off than when they were living at home with their families. I was interested to learn that the rations allowed to the students at these institutions were considerably above those of the normal German consumer, in some cases equivalent to what was allowed to patients in hospitals and, at the university, equivalent to that for heavy laborers.

A feature of French educational policy which meets with considerable resistance on the part of the Germans is the introduction of competitive examinations for entrance to the new teachers' training institutions, and the universities as well. Recognizing that it would be impossible to accommodate all of the young men and women who wish to enter the new schools, the French decided to select only the best qualified. They fear also that many of the thousands of students now crowding into the universities, in all the zones, will be unable to find employment in their chosen professions. They don't want to be responsible for creating an intellectual proletariat which might support a new Nazi movement. But competitive entrance examinations represent a break with German tradition. Previously, all students who had obtained their so-called abitur, on completion of their secondary school work, were eligible for entrance to the university and to professional schools. Now the young people who are rejected lose face in their home communities.

The French innovations meet with opposition from officials of the Länder governments. Objecting to the democratizing effects of the new schools, they would prefer to see the teaching profession in the zone remain a somewhat exclusive occupation. They also object to the secularization which the French have introduced. The teachers' training schools are not "confessional" schools, that is, they are not operating under any religious auspices. They are neither Catholic nor Protestant.

The French educational authorities take justifiable pride in their accomplishment in opening in May 1946 the ancient University of Mayence (founded in 1477 and closed since 1915). With a student body of 6,000 and 175 professors and instructors, the new university is considerably larger than Freiburg and Tübingen, in the French Zone, and the third largest in all Germany. The French military authorities have displayed remarkable energy and ingenuity in adapting for university purposes buildings designed by the Nazis for the use of antiaircraft forces. In repairing war damages they have employed for almost two years a large force of workers, including 600 prisoners of war and several hundred students. They have broken with German tradition by providing living quarters for 800 students. In the dormitory system, and in the concentration of living quarters and lecture halls and laboratories in an area of 15 or 20 acres, the administrators of the University of Mayence, partly by force of circumstance and partly by conscious intent, are developing an institution which resembles far more a British or an American university than other German or continental universities.

The assistance of the French Military Government was particularly valuable in bringing together the teaching staff, which includes many professors formerly at the Universities of Berlin and Breslau, now in the Russian Zone. There are also professors from France, Switzerland, England, Hungary and the United States. The appointments were, of course, made only after careful scrutiny of previous political affiliations.

At the university, as well as in the teachers' training institutes, the French Military Government has encouraged all sorts of contacts with French and other European universities. For example, they have helped to organize summer sessions in which several hundred French students, men and women, have attended lectures with an equal number of Germans. They have also made possible during each week of the academic year the visits of distinguished foreigners, teachers, journalists and publicists, as well as military men. In addition, the cultural program includes the Instituts Français which provide reading rooms and courses of studies in the French language and literature, as well as art exhibitions, lectures and concerts of a high order of excellence.


In deciding to lay particular emphasis upon educational and cultural activities, the French occupation authorities seem to have given careful consideration to the peculiar characteristics of their zone and to the best utilization of the resources at their disposition. There are no great possibilities for economic development in the French Zone, particularly since the Saar Basin with its steel and iron industries and its coal mines has now been incorporated into France. Furthermore, France itself is short of capital equipment and consequently is in no position to make the necessary investments for industrial rehabilitation and expansion.

On the other hand, the French are well equipped to undertake a program of reëducation and cultural development in their zone, a borderland area with whose population they have had close relations for several hundred years. Educated people on both sides of the border are bilingual. The Germans along the Rhine and in Baden have traditionally had great admiration for French art, French literature and French music. In the French universities, moreover, there is available a considerable number of competent Germanists, teachers and writers who have devoted their lives to the study of German literature and German political and cultural history. From this group the French Military Government has been able to draw competent administrators and teachers who are optimistic about the prospects for reorienting German thought away from the distorted ideology of the Nazis and turning it to the humanistic ideals of French culture.

Many of the officials of the Direction de l'Education Publique fought in the war, others took an active part in the resistance movement in France. Some had undergone cruel hardship, even torture, in German concentration camps. One of the most competent administrators in the zone, highly respected by the Germans for his energy and his fairness, was rescued, half-dead, by American troops from under a pile of corpses. None of these men harbors any illusions about the Germans; yet with characteristic realism they recognize how urgent and important is the job of reforming German thought and feeling, and they don't let hatred or vengeance interfere. The French educational officials seemed to have established easy and natural relations with the German teachers and professors under their supervision. All of the French officers whom I met spoke German easily, correctly and idiomatically. Among the French officials, also, there are a great many with German names, probably indicating that their families originated in Alsace and Lorraine.

The French do not expect to accomplish a revolution in German thinking all at once. They have in mind a 20- or 30-year program. Simply to train a new corps of teachers for primary schools will take ten years. The results of their activities in making the German population better acquainted with the literature and art of France and other countries will not be evident for many more years. To the more nervous and impatient Americans it may seem that all this has little direct relation to producing a peaceful and democratic society in Germany. The Americans, and the British also, seem to have much more confidence than the French in reactivating political parties and in direct propaganda through the press and the radio. It is possible, however, that the French are on the right track, and that they understand better than we the virtues of an indirect approach to the problem of German reëducation. They appreciate also the importance, in establishing better political relations between the French and German populations, of getting them to meet for common enjoyment and improvement on the non-political ground which art, music and literature can supply.

As far as I could judge, the German population in the French Zone is highly appreciative of the French cultural program. After a decade of moral and intellectual isolation enforced by the Nazi régime, they heartily welcome the concerts, art exhibitions and lectures which the French provide. The Germans, however, resent French economic policy which in many ways is in sharp conflict with the reëducation program. French economic policy, harshly and briefly stated, is to make the zone support itself, and if possible to contribute something to French recovery.

The French admit that they are pursuing a tough economic policy. They are strictly rationing food and clothing, and as yet are doing little towards rebuilding cities where war damage created a great shortage of housing. They admit also that the presence of large numbers of occupation troops and civilian employees, with their families, constitutes a great drain on the limited housing and food resources of the zone. They are keenly aware of the conflict between these economic policies and their cultural program. The educational officers, in particular, foresee increasing difficulty in opening German minds to the new cultural ideas as long as the standard of living remains depressed and as long as opportunities for getting a better living seem so remote.

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  • PERCY W. BIDWELL, Director of Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; author of "The Tariff Policy of the United States" and other works
  • More By Percy W. Bidwell