An adult residential college for Nazi leaders

Aerial view, from http://www.vogelsang-in.de


I recently enjoyed a very pleasant few days walking in the North Eifel, an area of Germany that seems virtually unknown to British tourists. Situated between the major cities of the Rheinland and the borders with Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, it is enchantingly beautiful with its mixture of forests, hills, rivers, lakes and valleys. And it is bursting with historical remains, from the stunning valley bottom former weaving town of Monschau to the bunkers and tank traps of the Westwall (better known to my parents as the Siegfried Line).

On of the more curious remnants is Vogelsang, built by the Nazi Party after seizing power with the aim of producing a new leadership cadre. I’d not really given the issue much thought, but after 1933 the Nazis suddenly had to fill hundreds of positions of power at all administrative and political levels. And they simply couldn’t get the staff. 

Work began in 1934, and the first intake started their course in 1936. This was a serious long-term programme, intended to take four years, and comprising a mix of physical training (including fencing and gymnastics), studies of such key Nazi fields as history and racial science, and basic training in public administration. There were sports fields and a swimming pool, as well as a faux-medieval dining hall with chivalric statues of blonde, strapping knights on horseback. 

The location itself, as well as the buildings and statuary, had a pedagogic aim: standing outside the main buildings, looking down on the valley and river below, was meant to imbue the students with pride in and love for their Heimat – an untranslatable word that can be rendered, weakly, as homeland. The college’s official name – Ordensburg Vogelsang – is also hard to translate, but loosely means the fortress of the order (as in order of knights).

Cast for statuary, from the Vogelsang exhibition


The aim was to recruit young men, but in practice most of the students were in their thirties, with some years of party activity behind them. None ever finished the course. When war broke out, Vogelsang was handed over to the army as a training centre, then turned into an Adolf Hitler School. The students went straight to work, many of them finding administrative posts in the occupied territories in the east.

After the US Army duly occupied it, bored American and British soldiers passed away the hours by firing at the genitals on the imposing statues that littered the site. It later became part of a training ground for the Belgian Army, before being handed back to the German government in 2005.

Vogelsang (the name means birdsong) is now a museum and educational centre, run by a voluntary organisation. The site itself is huge, and the buildings for the most part are remarkably well preserved. There are changing exhibitions as well as standing displays of materials from the past, mainly dealing with the National Socialist period. If you get th chance to visit, snap it up: as well as seeing a remarkable example of Nazi adult education, with the corresponding architecture and design, you will find yourself in one of the loveliest regions of western Germany.

What Einstein said about adult education

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Einstein in 1921

In 1919, Albert Einstein wrote to the Freie Vereinigung für technische Volksbildung (Independent Association for Technical Popular Education) praising their objectives. His letter was subsequently published in the monthly magazine Volksbildung. This is my own translation, which is complete and should be reasonably accurate – and if it isn’t, let me know!

Education always threatens a peculiar risk of detachment from the world of sensual experience. All education creates a world of concepts. These are closely related in their origin with the realities, they are formed out of their clear recognition. But closely bound to the linguistically fixed concept is a tendency to generalization that on the one hand expands its field of application, on the other hand weakens its connection to sensory experience. So particularly in times when culture is aging, we see concepts becoming empty and formal, losing touch with sensory experience. Who would deny that the grammar schools, where the focus of attention is directed to the language, are particularly exposed to this risk? But the nurturing of mathematics uncoupled from applications brings the same risk; and so the geometricians were able over the centuries to forget that their science ultimately deals with constant bodies and rays of light; the geometrician who fundamentally denies this demotes his science to a meaningless word game. Science can only stay healthy and active if it maintains its relationship with the world of sensual experience, however indirect this relationship may be. Engagement with technology is highly suited to counteracting the degeneration of science in the sense indicated.

On the other hand it is important to make the technology a true cultural factor, by which one brings its rich spiritual and aesthetic content closer to the general consciousness. What comes into the mind of a fine person when he hears the word technology? Greed, exploitation, social division of people, class hatred, soulless mechanization, racial degeneration, senseless hasty bustle … is it any wonder that the educated person hates technology as a wayward child of our times, which threatens to destroy the finer attractions of life? For this robust child of society to grow up safe and sound, we must not let it grow wild. One must try to understand it in order to influence it. It possesses powers that can ennoble life. Here I see the second task of your Association.

Einstein, who by this time was a professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin, was on the way to becoming world famous by 1919. His theory of relativity was well known among theoretical physicists, and was being subjected to testing by empirical physicists. I don’t know the context of this letter, but presumably Einstein – who had taken Austrian citizenship when appointed to a chair in Prague – had been invited to make a public statement supporting the newly-formed Association.

Einstein chose to write about the importance of technology as the place where science meets society. His underlying argument is one that scientists today might associate with the world of ‘impact’ and ‘user engagement’. And Einstein clearly thought that an audience of adult educators was likely to sympathise with his belief that technology might ‘ennoble life’, and share his view on the value of fusing abstract conceptual thinking with the world of lived experience.

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I – and anyone else interested in the history of adult education – have to thank the Austrian Folk High School Association and the Austrian Folk High School Archive for the fact that Einstein’s letter is in the public domain, as one of the many resources available through their fabulous portal, Knowledge Base Erwachsenenbildung. Some of the materials are also in English, though most are in German. You can find out more here. Meanwhile, I’d be interested to know whether Einstein had any other connections with the adult education movement.

 

The World Conference on Adult Education, 1929

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Times, 23 August 1929

I’m writing a discussion paper on comparative studies in adult education, an area of academic research that seems to me in trouble. As so often is the case, I have been side-tracked, thanks to a discussion with a German colleague and friend who mentioned the 1929 World Conference on Adult Education. This was the first event of its kind, so I wanted to find out more.

Google took me straight to a report in a Tasmanian newspaper, which focused on why Australia wasn’t represented on the council of the newly-created World Association of Adult Education (details here). As you can see, the Times on the other hand took a rather British-centred and colonial perspective.

Since then I’ve searched the digital archive of the Times, which covered the conference in remarkable detail: as well as a preview on 12 August, it reported daily on the proceedings from the 23rd to the 30th. On the first day, the Times reported on the welcoming speech by Sir Charles Trevelyan, President of the Board of Education (the post normally known as minister for education) and one of a lengthy queue of prominent opening speakers.

Trevelyan, reassuringly for the affluent readers of the Times, particularly emphasised the role on adult education in making the labour movement respectable. Whether he believed this, or simply used it as a persuasive argument to appeal to the wealthy and powerful, is for you to decide.

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From the report of Treevelyan’s welcoming speech

This is a rich resource, and I will no doubt return to it in future posts. Let me finish with a question: can you imagine the Times of today reporting from the conference of the International Council for Adult Education, successor body of the World Association?

Class prejudice, social surveys and adult education: a WW2 example

In 1946, a 27-year-old lieutenant colonel published an article in the Sociological Review on the educational values of ‘Local Survey Courses’.The aim of these courses was ‘to stimulate human interests and arouse awareness of the locality and its social problems’ among women members of the armed forces.

The background, reported Lt-Col Hardiman, was the discovery that the British Army discussion materials designed to give the troops a better idea of what they were fighting for proved completely unsuitable for the women: ‘On account of the profound ignorance of many of the recruits, talks were incomprehensible to them and discussions desultory’.

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The solution to this problem, Lt-Col Hardiman wrote, was to replace talks by study visits to places of local interest such as the town hall or a housing scheme. But because the students were unable to interpret what they saww, they were ‘passive’ and ‘acquired little or no positive knowledge’.

Only by providing a structured questionnaire, and training study group leaders in how best to prompt the subsequent discussions, would the students produce ‘practically useful results’. And because the courses produced practical results, and involved active learning in co-operative groups, they were ‘more productive of social attitudes and social skills needed in modern affairs than the orthodox methods of schooling’.

Clearly, the article is riddled with upper class condescension, and even contempt, for the working class women (mostly young) who joined the women’s services. But should we dismiss it as nothing more than an expression of unthinking class prejudice, of a kind that no serious sociology journal could contemplate publishing today?

Or should we see class relations in past times as a product of context, even as part of a history of socialisation? Margaret Hardiman, born in India to a businessman father and privately educated, was the product of an exclusive social milieu. Before the Second World War, a bright young woman from such a background would have had very little personal contact with working class women. Interaction with shop assistants, maid servants or waitresses was bounded by clear rules and reinforced by training and disciplinary measures.

What the War did was to push the classes together –  and this could be a shock for all those involved. I’ve written elsewhere about some aspects of adult education during the Second World War ( if you’re interested, you can read more here), and what is clear to me is how far the main adult education movements in the War were shaped by these gendered personal encounters between the classes.

In Hardiman’s case, we can also see the interplay of elite background with higher education and career: she graduated from the LSE in 1939 and then joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service before serving under the army veteran and socialist educationalist George Wigg in the Army Education Corps.

After the War she went on to become an anthropologist at the LSE and the University of Ghana. She seems to have been highly regarded in developing countries as well as at home. While some of her youthful social attitudes will strike us as dated and patronising, I’m still pleased to come across an article that helps us understand better the role of women in army education during WW2.

 

In praise of Trove: an Australian reports on the World Association for Adult Education

In 1929, a Tasmanian school teacher attended the conference in Cambridge of the World Association for Adult Education. In early 1931, Mr G. W. Knight spoke of his visit, which had also encompassed a teachers’ conference in Geneva, at a public meeting in Hobart Library.

The Mercury, Hobart’s local paper, duly reported what he had to say. If their account is reliable, Knight’s main preoccupation was with levels of drop-out in adult education, which he thought high. He also reported that the Association adopted a constitution, and appointed a Council representing seven international regions, which he described as ‘Teutonic, Slav, English, Scandinavian, USA, and Latin and the Orient’. However, he failed to secure separate representation for Australia.

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The Mercury, 3 February 1931

This snippet adds just a little to what we already know about the World Association specifically, and early attempts to internationalise adult education more generally. The otherwise largely unknown Mr Knight (briefly famous for dying in an air crash in 1946) does give us some idea of how an Australian educator viewed the London-based, WEA-led World Association.

Founded in 1919, but unable to survive WW2, the Association’s archives are well represented in the Albert Mansbridge Papers in the British Library. This snippet from Hobart adds to our understanding of the Association’s history, if only at the margins. In its way, then, it is a nice example of the way in which digitised records can make the past accessible to historians, amateur and professional, who cannot possibly travel to view the originals.

The Hobart Mercury is one of many records – diaries, letters, archives and newspapers – that have been made available through the National Library of Australia, through its Trove repository. I found Trove invaluable in researching my book on work camps, and many other historians will echo this praise. In return, I continue to do bits of editing for Trove, improving the accessibility and accuracy of this wonderful resource, as do many other historians.

The Australian Government has slashed the NLA’s budget, and Trove is now at risk. It is a world class resource, and we shouldn’t let it go without a world class fight.

 

Child migrants: the Boy Scouts’ training camp for Durham boys

Amidst all the debate over migration and refugees, you could be forgiven for forgetting that European countries have also sent their fair share of ‘economic migrants’. In the case of Britain, this exodus served a dual purpose: ridding the homeland of an unwanted surplus and settling the overseas Dominions with white Britons.

I’ve described elsewhere the role of the labour colony movement in moving ‘the landless man to the manless land’, as well as the many attempts to train young women as wives and servants for Australia and Canada, and to ‘recondition’ unemployed soldiers and miners as farm labourers. But while my book on British work camps concentrates largely on adults, there were also numerous schemes for training children before sending them out to the Dominions.

As well as the large scale schemes of the major charities, including Barnardos and the YMCA, children were also the focus of many smaller, often voluntary initiatives. This included the Boy Scout movement’s training camps for boys from mining villages.

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Baden-Powell’s report on his visit, from the Eynsham Scoouts Archive

The scheme was started in 1929 by Miss Doris Mason, a scoutmaster and then a Scout Commissioner. Based at Eynsham Hall near Witney, in Oxford, it recruited young lads (aged 14-18) from the ‘distressed areas’ and involved them in a mixture of scouting and farm work. Each boy was placed with a local farmer for part of the day, and spent the rest of the day in organised leisure activities. After four or five months, the boys were subjected to a medical examination, and if passed fit were sent on to Australia.

Miss Mason ran her first camp between April and July 1929, with a group of twelve boys from Durham pit villages. By the tenth day, some of the boys were on strike, after getting into trouble for refusing to play cricket after working in the fields. Mason replaced the strikers; eight of the twelve passed their medical, and eventually seven boys were packed off to Queensland.

This is a small scale scheme, but a very interesting one. The scheme aimed to turn each boy into ‘an Empire-building citizen’, through a pedagogic programme of work, scouting and sport.They worked for their badges, and pursued more or less enthusiastically the scouting idea of manly pioneering.

Yet even after four months of demanding labour and  hearty food, the Australian medical examiner failed one third of the boys as unfit. Once in Queensland, subjected to conditions that were at best harsh and at worst abusive in the extreme, several wrote to Miss Mason asking to come home again.

At the time, though, the scouting movement managed to portray the scheme as a resounding success. Arthur Mee praised it in the Children’s Newspaper as showing that ‘A good Scout has in him the makings of a good colonist’.

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Baden=Powell’s report, from the Eynsham Scouts Archive

 

Miss Mason went on to develop other ventures for boys from the mining areas, including a scheme to train lads as butlers, grooms and chauffeurs. The village of Eynsham, meanwhile, hosted other schemes for the unemployed, including a work camp for unemployed men that was established by former scouts who had gone on to Cambridge University.

Meanwhile, there is currently a fabulous exhibition at the Museum of Childhood that tells the wider story of which the Scout camps are a part. It is called On their Own: Britain’s child migrants. If you’re in London, please visit it!

 

 

 

 

Jewish refugee children and a 1930s work camp

Refugees are very much the talk of the moment, evoking memories of earlier groups of people who sought and found refuge in these islands. One of these was the Kindertransport movement, which after Kristallnacht helped to settle thousands of refugee Jewish children from Nazi Germany. As with today’s Syrian refugees, it was a surge of public opinion that forced the government to act; and again with contemporary echoes, government opened its borders to under-17s, on the understanding that they would return to Germany when things improved.

Much of the responsibility for practical arrangements was delegated to local authorities and voluntary bodies. However, the government did make some facilities available, including a holiday camp at Dovercourt Bay near Harwich, as well as a number of other sites where refugee children could be housed until voluntary agencies or individuals could find a more permanent home, perhaps a foster family or a hostel.

National Archives: From the the First Annual Report for the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany Limited, November 1938-1939

National Archives: From the the First Annual Report for the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany Limited, November 1938-1939

One of these was a former workhouse in Suffolk. Bosmere and Claydon Union Workhouse was a substantial building, originally constructed in the 1760s and upgraded in the nineteenth century. In 1920, the government took it over for use as an Instructional Factory, training ex-servicemen in handicrafts until 1923. Two years later it re-opened as a training farm, preparing the unemployed in batches of 300 for emigration to the white Dominions of Canada and Australia.

Organised emigration came to an end with the global crisis in 1929. As part of the Labour Government’s plans for compulsory training of the unemployed, the Ministry of Labour took the farm over in 1930 as a Transfer Instructional Centre, in which capacity it trained young unemployed men until it too closed in February 1933. It seems to have remained empty until 1939, when the government made it available to a voluntary group for use as a transit camp where boy refugees could learn English and handicrafts while awaiting transfer.

The Kindertransport movement is reasonably well documented. The Ministry of Health kept administrative files on the care provided for the children, the Home Office kept records of their movements, the Foreign Office reported on the persecution of Jews in Germany, and the security services speculated on whether the political views of 16-year olds were of any interest to the state. The National Archives has placed a sample of these files on its website, together with teaching notes.

There are also reasonably good records relating to individual children. Some recorded their memories for the Kindertransport Association or the Association of Jewish Refugees. Diane Samuels recorded oral reminiscences for her play about the movement, and other memories are held by the Wiener Library.

I’ve picked two of these stories, but many others are available. Max Dickson, formerly Max Dobriner, was first placed in Claydon and then moved to a former labour colony site near Oxford. He served in the British army, first in the Pioneer Corps and then the Commandos, and later interrogated German prisoners of War, taking part in the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals before returning to Britain and marrying a local girl.

Sigi Faith, born Siegfried Samuel Feitlowitz in Hamburg, was ten when he arrived at Harwich. He found the diet at Claydon monotonous, but otherwise recalled it as great fun: “The house had been converted to house some 800 boys and was just perfect for a 10 year old – no discipline, attendance at meals was optional and it was much morefun building a raft and drifting in the nearby river”. After a few months, he was placed with a family in Oswestry, subsequently moving to London where he founded a chain of shoe shops. His parents escaped to Shanghai and survived.

After the last of the children was moved, the camp was used to house Italian prisoners-of-war, and became derelict after the War. By 2003, one intrepid visitor discovered that the site had apparently become a gathering place for sexual adventurers; I cannot confirm this personally.