Can the Nazis Learn?
by NORA WALN
A SOUND woke me and in I sat up in my bed at the Hotel Grünerwald in Wiesbaden.A cloud of dust was coming through my open window. I felt the grit of powdered mortar, closed my eyes against it, tasted lime. The sound a building makes in collapsing continued for a while. Then it was over. I heard a woman scream, a man call for help, children crying. By my clock it was four in the morning.
Within our hotel, doors opened, men spoke to one another and hurried down the stairs. When I got down, the hall was empty. In the street I found American men and German men working together at the risk of their lives as they strove to get German people from under the debris of a fallen apartment house.
The dead were being laid in a neat row on the pavement. The injured were near-by. A few people, as always in such happenings, had escaped unhurt and were walking about. The gravest concern of the rescuers was for those who were trapped alive, caught in places where efforts to free them might cause the beam, tilted wall, or heavy wardrobe which protected them to fall and crush them. A little boy was held this way far back in the rubble. He would be patient and quiet, his eyes very bright; then a spell of fright would overcome him and he would cry, but after some time would master himself again and be still.
“Twelve families lived in this apartment house,” a German woman who had lived there said. “Months after the bombings, when peace has been declared, our buildings fall down.”
“It has been the same in London, Coventry, Birmingham, and other places,” I answered.
“You are English?”
“I am an American.”
“I don’t comprehend why you are on the side with the English and the Russians,” she said, and went on quickly before I could speak. “There are so few places now for us to make homes in. We crowd in where we can, seeking shelter before winter comes. The engineers whom your government allows to work should be quicker in testing buildings, and you should put up signs prohibiting the use of those which are unsafe.” She added, “You Americans take the best of what there is for your occupational government.” From then on we stood there in silence, two women of about the same age, each busy with her own thoughts. I went on with my day as planned: went to Frankfurt to call on Major George H. Geyer, head of the educational section of our Military Government in Germany, and then on to Oberursel to talk with Helene Ullmann, who used to teach in a missionary school in China.
When I came back in the evening, I met one of the men from the Press Wireless department as he was coming down to supper and he told me, “They managed to get the boy out.” He paused. “I’ve hated the Krauts. All of them. But the way those German policemen worked with us, I forgot they are Krauts.”
“I’ve found that children cry the same in every country,” remarked another man when I was eating supper with him. “That little boy caught there today might have been my own — the effect he had on me. He is about the same age as my boy.” He had two pictures of his son to show me, kept together in a leather case — one taken before he came overseas, and one his wife had sent showing a boy starting off on his first day at school.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t any children,” said another man at the table. “ Both my wife and I want them. If she would agree — I haven’t asked her — I ‘d rather like to start a family by adopting one of the orphans over here if it can be done. That’s how I feel when I have them hanging round me as they do with all of us. These children would grow up all right if they had an American chance.”
“You are easily sold. I wouldn’t take the pick of them as a free gift, boys or girls. They are hooligans, the lot of them. They smile for chocolate, for rides, for attention; they cheer whatever you say, but just turn away a minute and they snitch anything you leave loose. Let a car stand unattended anywhere two seconds and they let the air out of the tires. They are tainted. They are twisted. No good will come of them.” So, a third man felt.
“I’d be willing to gamble on it,” said the one who thought of adopting. “If I could afford it, I’d be willing to take more than one and bring them up on Boy Scout principles; bring them up among my own — if they come later.”
“The ideas round a child’s daily life have a lot to do with making or marring his character,” said the father of a son. “I don’t think these children start out any less good than others. They need education, re-education.”
IN Major Geyer’s office at the I. G. Farben building two sergeants were on duty. The major was attending a conference which would occupy him for several days. Its purpose was to help promote a harmonious functioning of the various parts of the Military Government. The sergeants pointed out their chief’s position on the program and mentioned that he was to speak that very afternoon. They had great pride in him.
“He will state education’s case effectively,” declared the taller sergeant. His companion agreed.
As I was turning to go, the shorter one said, “Perhaps we could answer whatever you meant to ask Major Geyer.”
I asked about Major E. L. Crum, Education and Religious Affairs Officer. Perhaps he could see me? He was at Treysa, attending the largest Protestant Church Conference in Germany’s history.
The sergeants were an intelligent pair. After they cleared books and papers from a chair for me, I sat down and we had a companionable visit. They told me that, as far as the census is complete, there are just over three million children from six to ten years old in our zone and that it is to the children of this age group that first consideration is being given. Elementary schools are being opened just as rapidly as schoolrooms can be got ready, anti-Nazi teachers found, and books printed.
The concentration on this age group does not mean that there is neglect of the need to get all German youth under good teaching as quickly as possible. Repairing and rebuilding schools in the bombed cities, screening the teachers, and preparing the textbooks is a tremendous task. Every kind of school, including kindergartens, is being opened; many are already functioning.
teachers of instrumental and vocal music, of painting and drawing, of languages, domestic science, and handcrafts, who have had small private classes or given individual lessons, are permitted to teach as soon as they pass the anti-Nazi screening. German teachers are on trial under the surrender terms. The certificate of anyone can be taken away at any time. Each teacher must prove to be reliable. All teaching has to be done under the guidance of United States officers until German instruction satisfies American principles as to what should be taught.
No school, college, or university can function without permission. Some have dared to begin without it and have been promptly closed. There will be schools enough to take care of town and country children in every region of our zone. School attendance has long been compulsory In Germany and will continue to be so under our government.
The Military Government officers whose job it is to supervise teaching in our zone are all grade and high school teachers, college professors, and school superintendents from the United States. Major Geyer comes from California, where he was director of Glendale Junior College. Major Edward F. D’Arms, who is at Munich, was professor of classics at the University of Colorado. Major James F. Bursch, in Neustadt, is from Sacramento, California.
Some of the others are Captain Richie, now at Munich, whose wife is also in Germany on an occupational government job; Captain Holmstedt, now Kassel, who was professor of education at the University of Indiana; and Captain E. Arthur Elliot, now organizing the students of bombed Frankfurt, who was superintendent of schools at Joplin, Missouri. Captain John P. Steiner, now at Stuttgart, was superintendent of schools at Portales, New Mexico. Captain Walter Bergman, in Karlsruhe, is from Wayne University. Captain E. T. Gannon, working in Bavaria, was a high school superintendent in New York City; Captain Donald Sheldon was superintendent of schools at Prescott, Arizona, and Lieutenant Earl Chisamore was a district superintendent in New York City.
The textbooks are a problem. The Nazis were thorough about the instruction of the young. No child could escape their teaching. On examination our officers discovered that Nazi theories were in every book from the kindergarten through the university. There was a clever, subtle infiltration of Nazi ideas even into arithmetics.
A search was made for German schoolbooks used before 1933. These books went up by the thousand in the great burning of the books. To possess them became a crime punishable by arrest and detention without trial in a concentration camp. If a set was hidden and kept in any German home, the owner did not come forward to present them for our use. But a set was kept at Columbia University, in the library of Teachers College. The knowledge in them stops at 1933; yet they must serve for the present, until books can be written.
The making of copies in the numbers needed is no small task. Captain Dumont F. Denney of New York City and Lieutenant C. C. Axvall of Fargo, North Dakota, promised to deliver books as fast as schoolrooms and teachers were ready, and to deliver five million by October 1. To date they have not failed a school, and they have also supplied the Russians with copies which they wanted to put to use in their zone.
“Our zone is like a state in a union,” the tall sergeant informed me. “We have to keep an ideal in mind — the ideal which has made our union of states at home a success. We must not run our zone in unhealthy rivalry with the Russians, the British, and the French zones. Each of us has something to help the other with in knowledge of what it is that makes a good citizen.”
“That’s right,” said the second sergeant. “Some people are afraid of foreigners, especially of the Russians. I am not. The Russians have some good ideas and we have some good ideas. The thing to do is to share our best.”
Later that day, when I talked with Helene Ullmann, who is the mother of two girls of school age, she stressed the importance of the home behind the school. She thinks that re-education is needed for the parents, most of all for the mothers. When I groaned at the amount there is to do, she pointed out that we must be as ardent as Nazis, and stick at the job through a generation.
On Tuesday I went to Heidelberg. We landed at an airfield near Mannheim, and from there I was taken to the Seventh Army Press Camp by jeep. The driver had a friend with him, a soldier from Brooklyn who means to make writing his career when he gets out of the Army. Seeing the Germans has stirred in him a desire to understand them, and he spends his spare time studying them. Their industry in clearing their wrecked cities, where from dust and desolation new cities are beginning to rise, has his keen attention. Mannheim, at the junction of the Neckar and the Rhine, had a population of 280,000 and was the target of 144 Allied air raids. The wreckage is a mass which towers high on both sides of the cleared streets.
It was a hot morning. We were held up several times by traffic — trucks, stone-crushers, bulldozers, and other machines. We had to wait our turn to cross an improvised bridge. Dust and the stench of rotted bodies came from the rubble which was being cleared, Mannheim was a place of orderly activity where the survivors toiled. They were earnest-faced men and women, mostly old, some crippled. They worked industriously and methodically, picking out bricks and placing them in neat stacks; doing the same with girders, doorknobs, nails, even pieces of glass; collecting everything which could be used again.
“Plants are already reprocessing every kind of rubble,” said the Brooklyn boy. “The new Mannheim is to be a model city. The work is under the direction of our Military Government officials, headed by Lieutenant Colonel R. E. Hoover. The new Mayor and the First City Councillor are Josef Braun and Gustav Zimmermann, selected because they are antiNazi. They give us coöperation, and the Germans work under us all right; even those who get back from prisoner-of-war camps fall in. These people can work. They seem to like it. Tugging and pulling, sorting and remaking, they don’t look unhappy. There is no need to urge them to effort.”
“They are like bees,” commented the driver.
“The new Mannheim is going to be a better place for people to live in than the old Mannheim. City planners, architects, and engineers have drawn a dream of something fine to rise from these ruins. The streets will be wider, the homes better, the shops, factories, and school buildings placed just where they should be. Patching up what can be patched for winter shelter is a primary task and they are doing it, but they are not letting anything cut across the overall plan. Repairs have to fit into it. There will be parks and playgrounds, theaters, clinics, and hospitals. No slums.”
“Won’t do them any good unless they change their ways,” the driver told him.
“Herbert doesn’t admire the Germans,” explained his friend.
“They are too docile,” said Herbert. “Follow where they are led.”
“Saves us trouble.”
“Not in the long run.”
We had come into clean country. It was lovely to smell the sun-warmed firs that were growing in tidy plantations on both sides of the road. Beyond the woods we had a wide and pleasant view of rolling farm lands with small, attractive houses and wellbuilt barns. We saw fine horses, sleek cattle, and good crops. Women and children, old men, and a few young men were in the fields gathering what was ready and retilling harvested land. The only sign of distress was in two groups we passed. They appeared to be townspeople. They had on city clothes and had pushcarts loaded with baggage. They were wan and tired, and looked as if they had been on a hopeless trek.
“Probably looking for a country living place,” commented Herbert. “I’m sorry for them but I am sorry for us, too. Twice we have had to fight them, and now we have to stay and police them. We will get them all under shelter by winter, force them to take each other in.”
“He doesn’t like it that we have found no Nazis in this country. Everyone we question only supported Nazism because he or she couldn’t help it. It’s pricked like a bubble now, and they are following the present popular slogan, ‘anti-Nazism.’ The German people do not feel guilty about the concentration camps or anything that was done. It was their leaders’ fault, they reason. Under the excuse that they had to obey, they forgive themselves.”
“Unless we find a means to teach these people that all are responsible, our coming will have been in vain,” insisted Herbert.
HEIDELBERG is in the Seventh Army’s administrative territory, an hour’s drive from the Press Camp. The way leads down a winding road and through three charming villages where there is not much sign of war other than the presence of our men in khaki — surrounded here as elsewhere by German children, little boys and girls who sit a dozen together sometimes on the curb when an American is on traffic duty. I visited these villages a few years ago, and I found it a relief now not to see the banner of the hooked cross in them, and not to hear the tramp of Hitler boots.
Beyond the villages stands Heidelberg. Architecturally, Heidelberg is unhurt. Blast has not shaken the buildings here. They are as they were built by men, telling in their shape a story of centuries of European thought and dream. The trees were not uprooted. They still give leafy shade to the streets of Heidelberg.
I walked awhile in the peace and told myself, “This is a liberated town, a place saved for future use, a sanctuary of learning unshackled, freed from the Nazi thrall.”
As I walked a woman spoke to me. She greeted me and I responded. We went a short way together and she drew my attention to buildings, statues, and landmarks that we passed.
The war did not come to Heidelberg?” I asked her.
“It took the sons of our town,” she answered, and quickly added, ”I had no son to give. We heard the guns — perhaps twenty miles away. It was terrible to hear the fighting, to know that men killed one another, and we could do nothing. When the sound of battle was nearest, so close that it seemed it would sweep over our town, we had a festival of Bach’s music in the castle courtyard.”
I went on to make my calls. I first looked for Dr. Rosenkranz, the Chinese scholar, but failed to locate him, and realized that the address I had must be wrong. Then I went to the office of our American educational officer and learned that Dr. Rosenkranz was in the hospital. So I went into the main hall of the University to talk with anybody I might happen to find there.
At first I made little headway. The first person I spoke to was a nice-looking girl, tall and slender, healthily built, with fair hair and blue eyes, attractively dressed. Her response was not an answer to my question as to where I should go to get information about the University. It was a cool-toned statement: “You are out of bounds here.”
I was taken by surprise. If someone had thrown a bucket of ice water on me, I could not have felt more dejected.
I turned from her to a young man on the other side of me. He may have been a wounded soldier — one foot was gone. His face in repose looked strained, confused. I asked him whether he would be so kind as to tell me where I should go to find the Rector or someone of the University who could help me locate professors who had been my friends. He said, “I have not heard that we are required to assist correspondents.” Such bitterness was in him that pity swept through me.
Almost before he had ended, a girl came up quickly. “Pardon — but I overheard your question. Perhaps I can help you although I am a stranger here myself. I lived in Königsberg. I want to study if they will let me into the Medical School. Come with me. There is a man who helped me. He is kindly.”
She took me upstairs, along a corridor to an open door on the left, where I joined a queue. Soon I realized that the others were there to register or to inquire about registering. More wanted to study at Heidelberg than could have places. They pleaded; often they mentioned the destruction of other universities. Many asked where they were to go for education if refused at Heidelberg.
The gray-haired man at the desk was courteous and efficient; he listened to each applicant and did not promise the impossible. As yet only two schools had permission to reopen — Medicine and Theology. Professors were here from universities all over Germany, and from Vienna; but no one, no matter how eminent, could leach until he passed the anti-Nazi screening. It was not easy to make up a faculty. The man was patient under questions. He dealt with me with equal courtesy and appointed a young man to take me to the Rector’s secretary.
From then on I was made welcome, treated with friendliness. Dr. Bauer, the Rector, who has been selected to reopen Heidelberg under supervision, was out — trying to arrange several matters still pending with the American authorities. If I could sit down for a few minutes, Dr. Fuhrmann, who was in, would certainly like to talk with me.
Dr. Fuhrmann greeted me as a friend and told me that his wife, an American, had been a teacher at Mount Holyoke. He corrected my addresses, told me of some who are gone, and gave me letters of introduction to several in Heidelberg whom he thought I should like to meet. Then he took me on a tour of the University.
As we went through the great empty rooms, he talked of the future that might be inspired here, of the difficult and ill-prepared youth pressing for entry, of the way to truth which had been forsaken; and as we came to things of beauty, he called my attention to them. He gave me as gifts a copy of the University seal, done in bronze, and a lovely book. He asked me not to think exclusively of the horrors of Dachau and the calculated cruelties done to those I loved in Norway, but to try to remember the good things about Germany.
One afternoon I spent with Professor Fritz Ernst and his wife and baby daughter at their home in Handschuchsheim, high on the hill above Heidelberg. He is in his forties. As a youth Professor Ernst studied in England; and while there he lived with English Quakers, Elizabeth and Francis Tucker of Wandsworth Meeting. He has been appointed ViceRector of the University — provisionally, as all teachers are appointed.
“The problem for teachers will be how to catch the minds of the young people, how to stir them to think rightly,” he said. “Many of them cannot locate their families; their homes are gone. These things give them ground for revolutionary and antagonistic thoughts. None of them are properly prepared for study; year after year, from 1933 on, the standard of knowledge in our country was lowered and perverted. They must not be let roam. They must be got into the classroom and set to work. This generation cannot regain what it lost, but a beginning can be made in them. Teaching them will not be an easy task.”
THE saddest and the sweetest of my visits in Heidelberg was with Dr. and Mrs. Jaspers. He could not teach during the Nazi regime because she is Jewish and he would not divorce her. She is alive today because he hid her in his house for five years. Her friends have not known she was alive; those who love her, including her brothers at Oxford in England, in New York City, and in Palestine, have not known that she would be met again this side of heaven. I could scarcely believe it when I saw her, touched her, sat holding her hands. For five years she did not see the sky except through a window, or go out of doors. She lived with books. She did not see the river, walk on the hills, or pick a wild flower.
She was hidden in the center of Heidelberg. Search after search was made. This German Protestant husband outwitted the searchers every time they came, and no member of his household staff told. He could not risk trying to get her away. They had seemed safe until it was too late to make such a move.
He stood between her and the Nazis of their nation. He was taken ill. She had poison to take if he died. Sitting in their book-lined home, she showed me the letter which was kept in a drawer, put there to be found and given to his sister if need be. Love for one another such as is seldom seen shines in their faces.
She is brown-eyed and beautiful, as some women are at seventy, and tiny. He is tall, handsome, and wise. Both are frail. Yet they take in and shelter the needy. Their home is full of the homeless. Joy is in their house, but the strain of these long years has taken a sad toll, wasted and misused the powders of this couple — two of Germany’s most scholarly citizens.
Speaking at ceremonies held to celebrate the completion of arrangements for reopening Heidelberg’s medical school, Dr. Jaspers did not gloss over the magnitude of the task ahead. He said that there are few alive in Germany today who did not actively support or at least make serious compromise with Nazism, and he warned that Nazi doctrines have seeped into the minds of a population most of whom do not recognize that they have this disease.
The world over, stirred by knowledge of happenings within this land, people have puzzled about the education and re-education of Germans. This matter has occupied my mind unhappily ever since I became acquainted with people in Germany during the time I was first here, from June, 1934, into April, 1938. In England I attended several conferences on the subject, some of them convened by Quakers, and I listened to German refugees and others who had fled to the British Isles when Nazi rule came over their countries.
I have come to feel that Nazism was only a harvest from seed which has not been destroyed by losing the war. This feeling has increased during the weeks since my return to Germany. As I go about I see an outward change, but when I visit among Germans I do not find an inward change. And as yet I am not sure of any answer.