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How Nazi Germany’s elite schools forged close links with top British counterparts

Nazi Germany’s elite schools forged close links with British boarding schools in the 1930s and used the likes of Eton, Harrow and Winchester as models, a historian has revealed.

The first in-depth history of these top Nazi schools, which were set up to train the future leaders of the Third Reich, brings to light the exchanges they organised with top English schools before the Second World War.

Dr Helen Roche, of Durham University, has written a book based on research from 80 archives in six countries and witness testimonies from more than 100 former pupils.

She found that between 1934 and 1939, pupils from the most prominent type of National Socialist elite school, known as Napolas, took part in a series of exchanges and sporting tournaments with boys from British public schools, including Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, Rugby, and the Leys School in Cambridge.

Nazi Germany ‘s elite schools forged close links with British boarding schools in the 1930s and used the likes of Eton, Harrow and Winchester as models, a historian has revealed. Above: Pupils and staff at the Napola in Ballenstedt, north-east Germany, prepare for a football match with a team from an unidentified school bfrom the UK, spring 1937

The first in-depth history of these top Nazi schools, which were set up to train the future leaders of the Third Reich, brings to light the exchanges they organised with top English schools before the Second World War. Above: The reading room at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) during the early1940s

The first in-depth history of these top Nazi schools, which were set up to train the future leaders of the Third Reich, brings to light the exchanges they organised with top English schools before the Second World War. Above: The reading room at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) during the early1940s

The Napola pupils who took part in these exchanges were seen as performing the function of cultural ambassadors for the ‘new Germany’.

Dr Roche’s research showed the British public schools were an important model for Napolas which the Nazis studied and ultimately hoped to emulate and improve upon.

Archives show that one German education inspector often praised British public schools for being character-forming.

And throughout the 1930s, Napolas set up annual exchanges with top English schools.

Dr Helen Roche, of Durham University, has written a book based on research from 80 archives in six countries and witness testimonies from more than 100 former pupils. Above: Members of one of the school marching bands at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) in 1943

Dr Helen Roche, of Durham University, has written a book based on research from 80 archives in six countries and witness testimonies from more than 100 former pupils. Above: Members of one of the school marching bands at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) in 1943

She found that between 1934 and 1939, pupils from the most prominent type of National Socialist elite school, known as Napolas, took part in a series of exchanges and sporting tournaments with boys from British public schools, including Eton. Above: Eton students pictured in 1939

She found that between 1934 and 1939, pupils from the most prominent type of National Socialist elite school, known as Napolas, took part in a series of exchanges and sporting tournaments with boys from British public schools, including Eton. Above: Eton students pictured in 1939

The Napola pupils who took part in these exchanges were seen as performing the function of cultural ambassadors for the 'new Germany'. Above: Students at the Leys School in Cambridge in 1940. The Leys School also collaborated with the elite German schools

The Napola pupils who took part in these exchanges were seen as performing the function of cultural ambassadors for the ‘new Germany’. Above: Students at the Leys School in Cambridge in 1940. The Leys School also collaborated with the elite German schools

Records show that the attitudes of the boys and masters to each other changed over time as relations between the two countries deteriorated.

Dr Roche said: ‘In the early days of the exchange programme, the English boys and masters often felt that what they saw in Nazi Germany and at the Napolas was in some ways superior to the state of affairs in England.

‘There was a feeling, which found its way into wider British attitudes towards Germany, that Britain would do well to emulate Germany’s racial confidence, and there was an admiration for the sheer strength and physical development of the German boys.’

Dr Roche said: 'In the early days of the exchange programme, the English boys and masters often felt that what they saw in Nazi Germany and at the Napolas was in some ways superior to the state of affairs in England'. Above: Pupils at the National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) engage in shooting practice in 1944

Dr Roche said: ‘In the early days of the exchange programme, the English boys and masters often felt that what they saw in Nazi Germany and at the Napolas was in some ways superior to the state of affairs in England’. Above: Pupils at the National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) engage in shooting practice in 1944

Napolas were created in 1933 to train and indoctrinate Nazi Germany's future political leaders. Above: Photos of orchestra practice at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) in 1943

Napolas were created in 1933 to train and indoctrinate Nazi Germany’s future political leaders. Above: Photos of orchestra practice at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) in 1943

Pupils at Harrow School are seen being given a lesson in baseball by American airmen of the 225th Photo Recce Wing and the 305th Bomber Group in June 1945

Pupils at Harrow School are seen being given a lesson in baseball by American airmen of the 225th Photo Recce Wing and the 305th Bomber Group in June 1945

Napolas were created in 1933 to train and indoctrinate Nazi Germany’s future political leaders. 

They primarily emphasised military and physical training. By 1939, 16 had been opened and by 1945 there were 43 in existence.

Students were admitted after showing a medical certificate which demonstrated what were deemed to be outstanding ‘Aryan’ racial and physical characteristics.

Applicants also had to show courage and aggression when competing in athletic competitions. 

However, because Nazi Germany lacked qualified teachers, the standards of education in the schools was not high and fell further when paramilitary organisation the SS took over complete control.

Napolas primarily emphasised military and physical training. By 1939, 16 had been opened and by 1945 there were 43 in existence. Above: Biology and Chemistry lessons at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) during the early1940s

Napolas primarily emphasised military and physical training. By 1939, 16 had been opened and by 1945 there were 43 in existence. Above: Biology and Chemistry lessons at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) during the early1940s

Students were admitted after showing a medical certificate which demonstrated what were deemed to be outstanding 'Aryan' racial and physical characteristics. Above: Pupils hurry to wash and brush their teeth before breakfast at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen)

Students were admitted after showing a medical certificate which demonstrated what were deemed to be outstanding ‘Aryan’ racial and physical characteristics. Above: Pupils hurry to wash and brush their teeth before breakfast at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen)

Applicants also had to show courage and aggression when competing in athletic competitions. Above: Woodwork at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) in 1943

Applicants also had to show courage and aggression when competing in athletic competitions. Above: Woodwork at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) in 1943

Because Nazi Germany lacked qualified teachers, the standards of education in the schools was not high and fell further when paramilitary organisation the SS took over complete control. Above: Rollcall and saluting the flag at at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) during the early 1940s

Because Nazi Germany lacked qualified teachers, the standards of education in the schools was not high and fell further when paramilitary organisation the SS took over complete control. Above: Rollcall and saluting the flag at at National Political Educational Institution Rugen (NPEA Rugen) during the early 1940s

She added: ‘We can see the exchange programme as providing a microcosm for more general attitudes to the Nazi regime on behalf of the middle- and upper-class British public – not wholly convinced by the aims and ideals of the Third Reich, but nevertheless prepared to give their German counterparts the benefit of the doubt, until Nazi belligerence reached its fatal climax.’

The Third Reich’s Elite Schools – A History Of The Napolas, is published by Oxford University Press.

Better known than the Napolas was the Hitler Youth, which was set up by Hitler himself to educate and train German boys in Nazi principles after he came to power in 1933.

The Third Reich's Elite Schools - A History Of The Napolas, is published by Oxford University Press

The Third Reich’s Elite Schools – A History Of The Napolas, is published by Oxford University Press

By 1935, the movement included nearly 60 per cent of the male youth population and all young ‘Aryan’ Germans were expected to join.

German boys were registered and investigated for potential Hitler Youth membership when they reached their 10th birthdays.

If their backgrounds – including their ‘racial purity – were up to standard, they would be inducted into feeder organisation Deutsches Jungvolk (German Young People). 

Then, at age 13, they would become eligible for the Hitler Youth, whose members graduated at 18.

Members were expected to conform to Nazi orthodoxy and live with minimal parental guidance. 

There were also separate organisations for girls – the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel) and Jungmädel (‘Young Girls).

The latter was for girls aged 10 to 14, whilst the membership age range of the former was between 14 and 18.  

It trained girls in domestic duties, motherhood and comradeship. 

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