The elite schools of Nazi Germany forged strong ties to British boarding schools in the 1930s and used models like Eton, Harrow and Winchester, one historian has revealed.
The first in-depth history of these great Nazi schools, created to train future leaders of the Third Reich, sheds light on the exchanges they organized with the best English schools before World War II.
Dr Helen Roche of Durham University has written a book based on research from 80 archives in six countries and the testimonies of over 100 alumni.
She found that between 1934 and 1939, students of the most prominent type of elite National Socialist school, known as Napolas, participated in a series of sports exchanges and tournaments with boys from the British public schools including Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, Rugby and the Leys School in Cambridge.
The students of Napola who took part in these exchanges were seen as fulfilling the function of cultural ambassadors of the “new Germany”.
Dr. Roche’s research showed that British public schools were an important role model for Napolas that the Nazis studied and hoped to ultimately emulate and improve upon.
Records show that a German education inspector often praised UK public schools for their character training.
And throughout the 1930s, Napolas set up annual exchanges with the best English schools.
Records show that the attitudes of boys and teachers towards each other changed over time as relations between the two countries deteriorated.
Dr Roche said: “At the start of the exchange program, English boys and teachers often felt that what they saw in Nazi Germany and in Napolas was in some ways superior to the situation in England. .
“There was a feeling, which ran through broader British attitudes towards Germany, that Britain would do well to emulate Germany’s racial trust, and there was an admiration for the strength and the physical development of German boys. “
She added: “We can see the exchange program as a microcosm of more general attitudes towards the Nazi regime on the part of the British middle and upper class public – not fully convinced by the goals and ideals of the Third Reich, but nonetheless ready to give their German counterparts the benefit of the doubt, until Nazi belligerence reaches its fatal climax.
The Elite Schools of the Third Reich – A History of the Napoles, is published by Oxford University Press.