Bernhard Rust

Bernhard Rust : Nazi Germany

Bernhard Rust was born in Hannover, Germany, on 30th September, 1883. After studying philosophy, philology, art history and music at Munich, Göttingen, Berlin and Halle, he became a secondary schoolteacher in his home town.

Rust joined the German Army in the First World War and won the Iron Cross for bravery. He reached the rank of lieutenant before he received a bad head wound that it was later claimed affected his mental stability.

In 1922 Rust joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). He made good progress in the party and in 1925 was appointed Gauleiter of Hanover-Braunschweig. Rust lost his job as a schoolteacher in 1930 after being accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. He was not charged with the offence because of his "instability of mind". However, this did not stop him being elected to the Reichstag later that year.

When Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 he appointed Rust as Minister of Science, Art, and Education for Prussia. In a speech he made on 6th November, 1933, Adolf Hitler, announced what he intended to do with the education system: "When an opponent declares I will not come over to your side. I calmly say, Your child belongs to us already. What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community."

In 1934 he was promoted to the post of Education Minister for the Reich. Rust's task was to change the education system so that resistance to fascist ideas were kept to a minimum. Teachers who were known to be critical of the Nazi Party were dismissed and the rest were sent away to be trained in National Socialist principles. As a further precaution schools could only use textbooks that have been approved by the party. On one occasion he remarked that "the whole function of education is to create Nazis."

Rust introduced a Nazi National Curriculum. Considerable emphasis was placed on physical training. Boxing was made compulsory in upper schools and PT became an examination subject for grammar-school entry as well as for the school-leaving certificate. Persistently unsatisfactory performance at PT constituted grounds for expulsion from school and for debarment from further studies. In 1936 timetable allocation of PT periods was increased from two to three. Two years later it was increased to five periods. All teachers below the age of fifty were pressed into compulsory PT courses.

Other subjects to be upgraded were history, biology and German. The importance of biology was derived from the special emphasis the regime placed on race and heredity. Pupils were trained to measure their skulls and to classify each other's racial types. There were also courses on the origins of the Nazi Party and racial science. The amount of time on religious instruction was reduced and it ceased to be a subject for school-leaving examinations and attendance at school prayers was made optional. Prayers written by Baldur von Schirach, the head of the Hitler Youth, that praised Adolf Hitler, were introduced and had to be said before eating school meals.

Rust wrote in Education in the Third Reich (1938): "The systematic reform of Germany's education system was started immediately after the coming into power of National Socialism. If these far-reaching changes were to materialize, teachers had first to be made capable of introducing them. Numerous courses, camps and working communities have been arranged to provide the necessary instruction, which includes the teaching of the philosophy of National Socialism in addition to the strictly educational subjects."

Richard Grunberger, the author of A Social History of the Third Reich (1971), has argued: "The profession's gradual loss of public esteem after 1933 was related to the anti-intellectual mood engendered by the Nazis' transformation of all traditional values. Teachers and priests tended to be the only members of village communities with educational qualifications above elementary or trade-school level - i.e. the only ones accustomed to conceptual thinking. Nazi egalitarianism - we think with our blood - encompassed a pseudo-revolution across a wide segment of rural society by inflating the self-esteem of villagers, while simultaneously lowering that of teachers."

One of the most important changes made by Bernhard Rust was the establishment of élite schools called Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten (Napolas). Selection for entry included racial origins, physical fitness and membership of the Hitler Youth. These schools, run by the Schutzstaffel (SS), had the task of training the next generation of high-ranking people in the Nazi Party and the German Army. The syllabus was that of ordinary grammar schools with political inculcation in place of religious instruction and a tremendous emphasis on such sports as boxing, war games, rowing, sailing, gliding, shooting and riding motor-cycles. Only two out of the thirty-nine Napolas constructed over the next few years catered for girls.

After leaving school at the age of eighteen students joined the German Labour Service where they worked for the government for six months. Some young people then went on to university. Bernhard Rust claimed that the new education system would benefit the children of the working-class that made up 45 per cent of Germany's population. This promise was never fulfilled and after six years in office, only 3 per cent of university students came from working-class backgrounds. This was the same percentage as it was before Adolf Hitler came to power.

One of the major problems for schools in Nazi Germany was attendance. School authorities were instructed to grant pupils leave of absence to enable them to attend Hitler Youth courses. In one study of a school in Westphalia with 870 pupils showed that 23,000 school days were lost because of extra-mural activities during one academic year. This eventually had an impact on educational achievement. On 16th January, 1937, Colonel Hilpert of the German Army complained in Frankfurter Zeitung, that: "Our youth starts off with perfectly correct principles in the physical sphere of education, but frequently refuses to extend this to the mental sphere... Many of the candidates applying for commissions display a simply inconceivable lack of elementary knowledge."

By 1938 it was reported that there was a problem recruiting teachers. It was claimed that one teaching post in twelve was unfilled and Germany had 17,000 less teachers than it had before Adolf Hitler came to power. The main reason for this was the fall in teacher's pay. Entrants to the profession were offered a starting salary of 2,000 marks per annum. After deductions, this worked out at approximately 140 marks per month, or twenty marks more than was earned by the average lower-paid worker. The government tried to overcome this problem by introducing low-paid unqualified auxiliaries into schools.

Rust also purged the universities of Jews and those with left-wing views. Over a thousand people lost their jobs including Albert Einstein, James Franck, Fritz Haber and Otto Meyerhof. Rust justified his actions by claiming that: "We must have a new Aryan generation at the universities, or else we will lose the future."

Bernhard Rust committed suicide when in May 1945.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Bernhard Rust, Education in the Third Reich (1938)

The systematic reform of Germany's education system was started immediately after the coming into power of National Socialism. If these far-reaching changes were to materialize, teachers had first to be made capable of introducing them. Numerous courses, camps and working communities have been arranged to provide the necessary instruction, which includes the teaching of the philosophy of National Socialism in addition to the strictly educational subjects.

(2) Bernhard Rust, National Socialist Germany and the Pursuit of Learning (1936)

There is, indeed, twofold evidence to show that something was wrong with education. In the first place, the high level of popular enlightenment had failed to protect the German people against the poisonous effects of Marxist teaching and other false doctrines. Large masses of people had fallen victims to them, whilst other sections - more especially those of higher education - had been unable to take up an effective stand against the spread of the poison. If they had, the events of 1918 and the succeeding period of national disintegration and deterioration would have been prevented.

In the second place, a careful study of the situation shows that the German people are sound to the core and are gifted with just as much national sentiment as any other. Hence, the temporary lowering of their previous high standards could not have been the result of any innate inferiority, but the reason must be sought in a faulty system of education, which - notwithstanding its high intellectual achievements - tended to impair the healthy spirit of the nation, men's energies and their soundness of judgment, and to produce selfishness and a deficient sense of national solidarity.

The attainment of high intellectual standards will certainly continue to be urged upon the young people; but they will be taught at the same time that their achievements must be of benefit to the national community to which they belong. As a consequence of the demand thus clearly formulated by the Nuremberg Laws, Jewish teachers and Jewish pupils have had to quit German schools, and schools of their own have been provided by and for them as far as possible. In this way, the natural race instincts of German boys and girls are preserved; and the young people are made aware of their duty to maintain their racial purity and to bequeath it to succeeding generations. As the mere teaching of these principles is not enough, it is constantly supplemented, in the National Socialist State, by opportunities for what may be called "community life". By this term we mean school journeys, school camps, school "homes" in rural neighbourhoods, and similar applications of the corporate principle to the life of schools and scholars.

History insists that every biological race deterioration coincides with the growth of big towns, that these latter exercise a paralysing effect upon community life, and that a nation's strength is rooted in its rural elements. Our National Socialist system of education pays due regard to these important considerations, and makes every effort, to take the young people from the towns to the country, whilst impressing upon them the inseparable connection between racial strength and a healthy open-air life.

(3) Dr. Schuster, geography teacher, writing in 1938.

I am trying through the teaching of geography to do everything in my power to give the boys knowledge and I hope later on, judgment, so that when, as they grow older, the Nazi fever dies down and it again becomes possible to offer some opposition they may be prepared. There are four or five masters who are non-Nazis left in our school now, and we all work on the same plan. If we leave, Nazis will come in and there will be no honest teaching in the whole school. But if I went to America and left others to do it, would that be honest, or are the only honest people those in prison cells? If only there could be some collective action amongst teachers. But we cannot meet in conference, we cannot have a newspaper.

(4) Schoolteacher, letter to a friend (December, 1938)

In the schools it is not the teacher, but the pupils, who exercise authority. Party functionaries train their children to be spies and agent provocateurs. The youth organizations, particularly the Hitler Youth, have been accorded powers of control which enable every boy and girl to exercise authority backed up by threats. Children have been deliberately taken away from parents who refused to acknowledge their belief in National Socialism. The refusal of parents to "allow their children to join the youth organization" is regarded as an adequate reason for taking the children away.