Hitler and Literacy

It has been asserted in this thread that Hitler did not want his ‘street troops’ to be educated or at least be able to read and write, I assume this means ordinary soldiers.


This is not something I’ve heard levelled at the Nazi regime before, more that people were educated, but only in the approved National Socialist ideological manner. I certainly haven’t come across the notion that he was actively anti-literary, burning books that weren’t approved of isn’t the same thing.

Not one I’ve heard before. I have heard that Hitler planned on forcing illiteracy on whatever Slavs survived his massacres. He wanted them to essentially be reduced to what he imagined was the 19th century status of Native Americans; pre-industrial nomads who would be just enough of a threat to keep Aryan settlers in Eastern Europe on their toes. So it appears Hitler recognized illiteracy as a means of weakening a people and it seems unlikely he would have applied it to his own people.

There were no efforts under the Nazi regime to eliminate compulsory education or to change it so that literacy would disappear from school curricula. Sure, they did reform school curricula very heavily; Nazi ideology as well as physical education that was clearly designed as a preparation for military service later on featured big in classes under the Third Reich. But reading and writing, as well as basic maths, were still there, and I’ve never heard of any efforts to change anything in that respect. Doesn’t sound convicing to me.

It seems that he didn’t actually do it, but it would be in line with the general idea of a “master” race. Restrict education to those [Aryans] that would benefit from it, and keep the rest as ignorant peasant workers.

It was widely believed by Americans in the old Confederacy, and with some justification from their point of view, that educating black people was a bad idea.

That may all be true, but it seems the OP was talking about the soldiers on the Nazis’ own side.

Were ‘street troops’ actually soldiers? Or were they the thugs who carried out purges against Jews and other “undesirables” before WW2?

The thugs who orchestrated the pogromes were usually not army soldiers; they would typically be members of the paramilitary militias controlled by the Party, in the early years mostly SA and in later years more likely SS. Neither of the two had a track record for favouring illiterate recruits.

As the poster who wrote that, I thought I was clear that I didn’t know for sure. My recollection is more that it’s a passage in Mein Kampf that illiteracy is a good thing for the masses, troop/thugs and citizens alike.

I ran a full-text search of Mein Kampf for the German term for illiteracy (“Analphabetismus”, “Analphabet” being an illiterate person). These terms show up twice: Once in a chapter about the role of speakers and rhetorically trained orators, as opposed to writers, for political revolutions; in this context, Hitler states that in largely illiterate Russia, it was public speakers, not writings like the Communist manifesto, that mobilised the masses for the Communist revolution. The other instance says something similar about fifty pages later, where Hitler rants that the illiteracy of the Russian masses allowed Jewish agitators to control them. I couldn’t find an instance where Hitler advocates keeping the masses intentionally illiterate as a policy for Germany (there are passages, however, where he describes strategies to promote the reading of written Nazi propaganda).
It’s also worthwhile to keep in mind that we’re not talking about the Middle Ages here. 1930s Germany had already had a long history of compulsory elementary education; literacy rates at the time were in about the same range as they are now for industrialised countries. I think the idea of keeping a significant portion of the population illiterate would have appeared far-fetched to the Nazis. Their strategy was to control the content of the media, rather than restricting access to it (see, for instance, the large-scale promotion of radio and television during Nazi rule).

Yeah, in Mein Kampf he devotes considerable ink to pouring scorn on the well read/intellectual types and the ‘wrong’ type of reading;
“But reading had probably a different significance for me from that which it has for the average run of our so-called ‘intellectuals.’
I know people who have read interminably, book after book, from page to page, and yet I should not call them ‘well-read people’. Of course they ‘know’ an immense amount; but their brain seems incapably of assorting and classifying the material which they have gathered from books.

Such a person never succeeds in turning his knowledge to practical account when the opportune moment arrives; for his mental equipment is not ordered with a view to meeting the demands of everyday life.

On the other hand, one who has cultivated the art of reading will instantly discern, in a book or journal or pamphlet, what ought to be remembered because it meets one’s person needs or is of value as general knowledge.”

Mr. K. seems to have found what I recalled - more that literacy and learning should be limited to what each class needs, and they shouldn’t get above themselves lest they make trouble.

The mention of Mein Kampf reminds me that a copy was given to every couple at their marriage. I doubt if it was given to them to prop up a wobbly table-leg.