In this way, the fundamental place of memory of the Great War in student representations was confirmed. The fact that celebrations based on Langemarck had little impact, or that the war did not, for the university rectors, constitute a major subject for their beginning-of-semester speeches, must not allow us to draw the overhasty conclusion that memory of the war was fading.
The very term Volkstumskampf comes with marked biological connotations. In , a. Within the Reich, student organizations were one of the main points of contact with the representatives of German minorities abroad. They frequently invited them to conferences where there were discussions of the situation — always described as alarming — of these communities.
The case of the Saarland is a symptomatic example of this, for two reasons. Activism in the Saarland began only around , in the period of diplomatic normalization in Germany; so the external causes are not very clear. Secondly, there is no question here of the start of any terrorist movements or of scuffles with the occupying power, as occurred from to in the Rhineland and the Ruhr. The Bund der Saarvereine, an umbrella association for the whole pro-German network in the Saarland, was from plunged into intense activity — conferences, slide shows, the forwarding of documentation and so on.
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Organizing information tours for its leaders, the Bund der Saarvereine covered the whole territory of Germany, sometimes returning to the same localities several times. This burst of activity might have come up against bafflement or lack of interest on the part of students. But these conferences were actually organized at the behest of student associations themselves: they produced a stream of correspondence, requesting lectures, documentation or aid for the organization of an expedition of Komilitonen to the internationalized Saarland.
This association investigated the situation of the communities there, or carried out activist work, though these two things were of course not mutually exclusive. However, the question of borders was not seen simply in economic or administrative terms; for these students, a border was also, indeed mainly, a cultural, national and even ethnic limit. The Berlin students thus thought that, in the Saarland, they would be able to study specific phenomena caused by a geographical and political. Students from the universities of Graz, Innsbruck and Brunn organized, with comrades in the Reich, the visit of a representative of the Bund der Saarvereine.
They themselves were a German minority: they could thus highlight their experience of the Volkstumskampf. Around the latter there gravitated a remarkable number of SD intellectuals whom Heiss had frequented in his activist days on the border. His publishing house, Volk und Reich, was one of the centres for bringing out accounts of the Great War and propaganda pieces to foster activism on the border. This alliance, forged between the academic milieus of the Reich and activists adept in keeping a low profile or working underground, epitomizes the world of SD intellectuals.
Young graduates such as Siegfried Engel, Richard. It was as if, in the view of these Nazi militants, the Generalplan Ost was the ultimate aim of the Volkstumskampf. Networks of solidarity It can be an arduous task to try and grasp what created the hidden but perfectly real affinities between SS intellectuals. Everything seems to indicate the existence of networks based on a community of places of study and on shared activist, festive and corporatist experiences.
It is hard to detect these networks actually being formed within student social groups.
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Nonetheless, the a posteriori confirmation of their existence allows us to localize them, to grasp their individual nature and to evaluate the environment in which they were shaped. We can, however, draw on few infrequent mentions of Komilitonen acquaintances who had acted as partners in some political activity applying to a corporation or entering the SS. References to these connections created during the period of study mainly concern early entrants into the SS and the SD: after , only rare and atypical individuals felt any need to name acquaintances who might guarantee their doctrinal affiliations.
Only individuals who considered themselves to be ideologically suspect mentioned character witnesses. Practically no SS intellectual ever mentions these links — which proves the activist character of the elite we are studying. Proof of this: the Staatsarchivrat [State Archivist — Tr. I studied law and political economy. It is impossible to date this document. Mention of this network of. It was this same group that, in , published the Festschrift for the fortieth birthday of Heinrich Himmler.
Other networks are identifiable if we focus on the combined criteria of age, geographical origin and party affiliation. The last of these is the only lawyer in the sample. The others studied German language and literature, and history or geography, and matriculated at the same time. So we have a set of individuals taking the same courses and sharing the same expectations, even though there is nothing to prove that they actually knew each other.
The tone of complicity in the administrative letters they exchanged on this occasion suggests as much.
Willy Seibert was probably close to. The bond between the two seems this time to have been of a more militant kind, with the two men exercising regional responsibilities within the NSStB at the same time. This network was distinguished from the others by the absence of any dominant individual who might have been able to recruit members to the group. So far, we have seen the time spent by future SS cadres at university as an aspect of their social and activist education. But it was also the period of their professional and intellectual training.
Knowledge, activism and levels of cultural sophistication: it is in the interaction between these three dimensions that the specific character of these activist intellectuals or, perhaps better, intellectual activists can be identified. The construction of academic knowledge It was in their apprenticeships that future SD cadres were trained while at the same time they forged the specific nature of their group, in which their knowledge skills were remarkably well suited to their militant activities.
They followed university courses that granted diplomas and conferred on each student the title of Akademiker:2 this involved a series of hierarchies that are at first glance difficult to grasp. While the level of studies of these men may appear homogeneous, their level of cultural sophistication was less so, and this had an impact on their careers in SS organizations. Did they study for a short or a long time? This is the first criterion. All three embarked on their studies but dropped out after a few weeks — or, in the case of Ehlers, a few days.
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Having registered to study German, history and philosophy, Burmester and Ehlers, in Hamburg and Kiel respectively, and Zapp in Leipzig,3 all gave up: and in every case this seems to have been due to insurmountable economic difficulties. The three men then decided to start a business course. Their academic failures were in no way a bar to their being recruited into the repressive organizations of the Third Reich.
But they had only average careers. These three men excepted, the duration of study lasted between five to sixteen semesters, with the norm being eight semesters.
The period of studies was punctuated by a series of demanding examinations. To obtain the Staatsexamen, the way into the civil service and the magistracy, lawyers had to follow eight semesters of training, validated by exams every semester. Based on the ideal of Ausbildung [literally, education and general cultivation — Tr. The longest academic careers were often those of historians, geographers, Germanists and linguists.
The length of his stay in the groves of academia was due to his radical change of direction. His first eight semesters in Graz had been devoted to Protestant theology. The year was for him a complete break on the academic, personal and political levels. His pro-Nazi activism in Austria made him a wanted man and he took refuge in Leipzig, where he embarked on the study of history and German, continuing for a further eight semesters. This break provides us with a first clue as to the interaction between knowledge, political commitment and personal life.
The length of his studies was quite average, but Mehlhorn admitted that he had spent most of his first semesters on social and sports activities rather than training as a lawyer. Werner Best was himself a good example: he joined the DHR in his very first semester. Thus Mehlhorn, after giving a long and detailed account of his political and associative commitments during his first two semesters, writes in his Lebenslauf: In the Munich period of my studies , I had few political contacts.
At that time I just had a few contacts with the circles of the Stahlhelm via a colleague, but I did not become a member. The following period, until my second Staatsexamen, was extraordinarily busy due to my professional work, which thus made any political affiliation impossible. It was only during my probationary period as a lawyer that I again started to become more particularly active in politics.
Freed in September , he was able to rejoin the university only in the summer semester of Nonetheless, he moved straight into his Referendar [probationary period — Tr. The image of an extremely active man, effortlessly succeeding in his studies, is unavoidable. In the course laid down for future cadres of the public professions, one semester was composed of twenty-four hours of classes and seminars.
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Werner Best, absorbed in the Rhineland Abwehrkampf, seems to have undertaken only sketchy studies in law and economics. However, he drew from this a general knowledge that gave him the stature of a highly qualified intellectual in theoretical debates. Lawyers generally opted for law and political economy, or even political science.
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In the case of law, their studies mainly led to the business world or the civil service. Only a few individuals such as Hans Leetsch set out from the start to undertake fundamental research in law or economy, and completed their legal training with work in the political sciences, going on to take a doctorate in the latter. But they were not simply there to carry out orders: their training equipped them to pass judgments, to draw up regulations and reports, and to draft reforms; in short, to think in some depth about the practice of the law.
The vast majority of students chose German literature. The hierarchy between major subject and minor subject was here less important than it was in law. But every teacher in a secondary school taught two subjects: though specialization in one subject was desirable, it was good to have more than one area of competence. German, a prestige subject, was usually optional. The subjects chosen were history and geography, more rarely philosophy. Though we must not leap to any conclusions about the intellectual stature of the students, we can register the importance of the traditional humanist ideal in German universities.
This is borne out by the frequent choice of German, and the popularity of philosophy and languages.
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The lack of taste for applied literary studies — nothing stopped a student combining, for example, public law with history, sociology with geography — also confirms the way literary studies dominated choices of university course: German universities were still the citadel of humanist scholarship that they had been since Ranke, and this was true even in the implicit choices made by the most fervently Nazi students.
Some individuals did turn to a multidisciplinary course combining history or geography with economics, public law or political science. Hans Joachim Beyer, for instance, combined history and Volkswissenschaften with public law. At the end of his university career, he took the Staatsexamen without doing a doctorate. He did not enter the magistracy.
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