School Life in Berlin during the Nazi Era

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Following her high school student teaching, Elisabeth Schmitz taught religion, history and German at different schools in Berlin for six years. In 1929, she was hired as a high school teacher at the Luisenschule in Berlin-Mitte. This appeared to secure her future professionally and financially.

After 1933, Schmitz witnessed how Jewish and politically undesirable teachers were pressured out of the teaching profession. The Social Democratic principal at her school also had to step down from his position. Jewish students left the school. Schmitz’s critical attitude toward National Socialism landed her in a conflict with the new principal and she had herself transferred to Auguste Sprengel School in Berlin-Lankwitz in 1935.

Schmitz refused to join the National Socialist Teachers’ Association, the sole organization for teachers in the “Third Reich”. She regretted joining die National Socialist People’s Welfare, to which she had been pressured in 1937, one year later because membership in any Nazi organization was ultimately untenable for a Christian since they were all based on Nazi weltanschauung. She wished that the Confessing Church would declare that its members could not join any Nazi organization.

Schmitz was caught in moral conflicts in her German and history class with increasing frequency. Teaching truthfulness, personal responsibility, objectivity, humanitarianism was becoming increasingly impossible in the atmosphere of subordination, of hatred, of racial arrogance and idolatry of one’s own nation, she wrote on March 5, 1947, describing her professional situation at that time (Erhart, Staritz, p. 265).

Her moral dilemmas worsened when the new curricula of January 29, 1938 proclaimed the goal of education to be the National Socialist being. Thus, the life of the Christian teacher in Germany was an impossible life for her (letter to Charlotte von Kirschbaum of July 17, 1938). A “non-Aryan” female colleague with whom she was friends took her own life in this bleak situation.

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  • © Karl-Barth-Archiv, Basel