School Children Learn Twenty to Thirty Hours About the Third Reich

Austrian Press Agency (APA)(05/26/2009) 

Vienna – Every child that attends school in Austria learns about National Socialism and its consequences. In the eighth grade one is taught twenty to thirty hours of history about the totalitarian system, the era of Nationalsocialism and Jewish life before and after the Holocaust. In high school the topic is again reviewed. Although teachers approach the topics with empathy and try to make it more understandable by having contemporary witnesses give lectures, “ we are really perplexed as to how we can prevent young people from becoming involved in such things as what happened in Ebensee,“ said Manfred Wirtitsch, head of the section for political education in the Ministry of Education.  

During a commemoration in the former concentration camp of Ebensee, some young people with faces covered in masks caused disturbance  by shouting Hitler greetings, such as “Sieg Heil.“ Only a few weeks earlier some school children were overheard making anti-Semitic remarks during a class trip to Auschwitz. In Wirtitsch’s opinion, the schools are not be given the blame since “I am convinced that enough is being done in the area of formal education.“ What is more of a problem is that in society and politics, there are no clear boundaries“ drawn between so-called “pranks“ and unacceptable behavoir, said Wirtitsch. 

During the fourth grade, twenty to thirty of the seventy hours of history are devoted to the NS era with three segments of topics, each lasting seven to ten hours. One segment concerns the origins and circumstances surrounding dictatorships, modern forms of political extremism as well as ideology, propaganda and mobilization in totalitarian systems, using National Socialism as an example. A second segment involves the development and crisis of democracy in Austria. Moreover, the remembrance of Jewish life before and after the Holocaust is part of the teaching material. Also in schools for the handicapped, these three segments are integrated into the curricula, “but to a lesser extent in consideration for the particular needs of these young people.“  

During the 7th grade of high school, schools focus on the comparison between authoritarian and totalitarian systems, the radicalization of political life and resistance during the Third Reich. Again, some twenty to thirty hours of the entire seventy hours of history during the school year are used for this purpose.  

In terms of methods, nothing is officially designated by the school curriculum. Nonetheless, “numerous suggestions“ are offered to the schools, states Wirtitsch. Since 1978, contemporary witnesses are invited by classes to give lectures and participate in discussions. For those interested, material can be requested from the “Zentrum polis“ and from the webpage: The Ministry for Education has also distributed the publications, “1938 – Beginning of the Shoah,“ along with the “Lexicon of Politics for Young People,“ and supports the association, “March of Remembrance and Hope,“ organizing the commemoration trips of Austrian school children to Poland.