Top British schools sent pupils on exchanges to Nazi Germany, historian reveals

Nazi-run schools had close links with Eton, Harrow and other top British institutions, new documents have revealed.

Pupils from elite schools in Germany, known as Napolas, took part in exchanges and sporting tournaments with boys from England before the Second World War.

Dr Helen Roche, of Durham University, has for the first time detailed the little-known exchanges in a new book, based on archive research and testimonies from former pupils.

She found the Napolas – set up to train and indoctrinate future leaders of the Third Reich – were modelled on various elite British public schools.


Dr Roche said the Nazis hoped to emulate and improve upon the teaching practices of the likes of Eton as they were seen as ‘character forming.’

Boys from Winchester, Westminster, Rugby, and the Leys School in Cambridge also took part in the exchanges between 1934 and 1939.

The Napola pupils who came to England were seen as performing the function of cultural ambassadors for the ‘new Germany’, Dr Roche found.

But the records show that the attitudes of the boys and masters to each other changed over time as relations between the two countries deteriorated.


Dr Roche said: ‘In the early days of the exchange programme, the English boys and masters often felt that what they saw in Nazi Germany and at the Napolas was in some ways superior to the state of affairs in England.

‘There was a feeling, which found its way into wider British attitudes towards Germany, that Britain would do well to emulate Germany’s racial confidence, and there was an admiration for the sheer strength and physical development of the German boys.’

She added: ‘We can see the exchange programme as providing a microcosm for more general attitudes to the Nazi regime on behalf of the middle- and upper-class British public – not wholly convinced by the aims and ideals of the Third Reich, but nevertheless prepared to give their German counterparts the benefit of the doubt, until Nazi belligerence reached its fatal climax.’

The Third Reich’s Elite Schools – A History Of The Napolas, is published by Oxford University Press.

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