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Half of German teens 'unsure Hitler a dictator'
Photo: DPA

Half of German teens 'unsure Hitler a dictator'

Published: 27 Jun 2012 12:56 GMT+02:00
Updated: 27 Jun 2012 12:56 GMT+02:00

About half of young Germans are unsure whether the Nazi state was a dictatorship – and even more are not sure whether the socialist East German regime was one, a new study shows.

The widespread ignorance is described in a study called, “Late Victory of the Dictatorships?” conducted by researchers at Berlin’s Free University.

“This is shocking,” said study author Klaus Schroeder. More than 7,500 school pupils aged around 15 were asked how they viewed the various governments that have ruled Germany.

Only around half were definite that the Nazi government was a dictatorship. Just over a third were certain that the former East German government was also a dictatorship.

And about half said the former West German government was a democracy, while around 60 percent were sure that the current united German government was democratic.

“The low estimation of historical knowledge is clearly having an effect.”

The students most able to tell the difference between dictatorship and democracy were in the former eastern states of Thuringia and Saxony Anhalt, while those with the least idea were from the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

DPA/The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:10 June 27, 2012 by Mensch
Really? Reeeeally? Like, reeeeeeeeeeally?
14:57 June 27, 2012 by blackboot11
After recently completing my mandated Deutsch Integrationskurs, I have only one question on this subject.

If hundreds of 'newbies' to Deutschland can pass this faily simple test, what are they teaching each day in Germany's public schools?

Yet another quality control issue goig on here.....
15:34 June 27, 2012 by Navigator_B
When people think of a dictatorship they think of a regime run by a dictator. That's the definition in the English language but the definition in German appears to be more wide-ranging and therefore confusing. Maybe Germans extended it to include the East German system just so that they could call it a dictatorship?

The East German government was an authoritarian one party regime but it did not have a dictator. Erik Honecker may have had a far more priveleged and wealthy lifestyle than ordinary East Germans but he did not have the absolute power or cult of personality like Stalin or Ceaucescu. If he had that much power he would not have been simply voted out of office against his will by the SED when he was no longer any use to them. 
15:56 June 27, 2012 by qtmatt
"Students most able to tell the difference between dictatorship and democracy." That sounds like a dictatorship.
17:12 June 27, 2012 by cheeba
And what we have now is what? Who was granted a vote on whether to abandon the DMark? was the choice made by the "dear leader" or the people?
17:33 June 27, 2012 by blackboot11
@Navigator_B

just as a FYI: in the curent Deutsch Integrationskurs they make a very stong point of teaching that the Third Reich as well as the government of the DDR were both Dictarorships and nothing else.

And this is from a BAMF project.
21:30 June 27, 2012 by bathtor
Honestly, this question is certainly not as trivial as it seems.

The Third Reich was technically a democratic republic with the chancellor having been given emergency powers. It may have been led like a dictatorship, but it did have a democratic constitution.

And as Navigator_B already noted, the GDR was most certainly not a dictatorship, but more like an oligarchy.

Don't just believe the West German propaganda you learn in Integrationskurs ;)
22:33 June 27, 2012 by lucksi
He was duly elected, so it's not a dictatorship. At least not at the start.

Our current system is 4 years of dictatorship with little democracy breaks. We have no say whatsoever between the elections. We should have important issues as votes for the public.
23:01 June 27, 2012 by Navigator_B
blackboot11, the Integrationskurs sounds a bit like the German television news that very often makes a point of referring to the DDR as a Diktatur.

bathtor, the Third Reich was democraticaly elected but that did not make it democratic or any less of a dictatorship after it was elected. 
23:14 June 27, 2012 by raandy
All true navigator -B, but the party was elected and given the run away powers that made it a dictatorship. If I was asked the question,no it was a democracy that turned into a dictatorship.

When we look back at Roosevelt and Churchill, some might argue they leaned heavily in the dictator category.

Wars usually give leaders broad powers.
00:55 June 28, 2012 by wood artist
I suppose I could argue that Hitler's case is potentially confusing. When he took office it was...more or less...under the structure of the Weimar Republic, and pretty much lawful, so it could be argued that his appointment was legal and he was "not" a dictator.

Of course that changed, and the "Constitution" was pretty much ignored from that time onward. As someone else observed, the term "dictator" is not all that clearly defined.

However, all of that said, I doubt many of the students were unclear because of these issues...and that's sad. I would have expected that result from the US educational system, but I thought (and still believe) that the German schools are better than that.

wa
02:31 June 28, 2012 by DOZ
Since 911, most of the Democratic Countries have implemented so form of Emergency Measures that slap the face of democracy. Be afraid.
04:22 June 28, 2012 by Eric1
More and more money for "education" and our kids are dumber than ever. The answer for education's problems, more money of course.
07:25 June 28, 2012 by Bigfoot76
I do not see this being a problem with translation, misunderstanding or an issue with technicalities. I look more to the amount of History that is being offered in the education curriculum. It is like this in many countries. The focus of education as been narrowed to reading, writing and arithmetic. History and sports courses have been diminished greatly as well as fine arts. You would think that focusing more on the listed subjects would improve things but are kids these days better with math, reading and writing than they were 10-20 years ago? I know they are better with computer games.
10:19 June 28, 2012 by mobaisch
well said @DOZ
14:45 June 28, 2012 by Leo Strauss
Deutschland Erwache! ;)
15:38 June 28, 2012 by zeddriver
@lucksi

One problem with a pure one hundred percent democracy were all citizens vote on every issue is this. Most people know more about how their cell phone works than how governments work. They can't be bothered with actually studying all sides of most any issue. Would you really trust all the citizens to be able to make an informed well educated vote. I don't believe there are any pure democracies out there. Most like the US, England, Germany. Are a form of democracy called a representational republic.
16:26 June 28, 2012 by Hillbask
My husband comes from Germany ( parents from both East and West).He is 51 and came to the U.S. 22 years ago. I consider him well educated from a private boarding school in the West, as well as at University. I was surprised to learn from him that during his entire time in German school, he was not taught the details for WWII. Despite the fact that his own father was in the War. His reasoning was that the historians had not enough opportunity to review the facts and compile them into study books while he was actively studying in the 1960's through 1980's. Meanwhile I am a US person. Four years younger than my husband. In HIGH SCHOOL, we learned about WWII, Hitler, and the Berlin Wall. TV showed documentaries on the war, and there was never any shortage of books about the subject through TIME/LIFE publications. My husband states that what he learned about WWII etc was while in the USA in the 1990's. To this day, he cannot get enough of reading about the Berlin Wall, and WWII and Hitler's reign of terror. He has an Austrian friend in the US who has an overflowing library of Hitler books, WWII and the Nazi's. IT is my opinion that this generation was close enough to that part of history but denied the information they should have had. Each summer we visit his family in the former East. I am aghast when I visited a few concentration camps ( esp. Nordhausen ) to find the English translation was very scant at best. I believe , at least a generation ago, the German government was still ashamed of their history and elected not to make it fully available. The parents who fought in the War were practically sworn to secrecy. Perhaps it is just as well this younger generations are semi oblivious to the past as it may spare them unnecessary guilt about their grandparents or great grandparent's generation.
21:57 June 28, 2012 by the0wl
Having experienced the German school system first hand, I'm inclined to say that the problem is not one of the curriculum but rather of the disinterest of the students.

We spent a substantial amount of our history lessons discussing WWII and the DDR (eastern Germany '49-'90), however some of my classmates thought it cool not to pay attention to what was being taught (also I'm not sure if it was covered in school before I was 15, as we were going through History chronological and thus these themes were more towards the end of my time in school).

Another problem I see with this article is that it neglects to mention whether the question was presented as multiple choice or free form. In the first case I would be unsure what to answer, as Hitler was originally the elected leader of Germany (his way of getting people to vote him is another story), similarly, the people in the DDR got to vote on their government (the social pressure on whom to vote and the rigging of the outcome aside) so there could be confusion in that case as well.

In giving the possibility to expand on the matter a bit it would be easier to evaluate the actual knowledge of the student as opposed to their understanding of the aim of the question.

Considering the education in Germany as a whole I have to agree though, our public schools are far from being the best and there is a lot of room for improvement, as said above this cannot solely be achieved by spending more money on education, though in many cases it would help to have properly funded schools. A major problem in my opinion is that teacher as a job is not too attractive to most people because of the way they are viewed in society and especially by many parents.

PS: as to my english please be lenient, I only learned it in school and don't live in an english speaking country ;-)
11:47 June 29, 2012 by blackboot11
@ theOwl

Thank you for sharing this story here, and as for your English, it is far better than most of the native speakers that made it through the public/urban school systems in the USA.
16:52 June 29, 2012 by tychonaut
I agree with some of the above thoughts that we need to have a bit more info before broadly condemning these kids.

For ex, if I was presented with the question ..

.."For 1000000 EURO .. TRUE OR FALSE ... the former DDR was, in fact, a dictatorship." ..

I might be a little bit unsure of what *they want me to answer*.

The Hitler version is a bit more black and white, but I can see there being some questioning of "what is the technical definition of a dictatorship?" rather than a lack of historical knowledge.

Or maybe they are just dumb.
20:00 June 30, 2012 by JAMessersmith
Pure democracy is dictatorship of the majority.
09:25 July 3, 2012 by Talonx
@ all

From what I've read in other sources, it seems that their answers probably stem from lack of poli-sci skills and not historical knowledge. The situation wouldn't be much different the world over. I'm not sure their are many 15 year olds that can give the operationalized definition of a dictatorship the world over (for that matter, we've all seen some idiots on these boards that are probably also incapable of it).

As a bleak comparison, how may American 15 year olds know that Andrew Jackson organized a genocide (or who Andrew Jackson actually is), or of the English, that the potato famine wasn't just a famine. You get the idea, however bad Germany is doing on the historical front, it's still light years ahead of the rest of the world.
08:35 July 6, 2012 by Violetdidi
Give me a break.

Title interpretation: "50% of teens think Nazi Germany wasn't that bad".

Article interpretation: "50% of teens don't know basic history".

Like DA.

Pure title populism for traffic.
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