Racist legacy: Nazi propaganda had lifetime effect on German children, scientists find

Reuters/Vincent Kessler
Germans who attended school during the Nazi era are likely to be far more anti-Semitic than those who grew up before or after that period, a new study by US and Swiss scientists says.

Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Zurich studied the long-lasting impact of Nazi propaganda on children who grew up during the Third Reich, and found that this propaganda had a life-long influence on their views and beliefs.

The research team, led by Nico Voigtlaender and Hans-Joachim Voth, analyzed the data of public opinion surveys conducted by the German General Social Survey in 1996 and 2006.

“Nazi indoctrination - in school, through propaganda, and in youth organizations - successfully instilled strongly anti-Semitic attitudes in the cohorts that grew up under the Nazi regime, and that the differential effect is still visible today, more than half a century after the fall of the Third Reich,” Voigtlaender and Voth said.

"It's not just that Nazi schooling worked, that if you subject people to a totalitarian regime during their formative years it will influence the way their mind works. The striking thing is that it doesn't go away afterward," Voth added.

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The survey covered the opinions of about 5,300 people from 264 towns and cities all over Germany, granting access to a wide range of views differentiated by age, gender and location. It also included questions concerning a broad spectrum of issues, including people’s opinion about various ethnic groups, and Jews in particular.

The respondents were asked to answer such questions as, “should Jews blame themselves for their own persecution,” “whether you would take it well if a Jew married a member of your family,” or “if Jews should have equal rights,” the Daily Mail reported.

The results of the study were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

By focusing on the respondents with the most consistent negative views of Jews, the scientists discovered that there are three times more anti-Semitic and racist people among those who attended school between 1933 and 1945 than among those who went to school before 1933 or after 1945, than in the general population.

Twelve percent of men born during the Nazi era and now aged in their 70s and 80s fall into the most racist respondent group, with only 4 percent of Germans in general in the same category.

The scientists ruled out all other possible factors of racist indoctrination, such as cinema or radio, as they found out that in the groups with broader access to radio and cinema – big city dwellers and wealthier people – the level of anti-Semitism was lower than in other groups.

The researchers also found that the effect of Nazi propaganda and the education system was stronger in the areas with traditionally negative views of Jews.

"The extent to which Nazi schooling worked depended crucially on whether the overall environment where children grew up was already a bit anti-Semitic," said Voth. "It tells you that indoctrination can work, it can last to a surprising extent, but the way it works has to be compatible to something people already believe."

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Benjamin Ortmeyer, the leading scientist of the center on Nazi education at Frankfurt's Goethe University called the study’s findings "absolutely plausible," the Associated Press reported.

"The significance of this kind of propaganda hasn't really been exposed. Compared to the brutal deeds of the Nazi mass murderers this area of crimes, the brainwashing, was largely ignored," Ortmeyer added.