Education in the Soviet Zone of Germany after WWII

by Danielle Heck



Education is an essential part of the development of any society. It is a foundation, which shapes the ideas and beliefs of a society’s members. Likewise, it is the beliefs of a particular society, which can provide the framework for an educational system, perhaps in order to perpetuate the evolution of the existing beliefs. The educational system of eastern Germany is one example where, once under Soviet control after WWII, politics contributed to the formation of the curriculum and the regulation of education, thus somewhat controlling the society and encouraging the development of socialism.

Immediately following WWII, there was a shortage of teachers. This resulted because many of those previously qualified for the positions were members of the Nazi party. This new system, under Soviet control, sought to rid Eastern Germany of Nazi influence. 71% of teachers were members of the Nazi party and therefore relieved of their positions(2). Those who could "recognize the magnitude of their task and… have a conscious, fighting attitude for the development of socialism and for the protection of our [GDR] achievements" were sought(1). Young workers, peasants, clerks, office employees, and other working people filled the immediate need for teachers.


The students in Eastern Germany were educated to be soldiers of socialism. The curricula favored the development of socialism. It encouraged students to be involved in this way of life. Polytechnic education is the basis for education in the Soviet Zone. This type of education trains one understand the whole of things in a technical society. According to Engels, a promoter of this type of education: to

"The common industry planned and operated by the whole society requires persons who have developed their abilities in all directions  and are in the position to understand the total system of production… Education will permit the young people to obtain a rapid survey  of the entire system of production. It will equip them to go from one branch of production to another in accordance with the needs of society and their own inclinations(1).

This type of education instructed students how to survive in a socialist way of life. Moreover, they were taught to hate enemies of socialism. Dr. Fritz Lange, Minister of Education in the Soviet Zone, once expressed that the "youth must be filled with hate for the enemies of our peaceful constructive work. It must be trained in such a way that it will rise against everyone who desires to rob us of our great political and social achievements and to threaten our peaceful future"(1). The statement itself seems to be a contradiction of sorts: the perpetuation of a peaceful society where the youth are educated to hate.


Despite the seemingly close-minded regime, the educational system of Eastern Germany seemed to have some positive elements too. Unlike the previous system where education favored those of higher class, education was guaranteed to everyone under this system. There was to be no bias. This system also attempted to purge the youth of Nazi influence. Hence the shortage of teachers which existed just after the war. According to the Soviet Zone constitution, under articles 34-40, each citizen had a right to an equal education. It was free; the state is responsible for the establishment of public schools; students are educated "in the spirit of the constitution and to be independently thinking; one must attend school until they reach 18; every child was given the right to develop his physical, mental, and moral capacities; and finally religion is to be dealt with by religious associations(1). Ultimately, the ideas contained in these articles sound very positive and free. In fact, the ideas seem to mirror many of those practiced in the United States, capital of the free world. However, despite all of this seeming freedom, the fact remains that the material in which the citizens had a right to, and were given freely, were very biased. As was already mentioned, they educated people in the socialist way of life. They taught that other ideas were wrong. The slogan for the Fifth Pedagogic conference in 1956 was, "Make the German democratic school in every respect an example of the schools for the future united, freedom-loving, and democratic Germany"(1). However, this same "freedom-loving" educational system, where the ideal teachers were "glowing patriots" and students were bred to hate those who did not conform to socialist society, does not seem to encourage the integral, freedom of thought.


Socialist education was a strict regime. Classes and teachers were monitored in order to assure the outcome. The Ministry of Public Education provided detailed syllabuses. Yearly plans of the school, the director and the teachers were mandatory. Students and teachers were required to keep journals detailing what was being done at every hour of the school day. Students then had to have their parents sign their journals weekly. These were all open to inspection by the director of the school or superior authorities. The only books approved for usage in the schools were those published by the state-owned publishing house, which was supervised by the Ministry of Public Education. There was also a strict examination schedule(1). The educational system was highly monitored in order to assure the successful breeding of socialism.

Ultimately, the educational system that existed in the eastern area of Germany after WWII was one that aimed at the continuation of socialism. Students were educated according to a specific plan. Regardless of the claims of freedom within this area, it seems obvious that in reality there was very little freedom. Education was monitored and served as a means of control over the people. Education is a key, which should encourage people to think and serve as a foundation for the future. Clearly, the educational system, which existed in Eastern Germany at this time, discouraged strong individual thought in order to promote the continuation of socialism.




  1. Bodenman, Paul S. Education in the Soviet Zone of Germany. Washington: United States Government Printing Office. 1959.

  2. Klein, Margrete Siebert. The Challenge of Communist Education: A Look at the  German Democratic Republic. New York: Colombia University Press. 1980.








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