It is our mission to unite people, nations and cultures for peace through education. But what happens with ideals and missions like these when we find ourselves under extreme circumstances? In my presentation I will talk about choices made, and actions taken by Dutch school leaders, teachers and students during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Hopefully the case studies can be a starting point for a conversation about our values and goals in education.
Nienke Altena: Good morning. Thank you all for joining me today. I'm available to answer any of your questions in the chat. This is a prerecorded show. I'm at the chat box. If you have some questions during this 25 minutes talk. I will also be in the network room or networking room after this talk. If you have any other questions to ask me.
But maybe first, let's start with an introduction. I'm Nienke Altena. I am a history teacher and a critical perspectives teacher at UWC East Campus. And I'm also in the finishing stages of my PhD research As you might have guessed from the title of this talk, and my actions, I'm Dutch and my research is about Dutch education
during the German occupation. The time period is 1940 up until 1945. And today I will talk about a few case studies which I think are interesting to us because we're talking about peace and education. And my case studies show what happens to education in times of war and occupation. So I think it might be interesting for us to think about these questions what happens to our ideals and our values in times when they are really under pressure Let's start with a little introduction.
As you can see, I've shown here a swastika. It's a source something that I found in one of the German archives when I was doing my research. It's from the 8th of August 1941. And it was part of a police investigation. It is actually something that was made with a school stamp by a student, and it was found in a book by another student, let's say Student B found it in her book.
Student B was known as a National Socialist Student in this particular school in Amsterdam. And Student A thought he or she would be funny to make a swastika in her library book to basically make fun of her. Student B wasn't so happy with this. And she informed the German authorities she reported the other student and the German police started an investigation.
And in the end the principal had to promise that this girl Student A would get severe punishment for her joke. This joke went very bad. And I think this takes us right to the heart of the issue at hand. It tells us something about the enormous pressure that students and teachers and principals were under during these times of occupation.
It also shows us that politics can't be left at the doorstep. Politics entered a school. If there are tensions in society, there are tensions in the school. And that's the same during this time of occupation in the Netherlands. When I look at my research with this topic of peace education in mind, there are basically a few generalisations that come to mind but first of all, I want to give you some context of the war, the Second World War in Western Europe.
What you need to know about the Netherlands is that we were invaded in May 1940 and after seven days of fighting we were occupied by the Germans the Germans considered the Dutch Brudervolk, which means that they saw us as brothers. Part of the same Aryan race, just like the Norwegians. And in the future, the Netherlands should be integrated into greater German Reich
That was the idea. We were treated very differently compared to, let's say, Eastern European countries like Poland and the Ukraine. They considered Eastern Europeans subordinate to them and treated them very badly. And in the Netherlands there was a little bit more of an understanding. Dutch education. Maybe it's good to know that the Netherlands was a democratic nation before the occupation.
There were Liberals, Social Democrats, Catholics, Protestants, and all of these different groups had their own schools. There was also a big, well-integrated Jewish community, quite a lot of them who left Spain and Portugal in the 16th century during the Inquisition and settled in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Utrecht and the bigger cities and integrated pretty well. And then there is this language and cultural identity that's pretty similar to the Germans of the Dutch.
I always say that if you talk to a Spanish and a Portuguese they kind of understand each other when they talk to each other. That's the same for Dutch and Germans. We've got the same kind of language and culturally we are very close to connect closely connected to the Germans. Here are a few lessons that I think we could learn from this topic when looking at peace and education.
First of all, individual actions do matter. In a minute, I will give you two examples of individuals who act upon their principles. One very positive effect, and the other one that quite some negative effects. The second point I'm going to show, which became apparent from the research that I did, is that teachers are necessary for change. You could try to change the curriculum, for example, but in the end, it's the teachers
who need to support those changes in order for it to succeed. And then the last point is maybe the most surprising or the most interesting for us, the fact that students were the ones who acted upon their principles and teachers were the ones who were actually trying to stop them from acting upon their principles in order to protect them.
And for all these lessons that we learned today, I've got a few examples which I would like to share with you. Let's start with the first one. Individual actions do matter. I'm going to start with Gunning, CP Gunning. He was the principal of the Amsterdam Lyceum and it's a man who always acted upon his own values and beliefs and tried to search for loopholes in the laws when confronted with anti-Jewish measures and he really stood for inclusion and respect.
If I look at my dates and his actions, if I reconstruct his actions based on the sources that I've been reading, he was a principal in Amsterdam. He had a big Jewish community in his own school. He had four Jewish teachers and 72 Jewish students. So quite a high percentage, which is not surprising. In Amsterdam And in order to understand his actions, it might be good for you to know what the rules were during the occupation of the Netherlands against the Jewish teachers
and students. In November. 1940, all Jewish teachers were exempted from their jobs. They could still keep their salaries, but they couldn't work in Dutch schools anymore. And from February 1941 onwards, they were fired officially, so they were at home without a job. In October 1941, all Jewish students were banned from going to Dutch schools They had to go to a specially organised Jewish schools where Jewish teachers could teach them.
But from October 1941 onwards all Dutch education was segregated and according to the Germans, "purified" of Jewish elements. Gunning did an extraordinary thing. On the last day of school for his Jewish students, he set up a ceremony, a goodbye ceremony for them. The evening before he called all the parents of the students individually to talk to them about the situation.
And on the day itself, he invited the whole high school into the auditorium of the school, and he gave them a proper goodbye with a speech, a personal handshake, He gave them an applause and also a little present from the school. And this is the quote that he wrote down in his diary on that day. "Goodbye, dear children.
I will carry you in my heart. God bless you. Head high. Head high. Sursum corda! Push on." This is only one of the many examples of Gunning how he supported his Jewish students and Jewish teachers. And it doesn't sound like a big thing organising a goodbye ceremony. But in reality, I looked at quite a lot of secondary schools in the Netherlands and in no other school this has happened.
There have been goodbyes but not on such a personal level and public level as well. The fact that he openly organised this for the students, it shows how inclusive he was and how he gave them a proper goodbye instead of a goodbye in silence, which happens in many other schools. There are many more examples of how extraordinary Gunning has been, one of them being after the war.
He was part of a committee helping to reintegrate former National Socialists in Dutch society, but also the fact that for all of his actions, not only this action, but other actions as well, he was arrested and on the 29th of January 1942 by the German secret police and incarcerated and sent to a camp in the Netherlands, a work camp Amersfoort and he never came back as a principal.
He spent there three months and then he was released on the birthday of Hitler. Gunning is an example of an individual that the positive things acted upon his values and beliefs and made a difference to the individual people he worked with. Robert van Genechten is an example of an individual who actually did the opposite. It's a National Socialist, a Belgium National Socialist who became attorney general in the Netherlands and who used the secret police.
The German secret police quite often in conflicts he had with teachers or students, he was really annoyed by the fact that National Socialist students were sometimes bullied or harassed He was annoyed by the anti-German attitude in Dutch schools, and he believed that it was the responsibility of the teachers and also of the principals to actually keep kids in line and make sure that these kind of expressions of anti-German sentiments were not expressed in the schools. On a few occasions he informed the German Sicherheitspolizei about, for example, the harassment of a National Socialist boy.
And as a consequence, the police went to the school, interviewed students and teachers and they didn't put charges, but just the sheer facts that the police, the German police came into the school and interviewed students and teachers As you can imagine, this must have been quite frightening to the people at the schools, and this happened on multiple occasions.
It was very difficult to actually put students or teachers on trial. And I think this is something that teachers will recognise as well. Whenever you try to reconstruct a situation of conflict with students involved. It is very difficult to pinpoint what has exactly happened. Quite often the testimonies will conflict and you can't really put your finger on what has actually happened.
And I think that's something that van Genechten ran into as well. It's difficult to prove something. And that frustration was also shown in one of the meetings that he had with the higher Dutch civil servants on the Ministry of Education. This is one of his quotes, "from the point of view of prevention. Wouldn't it be better if such a head of school would go missing without a trace?"
And here he's talking about a head of school who didn't really, according to him, act against the anti-German sentiment at his school. And given the context of of the Germans and their ability to have people go missing without a trace, I think it is a serious statement and his actions show that individual actions can have a very negative effect.
The pressure that he put on teachers, principals students in individual cases was huge. And I think that he really used it as a tool. Fear which is contrary to what we've seen with Gunning. The second point after individual actions do matter that I wanted to make was the role of teachers, and this is an interesting one. For me, it became apparent when I looked at all the sources in the archives that there was a rules reality in Dutch, I would say a paper reality so a reality on paper and there was also the actual reality of what happens in the classrooms on paper as some of the measures were very successful.
For example, censorship was introduced in the 1940 says one of the first measures. And according to the Germans it was very successful. But in reality when I read the sources it becomes clear that teachers didn't always censor their lesson materials or they decided to use certain books no longer but they would verbally talk about those books. And this reinforces the idea that I've got that when a teacher closes its doors of a classroom, there's no way of really knowing what is happening and what the teacher is saying.
It's hard to put pressure on teachers to, to, to actually deliver content that they don't support. It's also too big of a group to actually control too many teachers, too many classes, etc. It's difficult to have a grip on teachers and teachers use this room for leverage to actually do small acts of resistance. For example, in the Netherlands, you couldn't teach about the Dutch royal family, but of course, many teachers did do so.
Another example is teachers who on the day that they were supposed to go to an exhibition, a National Socialist exhibition with their students, would call in sick and therefore the students couldn't go to the exhibition Another example is the subject of German language. The Germans wanted to increase the hours of German lessons in Dutch schools. It was very hard to find the teachers, and quite often on paper the teachers would teach German, but in reality they would actually teach English or Dutch One of the big lessons takeaways that I got from this research is that if you want to change the content, if you want to change education or how education is done, you need to
start with the teachers and you need to get the teachers behind you. You need to make sure that they have the same values the same mission, the same ideas as you have. Because once the door of the classroom is closed you don't have a lot of control anymore. So teachers in this sense, their small acts of resistance did have an influence on the whole because of the sheer number.
And then the last point that I wanted to share with you as a student, the actions of students, and I think this is one of the most interesting parts of my research. Most of the actions or protests of students happened in 1940 and 1941 against the anti-Jewish measures, the anti-Jewish message we've already talked about the the firing of Jewish teachers and then later on the segregation of education.
So the expulsion of Jewish students from the Dutch schools. In Amsterdam there were 100 students out of the 250 students who refused to enter a school in protest against the dismissal of their Jewish teachers. And they only went inside when they were threatened with expulsion by their principal in the Lyceum in another high school in another city.
150 students stood outside of their school, refusing to enter as well on the same ground. And again they entered the school when they were actually forced to by their principal. In other cities there were students who started petitions and against this rule and there were quite a few high schools where students decided to raise money for their Jewish teachers.
What is interesting here is that these are the same kind of actions that we could see with our students. Right? You can see them protest. You can see them starting a petition. You can see them raising money. Those are all kinds of actions that we see on a daily basis in our schools. It's the same kind of actions that the students did during the war.
It's their tool. It's what they can do when they are faced with injustice.
Interesting enough, though, all these actions, instead of being supported by the teachers and the principals, were shut down by them and not because they didn't share their intentions, mainly because they feared for the grave consequences. If the German authorities would intervene. So out of the urge or necessity to protect their students they would actually threaten the students to punish them if they would continue with their actions and their protests.
So here you can see a picture. And in Dutch it says don't get intimidated but sabotage. And I think this is interesting. It's again, a student who has written this on the school walls. I'm getting towards the end of my presentation, and these are only a few of the case studies of the many case studies that I found in the last couple of years, which show a little bit of an insight in how life was during the occupation in the Netherlands.
And it also, I think, is more than just the life under occupation. It shows some of the dynamics of education, the relation ship between students and teachers, teachers and management, management and curriculum I'm getting towards my conclusions. The first big conclusion is teachers are necessary for any change in education. And I think this is so true. And it's it also brings hope.
I think it means that for us, if we want to educate for peace, if we can get teachers behind this goal, if we can attract teachers who have the same values, to say that support to mission change is really possible and positive change is possible. The second big revelation is I think that students act upon their principles and this is something that we should take seriously, appreciate and support wherever possible.
And of course, during the occupation, it was hard to support protests of students because we as teachers, we always will want to protect our students from these big consequences. At the same time, they were the only ones who acted upon their principles. And that's something that we should honour and value I think. And I think it's something we see in our school as well.
Our students are very passionate and we need to be there to guide them. But sometimes we also need to follow them and protest with them. And then the last point, which is very important and dear to my heart, is individual actions always matter, make them count, as you've seen with Gunning and also with them van Genechten. It matters what you do.
Your individual actions have consequences for the better or for worse. And it is important that we know that even though the circumstances are overwhelming and we find ourselves in very difficult times like during the occupation, of the Netherlands by the Nazi Germans, your individual actions still have influence on the people around you, so better make them count Okay.
A lot of information. You might still have some questions about this topic or about other things that you've thought about. I hope it will give you some food for thought about education under difficult circumstances, but also the core of our mission, etc. and I will be in the networking room available for any questions you might have. And whenever you see me
Go ahead. I'm always very happy to talk about my passion. Thank you very much for listening and have a very good day. Bye