"No Milk for Little Jewesses:" The Fate of Jewish Schoolchildren from 1933 to 1942

Anne Frank is one of history’s most famous authoresses, while having produced only a single work. Having lived during World War II, she was able to chronicle her life in hiding during these difficult times. One of the aspects she focused on in her well-known diary was that of schooling. During her time in the Annex, Jewish children had recently been excluded from public schooling. To understand how this began, it is necessary to examine how anti-Semitism manifested itself in European schools during the thirties and early forties. During the Second World War, Jews were not allowed the same educational opportunities as their non-Jewish counterparts. They were subject to more restrictions about what they could and couldn’t read or study; certain books were not allowed to them. That the Jews were able to find methods of avoiding these rules and providing an education for their children reflects their attitude towards the importance of learning. This belief is reflected in Anne’s diary. Why would the Franks endanger their Christian helpers and risk being caught, all for the sake of procuring textbooks to educate their children? There is a deeper element at work here, one that goes far beyond mere carelessness. They are willing to risk their lives, and the lives of others, all in the name of education. It is because of this that Anne Frank, at the young age of twelve, was able to create a diary so organized and well written that it has lasted for decades. What, exactly, did education mean to the Jews; what gave it so much importance? One of Anne entries provides insight. On Wednesday, November 3, 1943, Anne’s father bought his daughters a correspondence school catalog, "to take our minds off matters as well as to develop them"(140). Education had a threefold purpose: it served as a way for Jews to secretly defy Hitler’s laws, it gave them an aspect of their lives that they could control in the face of so much uncertainty, and it represented the Jews’ hope of a more enlightened future; even while they were being severely persecuted for it, the Jews valued education above all else.

Anti-Semitism in European schools began as early as 1933. One of the first laws enacted against Jewish schoolchildren, the "Law against Overcrowding in German schools and universities" was implemented on April 25. By this law, the number of Jewish children in schools was restricted, not to exceed 1.5 percent of the total number of students. On September twenty-ninth of the same year, the famous Anti-Jewish Program was published in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. It declared:

"The Prussian Minister of Education has made it obligatory beginning September 1933 for every pupil, including Jewish pupils, to take raceology as part of the school curriculum. He has also made it a compulsory subject for the final examinations"(Zoff 45).

Early the next year this decree was further expanded:

"…The teaching of racist principles is to begin with the six-year-old children in their first term, in accordance with Hitler's pronouncement that no German boy of girl is to leave school without a knowledge of the necessity of racial purity"(Zoff 45).

Rassenkunde, this so-called subject of raceology, was only the beginning of more extreme manifestations of hatred against Jews.

 In teaching raceology, educators denounced Jews as ugly, deceitful and fundamentally evil. Sometimes a Jewish child would be chosen as a subject and critically examined; Walter Ettinghausen gave an example of this in the January 6, 1934 edition of the News Letter:

"In the course of a lesson in raceology the teacher called out a small Jewish girl from the back of the room and proceeded to demonstrate by an object-lesson how race theory was to be applied in practice. The other children were asked to point out what were the child's characteristically Jewish traits. The nose, the curly black hair, the sallow skin, were mentioned in turn, while the wretched girl stood trembling in front of the class. The teacher, not satisfied, expressed surprise that the children could point to nothing else, and, as no further suggestions were made, challenged them: 'Can't you see her deceitful look?'"(Zoff 50).

Der Stuermer, a weekly German anti-Semitic magazine of that time period, was used as the receology text in the classroom. The Aryan propaganda it contained was analyzed and used to further illustrate the principles of Rassenkunde.

As raceology virtually brainwashed young German children into believing that they were superior, it did not take long for them to grasp that Jews were "the enemy." Their impressionable minds absorbed the theories the adults preached, and these theories were adapted and acted out in the schoolyard. However, the torment of Jewish children by their peers went far beyond normal bullying. The October 9, 1933 edition of the Manchester Guardian contained a letter describing the torment of Jewish children in the elementary schools of Upper Schleswig, Germany:

"Jewish children must not sit on the same form with the Aryans. They are segregated. As soon as a child comes to school it gets this terrible blow. It is humiliated before the other children, made to feel different from them and inferior to them…In many of the schools in German Upper Silesia Jewish children are made to join in songs in praise of Hitler. Grievous is the lot of Jewish children in the classroom, it is yet more tragic outside in the playground. Here they are at the mercy of young Aryan barbarians. The Jewish children are excluded from the games; Aryans will not play with them. They must not touch the balls. In the kindergarten games, where every child represents some animal, the Jewish ones are made pigs. After having been made a pig for several days in succession, a little girl of six refused to go to school any more. Boys and girls who used to play with the Jews now turn their backs on them. The teachers show frozen faces to the Jewish children; they will lose their posts if they do not. Many Jewish children come home with swastikas cut in their clothes. Their books are smeared with the sign. Little Jewish girls at a school near Hindenburg had their school aprons cut into a swastika shape….I was told of a Jewish boy of thirteen who attempted to take his life because of the ordeal he had gone through in a public school in one of the principal towns of Silesia…a non-Jew told me how he saved a Jewish schoolboy from serious injury. Six Aryan savages caught a Jewish schoolfellow. They dragged him into a wooden hut in a distant street, made him kneel on nails knocked into the floor, beat him and made him shout 'Heil Hitler!'"(Zoff 49)

As this anecdote exemplifies, the torment of Jewish children by their peers was often crueler and more expansive that the treatment their teachers gave them. It must have come as a blessing for quite a few Jewish children, then, when the schools were finally closed to them.

With a background as solid as the one just exemplified, Jewish persecution in the schools spread across most of Europe quite rapidly. Depending on the country, the extent of Nazi influence varied. In Western Europe, including the Netherlands, education at all levels was permitted. However, only certain books were allowed - those that had been edited to glorify the Nazi cause - and only German teachers were allowed to teach. In the Eastern Countries, however, all academic schools had been closed. Only the secondary/trade schools remained, and these were subject to many restrictions; as knowledge was considered dangerous, the curriculum was greatly simplified. In Poland, where this policy was most exemplified, the schools were set up to teach children ages seven to twelve: only enough German to understand simple commands and directions, an understanding of Germany as the heart of Europe for geography, a very basic knowledge of mathematics and basic domestic and agricultural skills. As the Nazis wanted to turn the children into uneducated, loyal adults, there were many exercises to instill and develop a sense of blind German patriotism (Sosnowski 156-159).

Under such extreme conditions, the allowance of Jews in public schools did not last very long. On November 15, 1939, German Jewish children were segregated from German schools. Young Jews were excluded from Dutch schools and colleges in September 1941; segregation in other countries was complete by 1942. Anne Frank alluded to this fact in her diary on July 5, 1942, when she wrote,

"I don't want to be a poor student. I was accepted into the Jewish Lyceum on a conditional basis. I was supposed to stay in the seventh grade at the Montessori school, but when Jewish children were required to go to Jewish schools, Mr. Elte finally agreed, after a great deal of persuasion, to accept Lies Goslar and me"(17).

On July 7, 1942, after the first wave of German Jews were deported to the East, all German schools were finally closed to Jews. Schools in other countries, the Netherlands included, were not slow in following suit. It is at this point in time that Anne's story begins.

In her diary, Anne Frank never goes into much detail about her school life. She mentions her schools, her teachers, her friends and lessons, but there is nothing about being tormented by an Aryan child or a racist teacher. Perhaps she was fortunate enough not to have experienced such a thing. She was, however, not allowed to return to school once the Nazis had prohibited it. How, then did she manage to continue her learning? There are three main reasons. First of all, when the Franks prepared to into hiding on July 8, 1942, Anne took her books. She wrote, "…I started packing [my] most important belongings into a schoolbag. The first thing I stuck in was this diary, and then curlers, handkerchiefs, schoolbooks…"(19). The fact that Anne regards her heavy schoolbooks as important enough to carry with her reflects the general attitude of clandestine Jews across Nazi Europe. Although they were trapped, they still tried to educate their children, possibly in the hope and anticipation of better times ahead. This hope is later reflected in Anne's statement, "I have little desire to still be a freshman when I'm fourteen or fifteen" (37); she was anticipated the possibility of someday returning to school. The Franks and the van Daans also participated in communal learning. Anne's parents would discuss various subjects with her; Peter would sometimes do his lessons with her. This was another practice of Jews in war-era Europe; as certified teachers were rare, families relied on themselves and each other to provide their children with an education. Finally, the Franks taught their children with lessons from a correspondence school. This was perhaps their most dangerous method of school, as it required Anne's father to send away for the lessons under the name of one of their Christian helpers. Another of their friends also smuggled books and writing supplies to the inhabitants of the Annex. By May 1944, Anne was learning subjects such as shorthand, mythology and Bible literature (293-294), significantly more that what she would have been taught at a public school.

Yet, even with all these opportunities at hand, Anne wouldn’t have been such a dedicated student if she hadn’t been raised as one. Her parents had instilled in her a desire to learn, which manifested itself later on. While in the Annex, Anne took it upon herself to learn as much as she possibly could. She took pride in her learning, an observation based upon comments such as, "I learned five irregular French verbs [today]. Quite industrious, don’t you think?"(57) It is her inherent attention to detail that allows her to take meticulous notes, including the ones that cause her so much pain when they are ruined (295-296). Anne Frank personified the values of Jews in war-era Europe, and her inherited love of learning was able to sustain her to the end of her life.

Beginning in 1933, hatred against Jewish children in European schooling systems had a strong foundation. Although Jewish children were prevented from any sort of public education in 1942, they still found ways to continue their learning. These methods were described by Anne Frank in her diary. As education was so important to them for so many reasons, schooling their children became a way for the Franks to resist Hitler's influence.


Works Cited

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Trans.: Susan Massotty. Ed.; Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler. New York: Bantam, 1991.

Sosnowski, Kiryl. The Tragedy of Children Under Nazi Rule. New York: Howard Fertig, 1983.

Zoff, Otto. They Shall Inherit the Earth. New York: The John Day Company, 1943.

Salamon, Andrew. "Childhood in Times of War." Cybrary of the Holocaust (2000). Online book. 2 Mar. 2000. <http://remember.org/jean/index.html>

"Children and the Holocaust." United States Holocaust Museum (2000). Article. 2 Mar. 2000. <http://www.ushmm.org/misc-bin/add_goback/education/children.html>

Lufton, Betty Jean. The King of the Children: A Biography of Janus Korczac. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988.