ANTHROPOSOPHY IN THE TIME OF NAZI GERMANY

By Uwe Werner 

Head Archivist, Archiv Am Goeheanum Dornach, Switzerland 
Author of "Anthroposophy in the Time of Nazi Germany", Verlag R. Oldenberg, Munich, 1999.

Recent accusations of "racist" and "Nazi" undertones of anthroposophy and Waldorf Schools betray a curious case of history contradicting itself. To the Nazis themselves, Anthroposophists were persecuted as  guilty of the opposite charges: "individualistic", "internationally oriented", and "pacifistic", they were accused of maintaining close ties to Jews. Their humanistic philosophy, contradictory to the ideas of race and "Volk" upheld by the Nazis, was determined to be "directly opposed to National Socialism".

The following is a short excerpt from Uwe Werner's recent book "Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus" (Verlag R. Oldenberg, Munchen, 1999) ["Anthroposophy in the Time of Nazi Germany", published by Verlag R. Oldenberg, Munich, 1999], which sketches the historical circumstances of the anthroposophical movement in the time of Nazi Germany.

Anthroposophists belonged to the many groups of people who were persecuted under the Nazi regime. Hitler's own disdaining remarks regarding Rudolf Steiner and the Anthroposophists appeared as early as 1921.(1) By spring of 1933, articles criticizing the movement began appearing more frequently in National Socialist newspapers. By the summer of that year, Steiner's books were banned from public libraries in Bavaria, and study groups and branches of the General Anthroposophical Society, along with other cultural organizations, were ordered to submit to National Socialistic leadership.

During the years leading up to the 1935 prohibition of the German Anthroposophical Society and the closing of Waldorf Schools in the years thereafter, the society Executive Council was faced with the question of whether to submit to pressure to dissolve the Society of their own accord, or whether to attempt to preserve the Society and to continue working as long as and as effectively as possible. Choosing the second of these two paths made it necessary for them to make compromises in order to be tolerated by those in power. It is for this reason that, despite the fact that the main Executive Council had unanimously renounced the National Socialist cause at an internal meeting at Easter 1933, there was never a public rejection of National Socialism on the part of the General Anthroposophical Society.

Like the General Anthroposophical Society, institutions based on anthroposophy (such as Waldorf Schools, schools for the handicapped, hospitals, schools of Eurythmy, etc.), for the most part adopted a strategy of peaceful and passive resistance. Waldorf schools experienced serious financial strains and were forced to let go of Jewish teachers, but the remaining teachers could continue to create their own lesson plans. In homes for the handicapped, children could be cared for. It was still possible to publish and to have access to the work of Rudolf Steiner. In a manner of working not unlike that carried out by Anthroposophists today in regions with human rights violations, efforts were aimed to uphold human dignity wherever possible.

 Though the decision had been reached by July 1935, it was not until November 1, 1935 that, through the efforts of Nazi leaders Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich, the Anthroposophical Society was prohibited in Germany. The grounds for its prohibition read as follows:

"According to its historical development, the Anthroposophical Society is internationally oriented and even today continues to maintain close contacts with foreign freemasons, Jews and pacifists. The methods of teaching developed by its founder, Steiner, and followed in the anthroposophical schools still existing today follow an individualistic and human-oriented education, which has nothing in common with principles of National Socialistic education. As a result of this opposition to the National Socialistic idea of Volk (Voelkische Gedanke), the continued activity of the Anthroposophical Society imposes the danger of injuring the National Socialistic State. The organization is therefore to be dissolved on account of its subversive character and the danger it poses to the public."(2)
 The accusations had been carefully researched. Himmler ordered numerous investigative reports that serve to document the stand of the Nazis toward anthroposophy. Fifteen in-depth reports, as well as countless individual accounts, all come to the same conclusion: that anthroposophy is irreconcilable with the aims and the ideologies of National Socialism.

"To briefly summarize my judgement," wrote Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, Professor of Religion at the University of Tuebingen and member of the Secret Service of the S.S.,

"every undertaking and activity of anthroposophy necessarily arises out of the Anthroposophical world view. The anthroposophical world view is in the most important points directly opposed to National Socialism. Therefore, schools which are built out of the anthroposophical world view and led by anthroposophists mean danger to true German education."(3)
Perhaps the most persuasive adherent of National Socialism to formulate the incompatibility of anthroposophy and National Socialism was Alfred Bauemler, a distinguished philosopher and professor of education in Berlin. As part of his work within the Rosenburg Office "for the control of the intellectual life of the National Socalist Party", he was commissioned to conduct an in-depth investigation of the work of Rudolf Steiner. Unlike hasty and unstudied police reports, Bauemler's "Report on the Waldorf Schools" and "Report on Rudolf Steiner and Philosophy" are noteworthy attempts to understand the thoughts underlying anthroposophy: Baeumler's hope was to find means to adopt aspects of Waldorf pedagogy  into National Socialist education. He concluded, however, that the principles underlying anthroposophy contradict the aims of the National Socialistic State.

"The fateful distinction", he wrote, "occurs through the fact that Steiner replaces the theory of heredity with a different, positive theory. Steiner does not simply overlook the biological reality, but rather consciously converts it to its opposite. Anthroposophy is one of the most consequent antibiological systems." In that race and Volk are discounted in ahroposophy as the essential determining factor of individual capacity, Bauemler realizes that the objectives in Waldorf education, according to Steiner's principles, "can only be humanistic, and not based on race or ethnic group."(4)

In March 1936, Waldorf Schools were prohibited from taking on new students; by summer of 1941, all Waldorf Schools in Germany had been forced to close their doors. On June 1941, shortly before the attack on Russia, the Gestapo staged an action against the "inside opponents" of the Nazis. The Christian Community was prohibited from continued activity, prominent Anthroposophists and members of the Christian Community were arrested, interrogated and imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. The following fall, the Department of Security of the Reich published a 50 page brochure entitled Anthroposophy and its Associated Institutions". The report's concluding statement read:

"If one is to accept the totality of thinking embraced in a world-view and recognize its impact on the entire opinions and bearing of the people, then there can be no doubt that followers of Anthroposophy must necessarily become opponents of National Socialism."(5)


Notes

1. Adolf Hitler writes about Rudolf Steiner and Social Three-folding, 1921

"In the course of the London affair, there gradually emerged such mysterious circumstances that it has become not only expedient but indeed necessary to look somewhat more closely at this Minister (Simons), the intimate friend of the Gnostic and Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, follower of Three-folding the Social Organism and whatever all these Jewish methods of destroying the normal frame of mind of the people are called: to see whether that mindless face, as Lloyd George described it, is really just the result of a deficient intellect, or if it is the mask behind which something else is concealed . . . (he continues with a protest against Simon's political activity, and particularly the movement to disarm the German people) . . . And who is the driving force behind all this devilishness? The Jew! Friend of Doctor Rudolf Steiner, the friend of Simons, the 'mindless' . . ."
Adolf Hitler, Staatsmaenner ode Nationalverbrecher ("Men of the State or National Criminals"), in Voelkischer Beobachter, 35.Jg., 15 March 1921, S.2. (original German text)
 

2. Prohibition of the Anthroposophical Society in Germany, November 1, 1935

"Prussian Secret Police, Berlin, November 1, 1935. The deputy chief (stell. Chef) and Inspector II 1 B 2 69121/766 L/35.

 Regarding: the Anthroposophical Society

In accordance with paragraph 1 of the decree of 2.28.1933 for the Protection of People and State, issued by the President of the Reich, I hereby dissolve the Anthroposophical Society within the territory of the German Reich, effective immediately. The organization's properties are to be confiscated. The re-establishment of the Society, as well as the creation of undercover successor organizations, is forbidden under threat of the penalties described in paragraph 4 of the above named decree.

 Grounds: According to its historical development, the Anthroposophical Society is internationally oriented and even today continues to maintain close contacts to foreign freemasons, Jews and pacifists. The method of teaching developed by its founder, Steiner, and followed in the anthroposophical schools still existing today follow an individualistic and human-oriented education, which has nothing in common with the principles of national socialistic education. As a result of its opposition to the National Socialistic idea of Volk (Voelkische Gedanke), the continued activity of the Anthroposophical Society imposes the danger of injuring the National Socialistic state.

The organization is therefore to be dissolved on account of its subversive character and the danger it poses to the public.

sig. in absentia, Heydrich"

BAK (German Federal Archives) R43 II/822 (original German text)
 

3. Dr. J.W. Hauer on Waldorf Schools

"[. . .] To briefly summarize my judgement: Every undertaking and activity of anthroposophy necessarily arises out of the anthroposophical world view. The anthroposophical world view is in its most important points directly opposed to national socialism. Therefore, schools which are built out of the anthroposophical world view and led by anthroposophists mean danger to true German education, particularly through the relation of the anthroposophical communities to Dornach, the international center of anthroposophy, in which Jews also play an important role, or at any rate have played until the present. A survey of the teachers and leaders of the individual Waldorf Schools in Germany before the [Nazi] takeover indicates clearly that the Jewish impact was important in the German anthroposophical communities and schools."
Prof. Dr. J.W. Hauer, in an internal report for the Secret Service on  February 7, 1935. BAPR 4901-3285 (original German text)
 

4. From "Report on Waldorf Schools" and "Report on Rudolf Steiner and Philosophy" by Alfred Bauemler

"The understanding of man (Menschenkunde) which underlies Waldorf education contain deep and correct insights, with R.Steiner derived mostly from his exceedingly fruitful study of Goethe's writings on natural science. The National Socialistic understanding of man can only be derived from race. To the extent to which race is a reality of nature, it could appear that already in the point of departure there lay an essential correlation between Rudolf Steiner's understanding of man, and that of National Socialism: Steiner departs from the formative forces of Nature and bases school-education on the development of natural forces. One might thereby call his education "biologically" founded. 

However, if one were to attempt to introduce the concept of race as we understand it into this biological foundation, it would explode Steiner's understanding of man. This is because National Socialism departs from the reality of blood, and from differences that exist between groups of people of differing blood. We grasp these differences not only biologically/anthropologically, but primarily historically, in that we turn our attention to those things which people of varying blood-heritage have produced and developed: the cities, works of art, inventions, scientific systems, etc. Rudolf Steiner's understanding of man has no access to this historical thinking derived from knowledge of the reality of race. The position occupied in our world view by the man determined by the forces of race is occupied in the world view of Rudolf Steiner by the Spirit of Man, sovereign over all history. The thought of Rudolf Steiner is not biological-racist, but biological-cosmic."

Alfred Bauemler, Report on Waldorf Schools, 1937, in: Achim Leschinsky, "Waldorf Schools in National Socialism", Neue Sammlung, May/June 1983, p. 280 (original German text)
"Steiner is not only an epigone of idealistic philosophy, but he builds upon the philosophy of the intellect (spirit) in a decided manner. The fateful turning point occurs through the fact that Steiner replaces the theory of heredity with a different, positive theory. He does not simply overlook the biological reality, but rather consciously converts it to its opposite. Anthroposophy is one of the most consequent antibiological systems in existence." (p.401)

"Objectives of pedagogical activity: According to the basic assumptions of anthroposophy, these objectives can only be humanistic, and not based on race or ethnic groups."(p.403)

Alfred Bauemler, Report on Rudolf Steiner Philosophy, 1938, in: Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit der Nationalsozialismus 1933-1945, Muenchen, 1999, p. 401,403. (original German text)
 

5. "Anthroposophy and its Associated Institutions"

"Die Anthroposophie und ihre Zweckverbaende. Bericht unter Verwendung von Ergebnissen der Aktion gegen Geheimlehren und sogenannte Geheimwissenschaften vom 5.Juni 1941." RSHA ca. Oktober 1941.
 ("Anthroposophy and its Associated Institutions. Report applying evidence from the Operation against Secret Teachings and so-called Esoteric Sciences of June 5, 1941." RSHA, ca. October 1941.)