NAZI Germany used British public schools as ‘models’ during the 1930s to create their own elite educational establishments.

A Durham academic has researched the development of the National Socialist elite schools, known as Napolas, to train the future leaders of the Third Reich.

Historian Dr Helen Roche, of Durham University, reveals in a new book that they were created and moulded only after connections were cultivated with top UK public schools through a series of student and staff exchanges.

The book, The Third Reich’s Elite Schools - A History of the Napolas, is considered to be the first ever comprehensive history of these leading schools, drawing on research undertaken using 80 archives in six countries, as well as eyewitness testimonies from more than 100 former pupils.

Between 1934 and 1939, pupils from the most prominent type Napolas, took part in a series of exchanges and sporting tournaments with boys from British public schools, including Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, Rugby, and the Leys School in Cambridge.

Napola pupils involved in these exchanges were seen as performing the function of ‘cultural ambassadors’ for the, ‘new Germany’.

Her research shows that British public schools were long perceived as an important model for the Napolas, or Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten (NPEA).

The Napola authorities wanted to learn from the British system, but ultimately hoped to create a superior model for their own schools.

Archives show that the second Inspector of the NPEA, August Heissmeyer, often praised the ‘character-forming’ education of the British public schools, as a model for the Napolas.

Throughout the 1930s, the Napolas set up reciprocal exchanges, with German pupils travelling to England one year, and English pupils returning in the next. Inspector Heissmeyer believed: “After such trips, the young man will see Germany with new eyes; he will return rich in experiences; his horizons will be broadened...; he will detect weaknesses at home which he must help to remedy. He will learn to love his Fatherland more deeply.”

Author Dr Roche said: “In the early days of the exchange programme, the English boys and masters often felt that what they saw in Nazi Germany and at the Napolas was in some ways superior to the state of affairs in England.

“There was a feeling, which found its way into wider British attitudes towards Germany, that Britain would do well to emulate Germany’s racial confidence, and there was an admiration for the sheer strength and physical development of the German boys.”

One of Dr Roche’s interviewees, Frank T, an English eyewitness who took part in the exchange programme, commented: “I can remember coming away and thinking that we had a lot to learn from the high motivation of the German students and their belief in the superiority of the German race.

“In comparison we seemed to have little motivation.”

* The book, The Third Reich’s Elite Schools - A History of the Napolas, is published by Oxford University Press.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on or contact 01325 505054