Nazism as opportunity for Waldorf
von Peter Staudenmaier
Many Waldorf advocates viewed the Nazi era as an opportunity, a positive opening, a chance for anthroposophical pedagogy to come into its own; Waldorf was to become the form of education appropriate to the German Volk in Germany’s newly revived status under Hitler’s leadership. Such hopes found expression in Waldorf literature throughout the Nazi period.
A June 1933 notice in Erziehungskunst, the journal of the Waldorf movement, announced a series of public talks by Waldorf representatives under the title “Contributions to overcoming intellectualism and materialism in education and pedagogy.” The notice declared that all teachers in the new Germany should “contribute to building a new education based on the German spirit” and boasted that Waldorf schools have pursued this goal for a decade and a half in order to “overcome the materialist and intellectualistic attitudes that have had such a disastrous influence on German schools in recent years.” Since Waldorf schools had shown how a true German education can be achieved, they were eager to share this experience with other educators in the present “struggle of German teachers to find new paths” in pedagogy.
Corresponding statements can be found throughout Waldorf publications at this time; see for example Caroline von Heydebrand, “Wege der Überwindung der materialistischen Weltanschauung durch die Menschenkunde Rudolf Steiners” Erziehungskunst December 1933, 493-98, which depicts Waldorf teachers as “warriors against the dragon of materialism” (498) and a bulwark against both intellectualism and materialism, which come from the West; Heydebrand here as elsewhere strongly emphasizes the Germanness of Waldorf pedagogy.
Similar sentiments appear in a newsletter sent by the Kassel Waldorf school to parents and friends of the school in March 1934, announcing a public conference to be held that month in order to promote and publicize Waldorf education: “Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy, which has struggled for its position through years of silent effort, may now hope that its goals and achievements will find greater understanding in the new Germany.” The newsletter continued: “Since their founding, Waldorf schools have fought for an educational art drawn from the wellsprings of the German Volk, and fought against Western intellectualism and Eastern Bolshevism.”
Further statements of this sort indicate a vision of Waldorf education as a potential complement to the rebirth and renewal of Germany heralded by Nazism. For additional examples of such claims see the January 1934 newsletter of the Kassel Waldorf school, which calls for a “renewal of the German Volk through the German spirit” in order to defeat “the intellectualism of the West”. See also René Maikowski’s February 15, 1934 letter to Adolf Hitler, reprinted in Arfst Wagner, ed., Dokumente und Briefe zur Geschichte der anthroposophischen Bewegung vol. II, 14-16.