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Culture

Ask Adolf Hitler

A British education Web site has stirred up controversy by letting school children go (virtually) face-to-face with one of the most notorious Germans of all time, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.

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What would you ask this man?

It's a dream of an opportunity for any student of modern history: to get inside the head of one of the most infamous Germans of the 20th century and ask him 'Why?'

On the Active History website, students can do just that. On it, school children are able to interview a virtual Adolf Hitler.

At www.activehistory.co.uk, students can quiz the Nazi dictator on issues as wide-ranging as his opinion of Jews, the role of women in Nazi Germany right down to personal information, such as when and where the failed Austrian artist turned Third Reich leader was born.

The site -- which has won several awards and has been described by British newspaper The Guardian as "perhaps the best history site around" -- is the creation of British history teacher R. J. Karr. He says he wanted to spice up history lessons by using internet technology.

"I first used the internet in 1998 and quickly became aware of the potential it offered not only for research but also for interactive learning," Karr writes on the site. Quickly the Wolverhampton grammar school teacher had a site up and running and has developed all manner of online games and activities to make learning history more fun. Students can also interview a virtual King Henry VIII, try out a simulation of the 1929 Wall Street Crash or play a strategy game based on the Battle of Hastings called: "Don't Lose Your Head."

Candid answers to tricky questions

The virtual Adolf Hitler is nothing if not candid. On the interview page, a picture of Adolf Hitler is featured next to a text box where students can enter questions. For example: "Why do you hate Jews?"

Seconds later Hitler's mouth starts to move and the answer appears in text across the screen:

"In my view, Jews in particular have no loyalty to any nation and only look out for themselves. I felt that it was their profiteering in World War One that divided the Master Race and brought us to a humiliating defeat and needed to be punished. Wherever I went I began to see Jews and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Julius Streicher was one of the first people I used to promote anti-Semitism."

Likewise, ask Hitler about the role of women and his answer is just as straight: "The women's place is in the home… Each woman has a duty to produce as many children for the Fatherland as possible."

Guilty of promoting neo-Nazism?

Many have attacked Karr's methods of tackling this controversial topic and say he is guilty of promoting neo-Nazism. One report cited historian Dietmar Süß, who works at the Munich Institute of Contemporary History, as saying it was "naïve" to think that simply reading some Hitler quotes would enable students to fully understand National Socialism.

The head of the German Historical Institute in London, Lothar Kettenecker, called the British preoccupation with the Third Reich "downright obsessive" and added the cult of the Führer had become "a genre like that of the Wild West film."

But Karr has hit back at his critics: "Dismissing Hitler as 'pure evil' ignores the fact that millions of ordinary, supposedly 'decent' people supported him," Karr says on the site. "Sweeping this fact under the carpet is much more irresponsible and dangerous than tackling it head on."

"Empathizing with the German people who supported Hitler does not mean sympathizing with them, but it does prevent us complacently dismissing the evils of Nazism as a 'German problem' and thereby leaves us much better equipped to tackle similar tragic situations if and when they arise again," he continues.

Indeed, not all of the answers Hitler gives on the site are plain Nazi ideological rants. Ask the Nazi dictator about his personal history and the following, more rational reply is given: "I was born on 20th April 1889 in Braunau am Inn, a pretty Austrian town with houses painted in pastel yellows, pinks and blues. The house in which I was born is now used as a 'centre of international understanding' as a warning of the prejudice and hatred my regime generated."

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