Bernhard Rust was put in charge of the Nazi education system once Adolf Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. Rust was an early member of the Nazi Party having joined it in 1922 and as a qualified teacher Hitler put him in charge of an educational programme that would produce the future Nazi leaders.


Bernard Rust was born in Hannover on September 30th 1883. He gained a philosophy degree at university and then trained to become a teacher. Rust served in the German Army during World War One and reached the rank of lieutenant and was awarded the Iron Cross for bravery. His time in the war ended when he received a serious injury to his head.


The early years of Weimar Germany were chaotic with Ebert’s government being attacked by groups from both the left and right wings. It was in this environment that Rust turned to the fledgling National Socialist German Workers Party in 1922. He, along with many other ex-World War One soldiers, was disgusted with the government for signing the Treaty of Versailles and seemingly signing away Germany’s future. Rust in the earliest of days of the Nazi Party saw something in Hitler that to him was Germany’s future.


Ruts became a loyal party member and a reliable functionary. In 1930, he was one of 143 Nazis elected to the Reichstag. When Hitler became Chancellor, Rust was initially appointed Prussian Minister of Cultural Affairs but in June 1934, he was made Minister of Science, Education and Cultural Affairs.


Rust immediately set about removing from schools teachers who could not be trusted. They could be dismissed for failing to give the Nazi salute to colleagues or students. Rust saw teachers as the sharp point of his spear of educational reforms. To become a Reich-approved teacher you had to attend a course over several weeks that concentrated solely on Nazi principles whether it was on Gleichshaltung or race. Rust also ensured that only government approved books could be used in schools. Lecturers at universities who were known to have left-wing leanings or were Jewish were removed from their posts. Eventually Jewish school children were not allowed to attend schools.     


While Hitler must have been impressed with Rust to give him such an influential position within the Reich, there were others who were less impressed. In 1930 Rust had been dismissed as a teacher after being accused of molesting a schoolgirl. He was never charged because of what was described as his “instability of mind”. There were those in the Nazi hierarchy who also believed that the head injury Rust had received during World War One had damaged his ability to make rational decisions. Rust tried to change the traditional six-day school week. First to a five-day week followed by a ‘Reich’s Youth Day’ on a Saturday and then to a rolling eight-day week. When it became clear that the latter would be very difficult to implement and would probably cause chaos, Rust went back to the traditional six-day week.


Rust gave a very clear idea as to what he believed the education system should be when he said:


“The whole function of education is to create Nazis.”


He ordered a revamp of the curriculum taught in schools. He ordered that Aryan science had to be taught with a concentration on racial science. Non-Aryan science could be mentioned (what Rust called “Jewish physics”) but only in a derogatory manner where any theories put forward by Jewish scientists were derided.


Rust lost a great deal of influence during World War Two. Hitler commented that educational reforms that were being touted by Rust during the war “were not important for the war effort.”


Bernard Rust committed suicide on May 8th 1945.


May 2012