Order Castles (Ordensburgen) were at the very pinnacle of the education system in Nazi Germany. Order Castles were “the highest residential academies for the training of the Nazi elite” (Louis Snyder) and they catered for those who at their age would have attended university – or were slightly older. Those who attended an Order Castle were seen as the future leaders of Nazi Germany. The Order Castles, along with Adolf Hitler Schools and National Political Training Institutes, catered for the future of Nazi Germany as all three combined catered for 11 to 25 year olds who were meant to be the next generals, admirals, senior party administrators and politicians.
Those selected to attend an Order Castle (Ordensburg) were known as Ordensjunkers and they knew what to expect. Hitler himself had described the education at one of the schools: “My teaching will be hard. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey.”
The syllabus was described as being “violently active”. For example, swimming was on the syllabus but it was done outdoors and frequently during winter when the water in the nearest lakes would be extremely cold. Hitler had stated that he wanted the Ordensjunkers to be as hard as Krupp’s steel and as tough as leather. The education that they got at an Order Castle went headlong to fulfil this. One graduate from an Order Castle later wrote that he and his colleagues had to break the ice that had formed on a lake’s surface before they could attempt their swim.
The plan was that only four Order Castles were to be established, such was their elite status. They were named Order Castles after the fortresses that had been built by the Teutonic Knights. The plan was to build them at bases already established at Marienburg, Vogelsang, Sonthofen and Crössinsee. Each one accommodated 1,000 Ordenjunkers. Each castle employed 500 staff. However, only three Order Castles were ever fully completed in terms of the full construction plan. It was planned to use Marienburg as a centre but the planned construction work was never completed because of the outbreak of World War Two and the military took it over because of its proximity to Poland.
Each Ordensburg cost a great deal but none of them was ever fully completed. Crössinsee, for example, cost 20 million Reichmarks while Sonthofen cost 150 million Reichmarks and even after an eight year building campaign was never completed.
The Order Castles were under the control of Robert Ley. He insisted that horse riding had to be part of the syllabus in the castles so that the rider knew how “to dominate a living creature entirely.” (Ley)
Each Ordensjunker had to fulfil very specific requirements to be even considered for a place at the Order Castles. Six years education in an Adolf Hitler School followed by two-and-a-half years in the State Labour Service followed by four years of full time work was the most basic requirement. Entrants were usually in their mid-twenties when they started at an Order Castle. However, Crössinsee, Vogelsang and Sonthofen never had their full complement when their term started such was the stringency of the entrance requirements and no one made it to the final year of the course.
They spent a year at each of the Order Castles starting at Crössinsee where the emphasis was on outdoor physical activity – gliding, rowing, sailing and riding. Boxing was also taught at Crössinsee. The second year was spent at Vogelsang where the emphasis was on mountaineering and skiing. The third year was spent at Sonthofen where general physical training was done. In theory the final year was at Marienburg where the emphasis would have been on a political education but the war interrupted the plan.
Each Junker was expected to obey instructions and orders instantly. Courtesy and respect for others in the Order Castles was also a strict requirement.
The first Junkers started their course at Crössinsee in April 1936. This meant that by the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939 the first cohort at Crössinsee would never had finished the four year course as Marienburg was on the Polish border and too near for a potential Polish attack.
In theory, those who were meant to have made it through the four years were effectively guaranteed a high place in the Nazi Party or a commission in the military. However, the war intervened in the plan and many Ordenjunkers were killed during the war.