In this extract from Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler remembers his history teacher, Leopold Pötsch, and the profound effect his classes had on the future Nazi leader. Born in modern-day Slovenia, Pötsch was a pan-German nationalist who despised the Hapsburg rulers of Austria-Hungary. Pötsch frequently voiced his political views in the classroom and they undoubtedly shaped Hitler’s own nationalism:
“Even today, courses in world history in the so-called secondary schools are still badly neglected. Few teachers realise that the aim of history lessons should not consist in the memorising and rattling forth of historical facts and data; that it does not matter whether a boy knows when this or that battle was fought, when a certain military leader was born or when some monarch (in most cases a very mediocre one) was crowned with the crown of his ancestors. Good God, these things do not matter. To learn history means to search for and to find the forces which cause those effects which we later face as historical events…
It was perhaps decisive for my whole later life that fate gave me as a history teacher one of the few who knew how to get across the important things in class and to dismiss the unimportant. Doctor Leopold Potsch… embodied this requirement to an ideal degree. An aged gentleman of kindly but determined manner, he succeeded especially through his gift of radiant eloquence, leaving us not only spellbound but also enthusiastic. Even today I think back with gentle emotion on this greying man who could, by the fire of his presentation, make us forget the present; who, as if by enchantment, carried us into past times and moulded dry historical memories into living reality. On such occasions we sat there, often aflame with enthusiasm and sometimes even moved to tears.
What made our good fortune all the greater was that this teacher knew how to illuminate the past by examples from the present, and to draw inferences from the past for the present. As a result, he had more understanding than anyone else for all the daily problems that then held us breathless. He used our budding nationalistic fanaticism as a means of educating us, frequently appealing to our sense of national honour. By this alone, he was able to discipline us little ruffians more easily than would have been possible by any other means.
This teacher made history my favourite subject. And indeed, though he had no such intention, it was then that I became a little revolutionary. For who could have studied German history under such a teacher without becoming an enemy of the state which, through its ruling house, exerted so disastrous an influence on the destinies of the nation? And who could retain his loyalty to a dynasty which in past and present betrayed the needs of the German people again and again for shameless private advantage?”