80. Mister Teacher

By Peter Fraenkel

Curious. At rollcall we were called up alphabetically by family name “Finkel …Fricke … Fraenkel … Froehlich …” and so on. However we did not address our first teacher by his family name “Herr Lercher”. He was addressed as ….”Herr Lehrer” i.e. Mister Teacher. I don’t know why.

In other ways, too, he was, I suspect, unusual for this period, 1933 – 1935. The Nazis were in power but even before them the curriculum in German schools had always been centrally prescribed. Mister Teacher departed from the prescribed frequently. He taught us about the history of our town Breslau, involved in some Austro-Prussian wars, but then followed this up by marching our class out of school to see what remained of the old moat – a moat with an adjoining defensive wall designed to protect our town. He had also brought some stale bread for us to feed the beautiful swans that swam in the moat. 

One of his departures from curriculum, however, went further. When Mussolini attacked Ethiopia he lectured us on how wrong it was for the strong to attack the weaker, then continued: Claims of racial superiority, too, were false. God had created all men equal. 

This was at a time when the Hitler government was preaching the opposite. 

Even at my early age I was surprised and told my parents what he had said. At the next parent-teacher meeting my mother complimented him. 

“Oh!” he said, “if the little blighters understand what I’m saying, I’d better be more careful.” 

The next term a new teacher appeared – a staunch Nazi called Krajewsky. The Polish-sounding name makes it likely that he was trying to stress he was German. Instead of starting each morning with “Gruess Gott” – as we had done under Lerche – we were made to raise our right arm and chant “Heil Hitler”. 

My parents thought he might have been arrested but my mother made cautious enquiries and discovered eventually that Lerche had, in fact, been promoted. He had become headmaster of a girls’ school.