1. German here, we learn as much as possible about it. The general atmosphere in Europe that led to the nazis rise to power, how they were able to take control of the government, the major battles and figures who are associated with the war and of course the holocaust.
Most schools include visits to at least one concentration camp during field excursions (I have been to Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Theresienstadt) and there is a very interesting art project called Stolperstein , which indicates where jews were persecuted in Germany.
In a nutshell, you know how Americans always say ‘Never forget’ when it comes to 9/11? Most Germans are like that with World War 2 and the holocaust.
2. Japanese high schooler here. Spent most of my elementary life and some of my middle school life in the US, went to middle school in Japan. I had to say that it wasn’t very great. We learned what caused it to happen including the sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war. However most of the actual war was turned stragetic. (Ex. Japan did (something) in (year) to (reason).) We did talk about how awful it was for the Japanese, the highlights being Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. It was said that we used Koreans and Chinese for slave labor, but it was skimmed a lot. Most people kind of know what we did to the Koreans and Chinese but never to the full extent and we don’t really talk about it. (Ex. The rape of Nanking) This is out of class, but every fucking summer the tv networks play the same it was miserable, we need peace, we hate war cliche. But they too don’t talk about what we did to the Koreans and Chinese to the full extent.
3. German here. We spend about a year in school talking about it, writing it all down is going to take pretty long lol. One important thing to point out, we spend a lot of time explaining why everything happened, what was going on in Germany and everyone else that actually ended up causing WWII. Not as an excuse, but more as an attempt of making us understand how everything got so fucked up
4. I am from Bulgaria which was also one of the losing countries. We blew through WW2 very quickly but I had a very big interest in the war so I learned most of what I know by myself. I might get myself mixed up sometimes in what exactly we were taught but I can tell you what we werent taught.
For background, Bulgaria joined the Axis in 1941. Before that we lost 2 major wars- The second Balkan war which we started and ended up fighting against all our neighbors over Macedonia(Which then had a massive Bulgarian population) and WW1 where we joined the Germans because they promised us Macedonia. It was in The second Balkan war that we lost Southern Dobrudja to Romania. In 1940, though, the Axis organised the Craiova treaty which returned the territory to us, obviously the Axis became very liked in Bulgaria after that. The treaty of Craiova plus the promise of guess what Macedonia made us join the Axis in 1941.
The war went on. In school we were taught how we should be proud of how we saved our jews not mentioning the horrid things our forces did in Serbia and Greece to their jews and populace. Bulgaria even had our own concentration camp. At the end of the war when the Soviets advanced towards us we capitulated and declared war on Nazi Germany and asked the Soviets for peace. They refused and at that point Bulgaria was the only country at war with both the USSR and Nazi Germany. The Soviets conquered us, created a coup, and Bulgaria became a communist and later on socialist republic until 1989. Due to that most of our modern values and understandings of our country were created during the Socialist Regime. The Soviets werent violent occupiers who overthrew the government, they were the liberators, in our capital Sofia, we still have monuments (ugly ones as well) that litter our center creating black holes where nobody goes because of their depressing Soviet-era style of architecture.
Our views on the war were created during the socialist years and some aspects of our history are still not updated from that time, creating big discrepancies in how we view the 20th century(and most of our history altogether actually) compared to everybody else. Our History and Literature classes are still influenced by propaganda and I do not know when we will look back at our history with a clear and open mind.
5. Japanese here. I remember in junior high we learned general details about it and spent a lot of time learning the A-bomb. We actually went to the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima on our school excursion. The teachers were telling us how important peace is. So basically in junior high WW2 stuff was introduced us as a material to learn and think about the importance of peace. In high school, however, I learned WW2 in World History classes from the teacher who was very conservative and nationalistic. I didn’t think he was biased or extraordinary at that time. I totally believed what he taught us. (like justification for, you know, the touchy stuff) Luckily, I had a chance to study Japanese history including WW2 at a university abroad and it wasn’t until then I realised what I had believed might be wrong. I don’t mean to say every Japanese history teacher is like him but it is true some are inculcating their twisted ideas in students.
6. Grew up in Italy and I’m Italian in everything minus the passport.
Italians have almost taken a victim role in WW2, dissociating themselves from the crimes of the Nazis. Mussolini was actually quite well liked in the early days because while being absolutely insane, he did a lot of good for the country which had lagged behind the rest of Europe. He was super nationalistic but anti-semitism wasn’t part of the early agenda, with many Italian jews being part of the government and the fascist party. In fact it wasn’t until the Manifesto of Race that all the anti semitic stuff began, showing at that point the influence Hitler began to have.
There were no extermination camps in Italy *, and Italy was dragged along for the ride in the war, and was actually quite inneffective against the allies, which meant the Germans had to come in and save them in both Africa and the peninsula. Add to this the fact that it was the Italians themselves, not the Allies, who overthrew and lynched him and Italians don’t feel any guilt whatsoever for WW2. The blame is put solely on mussolini and the people feel as being on the winning side, and thus don’t experience any of the remorse the Germans feel.
The funny thing is I never considered Italy being part of the bad guys until this question, which made me think how curious it is that as a people they/we don’t feel any remorse or guilt. Not because we think we were right in joining the Germans, but because we don’t associate with their crimes and by the end, the Italian people were on the right side of history, even though we forget we sent a lot of jews and political prisoners to Germany and Poland…
7. Swede here. We were neutral during the war and helped the Nazis with transportation and war material (mainly ore, I think).
Our relationship with the Germans had always been friendly, and there were certainly plans to occupy Sweden if we hadn’t helped them, but it’s still a sore spot. Especially considering what we gained.
After the war, due to not being bombed like the rest of European nations and not needing to cope with the great costs of war, we became one of the richest countries in the world. What we did during the war is of course not the whole reason that the Swedish economy boomed, but it’s considered a big factor.
The main things we learn in school are that of the Holocaust, and Sweden’s neutrality. It’s not what you asked, but think it’s interesting that every country has their lesson to learn after such a major event in human history.
8. German here. Having spent time in history classrooms at German and International schools let me say the following.
The German view of events may be permissive at times and depending on the teacher may omit this massacre or that one, but the collective guilt of Germany and the undeniable slaughter that happened is adressed. A large part of 7th grade history was focused on how Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power on how easily people were swayed by populist rhethoric. Further the concepts of Lebensraum and the utilisation of symbolism for subversive means. EDIT: Especially in light of how different the sentiment was before and after the First World War, the study of how the rise to power and instrumentation of polemic nationalistic rhethoric led to the second world war is what is keeping many many Germans my age from celebrating the German national team and waving flags.
Having spent time at a British and an American International school i must say i was appalled at the unreflected nature on how the Allies were portrayed. Russia’s role was in my experience almost outright dismissed at both schools. All the suffering of the London Blitz but no mention of the Bengal starvation. Pearl Harbor but no Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Having had that comparison my impression of the difference between the german history lessons and the american or british ones is that the former burdened by the collective guilt is reflective by default. The latter are for lack of a better word “verklärt”.
9. Am German
When you grow up here and you are still rather young, you get the sense that you (as in Germans) fucked up in the past and its a lingering feeling but you are too young to understand or make sense of it.
As in you might wave to someone with your right arm and hold it up to long and somone scolds you for it or a parent quickly tells you to lower your arm and they try to tell you why.
In short Every german Student has atleast 5+ years of history that is either directly or indirectly about WW2 and it’s effects on the world we live in today.
I can only speak of my personal experience which to make this easier to understand was 4 years in the Grundschule, followed by 6 years on the Realschule and topped of by 2 years on the FOS. (curently studing but there is no real impact)
Of these 12 Years i had History lessons starting at 6th grade officially. Something you quickly learn is that the education system atleast where i was, had a very heavy focus on WW2 and the DDR (google Berlin Wall if in doubt).
We had 2 years in which we had the whole history from the Stoneage? to the Great War (WW1). the next years we intensly learned everything from the stability of germany after WW1, the Nazis rise to power and WW2 itself.
When i mean intensly I mean we started in the 1920’s and worked ourself towards the war staying at specific events for long periods of times, such as the “Hitlerputsch” and later the “Kristallnacht”.
The war itself was explained from one front to the next and we jumped alot, but the largest fokus was on the “German Perspective”. We learned about Partisanen, Yugoslavia, the Pacfic War, etc. later.
We had debates and where shown dokuments or videos about each topic.
Looking back what struck me as weird, was we coverd WW2 in large parts and there where hints here and there about the warcrimes, but they waited till 9th Grade and then unloaded a shitton of information on us stretched over months. (maybe they thought we where to young before)
I felt ill more than once after the X video was shown to us in which massgraves or Detention Camps where shown.
I visited the Concentrationcamp Dachau (and another smaller camp) with my school and there was a heavy focus on us knowing what exactly happend there, starting with numerous videos on people entering the camp and the piles of bodies.
I know it wasn’t meant as such by the Teachers, but you feel like a piece of shit, walking through a place in which countles lives have been ruined by your ancestors and you feel that weight, or it comes back. I still feel shitty whenever someone calls me a Nazi or acccuses the Germans of being racist warcriminals.
All in all i feel it was important that we had such a big focus on it, since i honestly believe in the statement, that those who don’t learn about history will repeat it.
Without WW2 Germany wouldn’t be as liberal or openminded as it is today (starting to regret that statement thanks to the rise of the AfD & NPD in the Refugeecrisis)
10. Swiss here (not the answer you are looking for, but we are right to the south of Germany and by no means innocent in this whole mess)
In Swiss education, what you learn about WWII depends a lot on your teacher and the school you are going to. Sure, we learn the stuff about Hitler’s rise to power, the major battles, the aftermath of the war, but there’s little to nothing about the role of Switzerland in the war, at least in the official curriculum.
Switzerland gave Germany access to legal currency after the German currency was banned from international markets
Switzerland shut down its borders in a “the boat is full” policy (which is still making me shudder when I hear it today…), effectively being guilty for the capture of thousands upon thousands of Jews who were trying to flee certain death.
Switzerland allowed Italy and Germany to use its railway system for trade.
Switzerland was involved in the decision to print a “J” in the passports of Jewish people so they could be recognized at the borders. Some historians go as far as calling it a Swiss invention.
Switzerland financially supported Germany
Private Swiss companies sold war material to Germany
These are just a few instances where Switzerland was definitely directly supporting Nazi Germany.
Sure, the official response to the rise of Nazi Germany was to be “defiantly Swiss”, counter the racial ideology (“The Swiss have German blood”) with Swiss nationalism, but secretly many many people in Switzerland were supportive of the Nazis. Nowadays, our conservatives try to paint a picture of an innocent Switzerland that had nothing to do with the Holocaust or WWII in general (which might also be the reason why we didn’t investigate our own role in the war until the 1990s!), and even when we found out in the 90s that our national bank has basically stolen gold from Jewish families, we are very hesitant to teach our role in the war – we weren’t that bad after all, Hitler was evil and we are innocent!
11. I’m a Canadian living in Korea now and it’s a big deal here what the Japanese do and don’t learn about their history, considering that a LOT of Japanese history involves doing horrible things to Koreans (ie: forced labor, sex slavery, etc…) during the time they occupied Korea. I will say that from what I’ve read (albiet not from Japanese sources because I don’t speak Japanese), the Japanese narrative about their actions in Asia (both before and during the war… many Asian countries have a beef with Japan due to some of the horrific things they did) is that they weren’t conquering countries just for the sake of it, but they did it in order to “protect Asia from Western imperialism”. Of course, even if this is the case, they did it without asking China, or Korea, or the Philippines whether or not they wanted this sort of protection so, you know…
12. I had a Japanese neighbor growing up named Koichi. He was a very nice neighbor, let us occasionally use his pool. His father was an important business man and he was working for some Japanese company’s American division. This guy was in his 30’s during the mid 90’s. Only once was the subject of WWII every brought up with him, and I think it was a circumstance where something was on TV and it sparked a discussion. I was not involved in the discussion, but I remember talking about it with my parents. His response to the rape of Nanking was that it never happened. He said that Nanking and other so-called atrocities were made up by the Chinese to make the Japanese look bad. He said that every Japanese school child knew this. My cousin who has visited Japan a few times and speaks Japanese confirmed this. The Japanese do not acknowledge their war crimes, and most of WWII education is spent on the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is basically treated as if the Japanese were incapable of defeat except that the cowardly west dropped atomic bombs.
13. I’m Japanese. I went to collage in US but I was born and raised in Japan.
We covered ww2 in history class on our 9th grade IIRC after we covered a long history of Japan for a few years. I do remember my history teacher telling us a bit about Pearl Harbor and he did mention Rape of Nanking. But it was because those events were printed in our textbooks.
The way they educate kids here is very…boring and they don’t get into much details since most teachers plan their classes in a way that is best for students to pass the exam. So as a student, you just have to remember major events, dates, and the cause.
I think in Okinawa it’s a bit different but jr.high school (public school) I went to was like this.
My history teacher would write down the important stuff from the textbook on the blackboard at first before the class starts and once the bell rings, we sit down and copy everything exactly the way he wrote in our notebooks. He would leave a bit of blanks here and there for later quiz.
Then he would pick a few students from the class to read the textbook out loud and after they cover everything we need to learn that day it’s the exciting quiz time. We would go over the same information for at least a few times so we can memorize it and used it for future exams.
I learned most of the horror and cruelty Japanese military caused after I moved to US at age 18. I was never a kid who felt the need to do great in school and pass all the exams but I did okay in most classes and felt so ashamed and embarrassed for not knowing the actual truth of what happened during the war until then.
14. Not German but Austrian. Funnily not in this Question either because we’re so small or because we successfully blamed everything on the germans and put on the victim role.
That said we learn a lot about WW2, a lot about the holocaust and there is quite some shame in it since we also learn that we werent a victim but an eager helper. That said, we cover this stuff for a year but focus mostly on this part. Sure we learn about atomic bombs anda bit of Everything but Japan is only mentioned rather briefly iirc.
But there is no silencing it, quite some shame and “lets not let that happen again” which makes me think a lot of Austrian voters left school before that got covered
15. I’m from Finland, a country that was allied with Nazi Germany.
Here, we focus on our fights against the Soviet Union and why we allied ourselves with the Germans. The way Mannerheim saw it, WWII was mostly between Russia and Germany. Stalin wanted to invade us like he did to the Baltics so the Soviets shelled their own town and blamed it on Finland to get an excuse to invade. Germany had no interest in conquering us and we both had to fight the Soviets, so it was a no-brainer for us to have an alliance with a non-threatening superpower on the very opposite side of the Baltic Sea than to give in to another superpower that was right next door and was actively trying to crush us. It was a good deal for the Germans, too, because they got quick and easy access to Russia and St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) through Norway and northern Finland so they could attack them from another direction as well. In the end, when the Germans realized it wasn’t going so well, we made peace with the Soviets by giving them a large part of our country and our second largest city, along with other war reparations that were carried out during the Cold War. They also requested us to kick out the Germans so the Germans used a scorched earth tactic while we chased them back into Norway. To this day, my dad has a tradition to burn all the matches in hotel rooms whenever we travel in Germany, as revenge for burning down all of Lapland.
I don’t know how the other schools here teach it but we were essentially told that there was no black-and-white, no evil and good. Only very dark gray and even darker gray. Hitler was evil and killed 8 million people, and Stalin was evil, too, with the blood of 22 million on his hands. We really got to think about why we did what we did and how differently things would have turned out if had done something differently.
Also, another thing I learned later on, not in school, was that, even though we were allied with the Nazis, no Finnish Jews were ever exterminated, and a lot of them even fought in the Finnish army alongside the Germans since they saw the Soviets as the bigger threat.
16. German here that has had the opportunity to get the American and the German education on WW2 (year abroad in high school).
The whole WW2 thing in Germany was, at least for me, very repetetive. It honestly seemed like that we would talk about a different aspect of WW2 every year starting grade 10. That being sad: The German education system places a lot of focues on how circumstances eventually lead to WW2 happening.
Starting from there the entire war is taken apart year by year by year. We’ve read speeches by Hitler, analyzing the rethoric behind it, we were taught what anti-semitism was all about and how that came to be. We discussed propaganda and the relevant lessons that could be learned from it until this very day etc etc.
Additionally we of course coverd the general timeline of the war, the involved forces (although we never really talked about the Pacific war that much).
Getting taught WW2 in the U.S. was an, let’s say, interesting experience for me. I still remember that the first day of lessions our teacher asked the class to invite WW2 veterans to speak for the class. Some did and we had the opportunity to listen to first hand accounts of the war.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great idea and really brings out a new perspective on what happened in WW2 but for me as a German it was so bizzare watching this veteran proudly telling stories of how he faught in the war, what is was like shooting at Germans etc. I wasn’t really put off by the “shooting and killing Germans” stuff cuz, I mean it’s war and that’s the be expected but the whole demeanor of this veteran was unlike anything I had ever witnessed in Germany.
You see, the general attitude towards the war, which, in my opinion, is still taught , is that we, as Germans, should feel terrible for what happened. So the contrast in cultures between the American “war heroes” and the German “please feel appropriate shame here” really stood out. Interesting experience.