Catacomb School

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Lessons at a catacomb school in a South Tyrolean farm, around 1927

The catacomb schools were an illegal institution that was created during the fascism in South Tyrol (since 1919 to Italy ) to ensure the systematic instruction of students in their mother tongue ( German ). Around 30,000 students were affected.

As part of the attempt to Italianize South Tyrol , a decree of October 1923 (Lex Gentile ) decreed that from the school year 1925/26 Italian should be the exclusive language of instruction in all schools. Thanks to the Lateran Treaty, however, religious instruction could continue to be held in German. The South Tyrolean teachers were dismissed and replaced by Italians who often couldn't speak German. The German language was also banned in all kindergartens from October 1924. When parents then organized private lessons and private playrooms, this was strictly forbidden by a decree of November 1925.

In order to guarantee the children instruction in their mother tongue, a network of underground schools had to be established. Suitable rooms had to be found, teaching aids procured and teachers financed. The driving forces were Canon Michael Gamper and committed personalities such as the lawyers Josef Noldin and Eduard Reut-Nicolussi . Among many others, the teacher Rudolf Riedl and the young teachers Angela Nikoletti and Berta Gelmini von Kreutzhof dedicated themselves to the forbidden German lessons. In order to finance the emergency school, contacts existed with the Association for Germans Abroad (VDA).

The teaching aids were smuggled into South Tyrol from Germany and Austria. The young teachers were initially trained in South Tyrol. B. as sewing courses or similar. were camouflaged. Later these courses were only possible abroad. About 200 teachers were trained in this way. They often disguised themselves as peasant women, the "school classes" met in the afternoons after regular classes at the Italian elementary school, on farms or in restaurants. As soon as a catacomb school was exposed, teachers and parents faced draconian fines, imprisonment or banishment .

In 1928, religious instruction in German was again permitted at Sunday schools, which the German-speaking clergy used to actively oppose assimilation. Against Gamper's will, the National Socialist-oriented Völkische Kampfring of South Tyrol ran its own catacomb schools in 1938/39.

In 1939, lessons in German were again granted to children from optant families as part of the option . In 1943, after the occupation by German troops (see Operational Zone Alpine Foreland ), German schooling was permitted again. Now the German school in South Tyrol openly served the political and ideological intentions of National Socialism .

After the Second World War , it was possible to re-establish the German school system in South Tyrol under democratic conditions, although it took a long time before the legacies of both dictatorships were completely shed. As part of the South Tyrolean Statute of Autonomy , the public school system with German as the language of instruction became a strong institution for the protection of minorities in the country.

See also: History of South Tyrol


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Hennersdorf, p. 83
  2. Hennersdorf, p. 84 f
  3. ^ Bozner Tagblatt dated September 24, 1943, digitized version of the Teßmann library