Salem's saviour - 140 years of Dr Heinrich Blendinger
by Marc Zirlewagen, ASV-Redaktion
From 1934 to 1943, Dr Heinrich Blendinger led Salem in the spirit of its founders. It was due to him that Salem was able to survive with a minimum of compromise until almost the end of National Socialism. 8 September 2021 is the 140th anniversary of his birth.

Salem's saviour - 140 years of Dr Heinrich Blendinger

Teaching instead of theology

The pastor's son Heinrich Blendinger (* 8.9.1881 in Gollhofen - † 15.8.1957 in Salem) studied Protestant theology after some wavering. In 1905, as a candidate for a pastorate, he passed the main theological examination in Heidelberg. This was followed by his vicariate in Rohrbach until 1906 and in Rintheim until 1907. He then became secretary at the Protestant High Church Council in Karlsruhe until 1909. However, Blendinger did not see his future in the service of the church. He changed his life plan and subsequently studied German, history and geography in Munich. In 1913 he passed the state examination. Afterwards, he became an educator and teacher at the Landerziehungsheim in Schondorf am Ammersee. He had barely entered his new phase of life when the First World War broke out.

"Outstandingly brave officer".

Blendinger had done his service as a one-year volunteer in 1900/01 with the 19th Infantry Regiment in Erlangen. He was drafted in August 1914 and in September was assigned to the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment No. 1. In autumn 1914, he took part in the Battle of Arras, among other battles. For this he received the Iron Cross II Class. Afterwards, the lieutenant of the Landwehr was in position in Artois until May 1915. On 1 June 1915, he was wounded in both thighs near Arras. This was followed by hospitalisation, convalescence and a long leave of absence. On 17 July 1916 he married Martha Uhlig, who had nursed him in the military hospital. In 1916, Blendinger completed his doctorate in teaching at the TH Munich. In July 1917 he was sent back to the field and served as a company commander of a machine gun company. On 14 October 1918, he became a British prisoner of war in Flanders as a first lieutenant (L.L.). His regimental commander, Major Maximilian Werkmann, issued Blendinger the following service report on 12 December 1918: "An extremely conscientious, dutiful, reliable and outstandingly brave officer, who could only have wished for more assertive sharpness in his behaviour towards his subordinates. - Solid character, popular comrade".

Liberal Democrat

From 1918 to 1920, Blendinger was a prisoner of war in Wakefield. Werner Stephan, later FDP federal executive director and first executive director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, reports on this in his memoirs. Afterwards, Stephan remained a "propagandist of democratic ideas" to the nationalist staff in Wakefield: "Admittedly, when the news of Friedrich Naumann's sudden death reached us, political activity seemed hopeless to me for a few days. [...] Then comrades-in-arms came to my aid [...]: the Tübingen theology professor Dr Hans Schmidt [...] and Dr Heinrich Blendinger, an educationalist of stature [...]. He too had been decisively influenced by Naumann." Together, Stephan, Schmidt and Blendinger developed ideas on how a "healthy, democratic state" could emerge despite defeat and collapse, despite territorial "mutilation" and "unacceptable reparation demands". For this, Blendinger later joined the German Democratic Party as a member.

Salem's saviour

After returning from captivity, he took up his post in Schondorf again. He turned down the directorship of Schondorf offered to him by Julius Lohmann, the founder of Schondorf, as he did not want to give up his beloved work as an educator and teacher because of the administrative work that was to be expected. Blendinger was nevertheless chosen when Ernst Reisinger, the director of Schondorf, was asked by the Ministry of Education to second a member of staff to manage Schule Schloss Salem. Blendinger took on the job for the autumn term of 1934 out of a sense of duty, after the old Salemers Wolfram Günther and Hans Bembé had convinced him that he had to save Salem from being taken over by the National Socialists. As a compromise between Nazi authorities and the school, this was also in the spirit of Ministerialrat Dr Herbert Kraft of the Ministry of Culture, whose protective hand over Salem is often mentioned, but who was a convinced and active National Socialist. Blendinger was a member of the NS Teachers' Association, and a photo in the Kurt Hahn Archive also shows him in SA uniform with NSDAP party insignia, yet he led Salem in a time of constant defence against open and covert attacks from many sides. Although a precise analysis is still pending, previous accounts agree that Blendinger led the school in the spirit of its founders and preserved its core. Compromises and concessions to the ruling system were indispensable for this. Ruprecht Poensgen cites here, among other things, the boys' membership in the HJ, the joining of numerous teachers to the SA and the NS Teachers' Association, the "German" salute in class, the holding of "national" celebrations and participation in regional HJ and BDM celebrations, as well as the "Führer principle" in pupil co-administration. Blendinger, on the other hand, tried to preserve Hahn's pedagogy as much as possible and, among other things, introduced the new rubric "civil courage" in the pupil training plan as a counter to the compulsion of conscience. According to Hildegard Hamm-Brücher in 1986, Blendinger exemplified "what responsibility for Hahn's educational ideals meant, even in difficult times". She herself learned through him to stand up for her convictions and to bear responsibility for herself and others. Nevertheless, Poensgen judges: "The Salem School under Blendinger was not Hahn's Salem. In the course of the Third Reich, forms and spirit changed in the school, they adjusted to a publicly prevailing mindset that was totalitarian in character. The continuation of the school in National Socialist Germany always amounted to a delicate balancing act: state ideological doctrines had to be fulfilled, independent thinking and one's own actions had to be preserved." Kurt Hahn's assessment of Blendinger's "lurching course between external conformity in parts, the threat of dissolution and steadfast internal resistance" (Ilse Miscoll) was that Salem had remained "untouched in its core of honour and morals". In the spring of 1943, Blendinger became incapacitated after suffering a stroke, which is also seen as a consequence of this balancing act. He was initially replaced by Carl Theil and from January 1944 by SS-Obersturmführer Dr. Walter Schmitt. Although he was no longer able to perform his duties, Blendinger always had an open ear for his distressed pupils in 1944/45. He also participated in the reopening of the school in 1945 with advice and action and helped out as a teacher, but for health reasons he could not take over the school management again. Living outside the school for the last time, he died after a long and severe illness.

Blendinger's memorial

Because Blendinger had led Salem "courageously and unflinchingly during the dictatorship", Claus Hüppe, a former Salem resident and patron of the arts, established the Heinrich Blendinger Scholarship in 1985. He had experienced Blendinger himself as headmaster and had admired him ever since. Hildegard Hamm-Brücher described the scholarship in 1986 as a "monument of grateful remembrance". Since then, the scholarship, which was understood as an award from the very beginning, has been awarded to outstanding pupils of Schule Schloss Salem who have not yet taken advantage of any other Salem scholarship. Salem's overall headmaster Bernd Westermeyer describes the aspiration behind awarding this special scholarship today as follows: "Dr Heinrich Blendinger led Schule Schloss Salem from 1934 to 1943 in the spirit of its founders. It was thanks to him that Salem Hahn's style was able to survive with a minimum of compromise until almost the end of National Socialism. Excellence scholarships bearing his name are intended to demonstrate that personality traits such as straightforwardness, courage and helpfulness are particularly encouraged at Salem. It is expected of all applicants "that they bring with them above-average academic achievements, that they are particularly committed socially, musically or even athletically, and that they have actively demonstrated their sense of responsibility at the boarding school."

Salem's guardian

Blendinger's grave in Salem-Stefansfeld cemetery was unexpectedly levelled in the summer of 1994. Had the school known about this in advance, it would have tried everything to prevent it. In 1995, a memorial plaque for Blendinger was placed on the chapel wall behind Kurt Hahn's grave. In this dignified and rarely given place, Blendinger still watches over the Salemers and Altsalemer in a certain way, who lay wreaths to honour and remember their dead ancestors on the occasion of the ASV Whitsun meeting. They also always do this as a tribute to Salem's saviours in difficult times.