Inside the Nazi finishing school in Bexhill-on-Sea

Inside the Nazi finishing school in Bexhill-on-Sea

March 14, 2021

Inside the Nazi finishing school in Bexhill-on-Sea: East Sussex academy for the girls from Hitler’s regime including von Ribbentrop’s daughter and Himmler’s goddaughter is revealed in new film

  • Augusta Victoria College in Bexhill-on-Sea educated daughters of famous Nazis
  • The finishing school taught lessons on English customs, language and etiquette
  • The project was part of Nazi plans to infiltrate British society in the 1930s
  • Six Minutes to Midnight is written by Eddie Izzard who grow up in the town

The curious story of a Nazi finishing school on the southeast coast of England for daughters of the German regime has inspired a new film starring Dame Judi Dench.

Augusta Victoria College in Bexhill-on-Sea educated two dozen daughters of prominent Nazi figures in the 1930s.

The pupils included the goddaughter of Heinrich Himmler, the daughter of Germany’s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Countess Haldenberg, niece to the German ambassador Herbert von Dirksen, and Isa von Bergen, the daughter of Hitler’s ambassador to the Vatican.

Dame Judi Dench stars in new historical film Six Minutes to Midnight about the Augusta Victoria College in the 1930s

The finishing school (pictured in 1935) in Bexhill-on-Sea educated two dozen daughters of prominent Nazi figures

They were sent to improve their English and become eligible young women before entering society, The Telegraph reported. 

It was hoped that the seaside school could help relations between Britain and Germany and stave off a potential war.

Despite anti-German sentiment growing in Britain, the girls were welcomed in East Sussex and the belief was that the Nazis would not wage war on a country where its highest-ranking daughters were being educated.

The unlikely tale is the subject of a new film Six Minutes to Midnight, cowritten by Izzard, who grew up in the town and plays a teacher at the school along with Dench.

The school, which educated girls aged 16 to 21, had a Swastika, the German imperial flag and a Union Jack on its badge

It was founded in 1934 and headed by Frau Helene Rocholl who is believed to be connected to the Nazi regime. Pictured: girls having singing lessons in the new film

Pupils were made up of relations to leading Nazis such as Himmler, who was the second most powerful man in Germany, and daughters of prominent aristocrats such as Princess Herzeleide of Prussia.

There were also Finnish and English girls whose parents are presumed to be Nazi sympathisers.

Izzard spent years researching the school with volunteers from Bexhill museum.

It was founded in 1934 and headed by Frau Helene Rocholl who is believed to be connected to the Nazi regime.

The school, which educated girls aged 16 to 21, had a Swastika, the German imperial flag and a Union Jack on its badge.

The education offered to the girls was like other finishing schools, with lessons on deportment, tennis, English language and customs

The lessons on English customs were led by Mollie Hickie who took them swimming in the sea and on town visits

In most respects, the education offered to the girls was like other finishing schools, with lessons on deportment, tennis, English language and customs.

But the pupils were separated by how posh they were, with the highest-ranking girls having more points on the coronets of the crowns on their laundry tags.

The lessons on English customs were led by Mollie Hickie who took them swimming in the sea and on town visits.

The young woman was a chaperone at the school and most of what is known is thanks to interviews she conducted with historians before her death in 2014 aged 100.

She told a local history book Bexhill Voices Two: ‘I was very happy at the College and made a lot of good friends.’

Girls take part in a cooking lesson led by Baroness von Korff (centre left) at the finishing school where they were taught English customs

But despite the idyllic setting and lessons, girls were also made to celebrate Hitler’s birthday every year, sing Nazi songs and fly swastika flags.

Julian Porter, curator at Bexhill Museum, said: ‘The girls were of marriageable age, they could speak good English and would be in high society finding husbands who were decision makers, so they could later say, “Look here, dear, Hitler isn’t so bad”.

‘Whether the girls actually had any success marrying English men is not clear.’

The historian and his team at Bexhill Museum believe the school was part of Germany’s plan to form an alliance with Britain in the 1930s by infiltrating British society. 

Despite the idyllic setting and lessons, girls were also made to celebrate Hitler’s birthday every year, sing Nazi songs and fly swastika flags

There were lessons on posture, elocution, language and customs like other finishing schools in Britain

The German government approved of the school and in 1937, as the world headed towards war, the girls were taken on a trip to the Germany Embassy in London to meet war minister Field Marshal von Blomberg.

The pupils presented him with carnations and greeted him with a Nazi salute, according to the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer reporting at the time. 

The war also derailed plans by Frau Rocholl to open another campus for 100 boys in the adjacent building. 

Porter said: ‘There would have been a little encampment of Nazi youth in Bexhill.’

Historians have found no evidence of ill-will towards the school even though locals drove out a rally of fascists in 1938.

The German government approved of the school and organised visits to the German Embassy to meet the war minister. Pictured: a scene in Six Minutes to Midnight

Porter said the well-behaved girls in smart uniforms were not seen as a threat.

The girls were removed from the school during the tense Munich crisis in 1938 but returned once the agreement with European leaders was signed.

In September 1939, all pupils and staff fled just days before war broke out when Hitler invaded Poland.

The school, which still stands, was used in the war as a hospital and army billet and most recently was a care home for people with dementia. 

Porter says the school is an important reminder of how Britain collaborated with the Nazis and represents a warning of what might have been. 

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