Sometimes individuals who have the most amazing personal stories become examples of remarkable educators. One such example is Maria Anne Hirschmann, a former Nazi youth leader who became an honored American educator.
Maria Anne Hirschmann, popularly known as Hansi, was born in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. As an infant, she was abandoned and raised in a foster home. When Nazi troops invaded her country in 1938, they travelled the countryside testing all the local children, even those who attended the little one-room school that fourteen-year-old Hansi attended. The child was selected to be sent to Prague to be trained as a Nazi youth leader. “For the first time, somebody actually chose me, ” Hansi once remembered. “I was the poorest kid in the village, so I could not expect to go on to high school or college. Now I thought I had caught the rainbow.” Brainwashed, the youngster pledged her allegiance to Adolph Hitler. When Germany was defeated in WWII, Hansi, by then nineteen, spent several difficult months as a prisoner in a Russian communist labor camp. One day, she simply walked out of the camp, expecting to be shot. The shot was never fired. After spending several weeks exposed to the elements, with only herbs and mushrooms to eat and sleeping under trees or bridges, Hansi found herself in American-occupied West Germany. In 1955, she immigrated to the United States with her husband and two children. In America, Hansi learned a deep appreciation for her adoptive country and came to embrace the American philosophy of freedom. She became a naturalized citizen in 1962.
Settling in California, Hansi enrolled in Pacific Union College, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution located in Napa Valley. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education and psychology. Then this amazing woman became a teacher in Riverside, California, and earned distinction with her work with troubled teens and high school drop-outs. She established a cooking school for boys, instructed remedial subjects, and taught arts and crafts courses.
Hansi also authored several books. Her best-selling volume is her autobiography, Hansi: The Girl who Left the Swastika. The book has sold more than 400,000 copies in English, and has been translated into many other languages, including Russian and Polish. Her life story has also been adapted in the comic Hansi: The Girl who Loved the Swastika, published by Spire Christian Comics.
This chalkboard champion has earned honors from the Daughters of the American Revolution American Medal and the Distinguished Service Citation from the International Christian Endeavor Society.