An Afghan student in Nazi Germany: The life of Ahmad Fofolzai, 1933-1960

By Marjan Wardaki
Submitted to Session P4949 (Networks of Circulation and the Exchange of Ideas in Modern Afghanistan, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; History of Science; Middle East/Near East Studies; Persian;
King Amanullah’s rise to power ushered Afghanistan into a period of independence, which led to the adoption of an autonomous foreign policy. Afghan embassies were set up, and diplomatic representations sent abroad. This international exchange opened Afghanistan to state-led modernization projects, and invited German educators and technocrats to Kabul. Among these projects was the attempt to send young Afghan boys and men to Germany and train them at Germany technical school. Upon their return these young men replaced the German technocrats and became the next generation of engineers, chemists, and educators.
This paper examines the life and studies of an Afghan student and scholar, A. Ahmad Fofolzai, who deviated from the technical profession of his peers, and studied the human sciences. Fofolzai arrived at the University of Jena, Germany, in 1937 and studied philosophy and pedagogy. In the context of the Second World War the majority of Germans were expelled from Kabul, and Fofolzai filled one of these positions by serving as the new director of the Amani High School. Fofolzai later became Afghanistan’s Minister of Education.
This paper has two aims: first to situate Fofolzai’s dissertation and his later publications in Kabul into a wider historical context of Afghanistan’s relationship to Nazi Germany, which in turn will highlight the intellectual dimension of Afghan-German exchange. The second aim is to emphasize that Afghan students did not merely adopt new German pedagogical methods from abroad, rather carefully reworked these ideas before implementing them into Afghanistan’s curricula. Fofolzai’s life offers us insight into how the Afghan students’ time abroad shaped their cultural and social views and what kind of ideas they were most attracted to.