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Girls dancing at the rally of Greater Germany in 1938.

Girls dancing at the rally of Greater Germany in 1938.

German League of Girls

With origins in the 1920s, the Bund Deutscher Mädel was the only female youth organization within Nazi Germany. Against a racial ‘defilement’ and pro-rebelling against parents should they compel female youth to take part in events that involved Jewish people, the Mädel formed as a way to harvest good German mothers for the one thousand-year Reich. Members contributed to the Nazi war effort by collecting money, goods and clothing for Nazi charitable donations. The female arm of the Nazi movement was severed in 1945 at the hands of the Allied Control Council.

In 1930 the Bund Deutscher Mädel (German League of Girls) was formed as the female branch of the Hitler Youth movement. It was set up under the direction of Hitler Youth leader, Baldur von Schirach. There were two general age groups: the Jungmädel, from ten to fourteen years of age, and older girls from fifteen to twenty-one years of age. All girls in the BDM were constantly reminded that the great task of their schooling was to prepare them to be “carriers of the… Nazi world view”.

“The leadership immediately set about organizing youth into a coherent body of loyal supporters. Under Baldur von Schirach, himself only twenty-five at the time, the organization was to net all young people from ages ten to eighteen to be schooled in Nazi ideology and trained to be the future valuable members of the Reich. From the start, the Nazis pitched their appeal as the party of youth, building a New Germany…. Hitler intended to inspire youth with a mission, appealing to their idealism and hope.” Schirach promoted the idea of the German Girls’ League as “youth leading youth.” In fact, its leaders were part of “an enormous bureaucratised enterprise, rather than representative of an autonomous youth culture.”

The duties demanded of the German League of Girls (BDM) were regular attendance at club premises and camps run by the Nazi Party. Christa Wolf joined the BDM in Landsberg. Her unit used to meet every Wednesday and Saturday. She remembers the importance of singing songs at meetings. This included the following: “Onward, onward, fanfares are joyfully blaring. Onward, onward, youth must be fearless and daring. Germany, your light shines true, even if we die for you.”

“German League of Girls type exemplified early nineteenth-century notions of what constituted the essence of maidenhood. Girls who infringed the code by perming their hair instead of wearing plaits or the ‘Grechen’ wreath of braids had it ceremoniously shaved off as punishment. As a negative counter-image Nazi propaganda projected the combative, man-hating suffragettes of other countries.”

Berlin girls of the BDM, haymaking, 1939.

Berlin girls of the BDM, haymaking, 1939.

The German League of Girls was not a popular organization until the election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor and in 1932 only had 9,000 members.  Traudl Junge was one of those who joined after the election: “In school and generally it was celebrated as a liberation, that Germany could have hope again. I felt great joy then. It was portrayed at school as a turning point in the fate of the Fatherland. There was a chance that German self-confidence could grow again. The words ‘Fatherland’ and ‘German people’ were big, meaningful words which you used carefully – something big and grand. Before, the national spirit was depressed, and it was renewed, rejuvenated, and people responded very positively.”

Melita Maschmann joined the German League of Girls on 1st March 1933 in secret because she knew her parents would disapprove. Like the other girls she was ordered to read Mein Kampf but she never finished the book. She argued that the BDM gave her a sense of purpose and belonging. Maschmann admitted that “she devoted herself to it night and day, to the neglect of her schooling and the distress of her parents”.

Elsbeth Emmerich was recruited by her school: “In High School, I became a member of the Jungmädel (Young Girls). We were all given the entry forms in class to fill in there and then, and told to take it home for our parents’ signature…. I enjoyed being in the Jungmädel. We had to attend classes after school and learn about Adolf Hitler and his achievements. We did community work, singing to soldiers in hospitals and making little presents for them like bookmarks, or poems written out neatly. We also went on hikes and collected leaves and herbs for the war effort.”

BDM Girls march in a parade with 80.000 BDM and Hitler Youth in the Lüstgarten in Berlin, 19 August 1933.

BDM Girls march in a parade with 80.000 BDM and Hitler Youth in the Lüstgarten in Berlin, 19 August 1933.

Hedwig Ertl enjoyed the activities organized by BDM. “There were no class differences. You went on trips together without paying for it, and you were given exactly the same amount of pocket money as those who had lots of money and now you could go riding and skating and so on, when before you couldn’t afford it. You could go to the cinema for 30 pfennings. We could never go to the cinema before, and suddenly things that had been impossible were there for us. That was incredible, those beautiful Nazi movies.”

Marianne Gärtner joined the local branch in Potsdam. This involved taking the oath: “I promise always to do my duty in the Hitler Youth, in love and loyalty to the Führer.” Other mottos she was taught included: “Führer, let’s have your orders, we are following you!”, “Remember that you are a German!” and “One Reich, one people, one Führer!”. As she later admitted: “I was, however, not thinking of the Führer, nor of serving the German people, when I raised my right hand, but of the attractive prospect of participating in games, sports, hiking, singing, camping and other exciting activities away from school and the home…. I acquired membership, and forthwith attended meetings, joined ball games and competitions, and took part in weekend hikes; and I thought that whether we were sitting in a circle around a camp fire or just rambling through the countryside and singing old German folk songs.”

Hildegard Koch was encouraged to join the BDM at the age of 15. A friend of the family, Gustav Motze, was a member of the Sturmabteilung (SA). He told Hildegard’s father: “Your Hilde is a real Hitler girl, blonde and strong – just the type we need… Don’t let her come under the degenerate influence of the Jews, make her join the BDM.” Her father was sympathetic to the ideas of the Nazi Party but her mother, disliked the movement: “She was terribly old-fashioned and full of Christianity and all that sort of thing.” Despite her mother’s protests, Hildegard joined the BDM in 1933.

The BDM was also used in more formal settings, here a BDM girl presents flowers to the Italian Dictator Mussolini on the railway station in Munich. Also visible are Goring (right) and Hitler (right center) . 30 September 1938.

The BDM was also used in more formal settings, here a BDM girl presents flowers to the Italian Dictator Mussolini on the railway station in Munich. Also visible are Goring (right) and Hitler (right center) . 30 September 1938.

The duties demanded of the BDM included regular attendance at club premises and camps run by the Nazi Party. Christa Wolf attended one in Landsberg: “In the Jungmädel camp, the leader or her deputies inspect the dormitory, the chests of drawers, the washrooms, every morning. One time the hairbrush of a squad leader was publicly displayed because it was full of long hairs. That was no way for a hair-brush to look if it belonged to a Jungmädel leader, the camp leader said in the evening roll call.” From that moment on Christa “hid her hair-brush in the soap compartment of her trunk, because she couldn’t manage to pick every last hair from her brush… because she didn’t want the camp leader, of all people, to dislike her.”

Elsbeth Emmerich did not enjoy going away with the BDM: “We even went away to camp. I thought this might be exciting, but it wasn’t like I imagined, even though it was right in the country in some lovely woodland. I was shouted at within minutes of arriving, for not picking up a bit of eggshell I’d dropped. We had to get up early each morning, standing to attention in the freezing cold and singing whilst the flag was being hoisted. Then someone stole my purse. My holiday was mainly doing what other people told you to all the time, like standing to attention and raising our arms for the Sieg Heil.”

Renate Finckh was only 10 years-old when she joined the BDM. Both her parents were active members of the Nazi Party. “At home no one really had time for me… at the BDM I finally found an emotional home, a safe refuge, and shortly thereafter also a space in which I was valued… I was filled with pride and joy that someone needed me for a higher purpose.” Renate was also devoted to her leader, a teenager only three years older than herself. “We Hitler girls belonged together, we formed an elite within the German Volk community.”

Hitler Youth as ‘state youth’. From 1933 ‘Youths are Germany’s future!’ was the motto also in Cologne, where in the context of Hitler Youth rally week in October of that year the call was voiced: ‘Join our ranks, join the Hitler Youth!’ There was no more room for other groups. Until 1936 the party organisation ‘Hitler Youth’ had been turned into a ‘state youth’.

Hitler Youth as ‘state youth’. From 1933 ‘Youths are Germany’s future!’ was the motto also in Cologne, where in the context of Hitler Youth rally week in October of that year the call was voiced: ‘Join our ranks, join the Hitler Youth!’ There was no more room for other groups. Until 1936 the party organisation ‘Hitler Youth’ had been turned into a ‘state youth’.

Great pressure was put on young girls to join the BDM and by 1936 it had a membership of over 2 million. In some industrial areas girls had some success in not joining the BDM. Effie Engel lived in Dresden: “We were constantly getting enlistment orders in school for the BDM. You were supposed to report and join up… In our area we had a lot of workers, left-wing oriented workers, there were many students in my class who said that they preferred sports and that they would never join up. In the end, almost half the class refused to join. So my class succeeded in this. But that hardly was possible for the classes after us, as they were put under a lot of pressure to join.”

In 1934, Trude Mohr, a former postal worker, was appointed as the leader of the BDM. In a speech soon after taking control of the organisation she argued: “We need a generation of girls which is healthy in body and mind, sure and decisive, proudly and confidently going forward, one which assumes its place in everyday life with poise and discernment, one free of sentimental and rapturous emotions, and which, for precisely this reason, in sharply defined femininity, would be the comrade of a man, because she does not regard him as some sort of idol but rather as a companion! Such girls will then, by necessity, carry the values of National Socialism into the next generation as the mental bulwark of our people.”

All girls in the BDM were told to dedicate themselves to comradeship, service and physical fitness for motherhood. In parades they wore navy blue skirts, white blouses, brown jackets and twin pigtails. Parents complained about the time their children were forced to spend outside the home in activities organized by the BDM and the Hitler Youth. Its leader, Baldur von Schirach, argued “that the Hitler Youth has called up its children to the community of National Socialist youth so that they can give the poorest sons and daughters of our people something like a family for the first time.”

A group of League of German Girls with Adolf Hitler (c. 1934).

A group of League of German Girls with Adolf Hitler (c. 1934).

These arguments upset many parents. They felt that the Nazi Party was taking over control their children. Hildegard Koch constantly came into conflict with her mother over her membership of the BDM: “After all, we were the new youth; the old people just had to learn to think in the new way and it was our job to make them see the ideals of the new nationalised Germany”.

Members of the BDM later recalled that they welcomed the extra power they had over their parents: “As a young person, you were taken seriously. You did things which were important… Your dependence on your parents was reduced, because all the time it was your work for the Hitler Youth that came first, and your parents came second… All the time you were kept busy and interested, and you really believed you had to change the world.”

Susanne von der Borch was another girl whose mother did not want her to join the BDM. “My mother went early on, before Hitler was elected, to a political rally and she listened to him yelling. She was convinced that something terrible was happening to us. As a child, I could not judge. I was simply besotted by it.” After she joined the BDM her parents called her our “Little Nazi.”

The girls in the BDM were required to pass certain physical tests. They had to run 60 metres in twelve seconds, to jump more than 2.5 metres, throw a ball over a distance of 20 metres, swim 100 metres and complete a two hours route march. Other physical requirements included somersaulting and tightrope walking.

Members of the BDM spent a lot of time fund-raising. This upset some people: “What I considered negative was the street collections, which were held for one reason or another nearly every week. Collections were held for this and that – and in a rather pushy way. And house wardens were assigned to go around from house to house with lists for collections… The notion was that, whoever doesn’t donate is the enemy.”Hildegard Koch enjoyed this activity. “When we had any street collections my box was always full first and I worked on the other girls to buck up so that our group always made a good impression wherever we went.”

Adolf Hitler had strong views on how young women should behave. He described his own ideal woman as “a cute, cuddly, naïve little thing – tender, sweet, and stupid.”

This is why he was attracted to Eva Braun. According to Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962): “Hitler became genuinely fond of Eva. Her empty-headedness did not disturb him; on the contrary, he detested women with views on their own.”

Hitler also disliked women who smoked and wore make-up. He made it clear about how young women in Nazi Germany should behave. The American journalist, Wallace R. Deuel, pointed out that he read in the Völkischer Beobachter, a newspaper controlled by the Nazi Party, that: “The most unnatural thing we can encounter in the streets is a German woman, who, disregarding all laws of beauty, has painted her face with Oriental warpaint.”

August 1942, the BDM girls are sewing clothes. Note the Hitler poster on the wall wit the caption “we follow you”.

August 1942, the BDM girls are sewing clothes. Note the Hitler poster on the wall wit the caption “we follow you”.

The German League of Girls played an important role in developing these values: “They were trained in Spartan severity, taught to do without cosmetics, to dress in the simplest manner, to display no individual vanity, to sleep on hard beds, and to forgo all culinary delicacies; the ideal image of those broad-hipped figures, unencumbered by corsets, was one of radiant blondeness, crowned by hair arranged in a bun or braided into a coronet of plaits. As a negative counter-image Nazi propaganda projected the combative, man-hating suffragettes of other countries.”

There was also a campaign against young women who smoked. Medical experts wrote articles claiming there was a positive correlation between excessive nicotine indulgence and infertility. One report argued that smoking harmed the ovaries and that a marriage between heavy smokers only produced 0.66 children on average compared to the normal average of three.

If caught smoking, members of the German League of Girls were in danger of being expelled. Hedwig Ertl, a loyal member of the BDM, fully supported these values: “The German woman must be faithful. She must not wear make-up and she should not smoke. She must be industrious and honest and she must want to have lots of children and be motherly.”

There was also a campaign in German newspapers against the idea of wearing trousers. Women were described as those “trouser-wenches with Indian warpaint”. Magda Goebbels liked wearing trousers and she gained the support of her husband, Joseph Goebbels, to defend like-minded women: “Whether women wear slacks is no concern of the public. During the colder season women can safely wear trousers, even if the Party mutinies against this in one place or another. The bigotry bug should be wiped out.”

By John Simkin

Complete control through indoctrination of young people

League of German Girls

The League of German Girls

The League of German Girls


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