The Hitler Youth
The Hitler Youth was a logical extension of Hitler’s belief that the future of Nazi Germany was its children. The Hitler Youth was seen as being as important to a child as school was. In the early years of the Nazi government, Hitler had made it clear as to what he expected German children to be like:
“The weak must be chiselled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp’s steel.”
Nazi education schemes part fitted in with this but Hitler wanted to occupy the minds of the young in Nazi Germany even more.
As Russian soldiers closed in on Berlin during the waning days of World War II, Margarete Koehn, a ticket seller at one of Berlin’s train stations, left her position. She then set off to walk the roughly ten miles back to her parents’ home in the village of Luebars.
As she walked, evidence of the city’s collapse surrounded her. Upon arriving home, she told her family that she saw “trucks burning, barricades, people not allowed into cellars, and a boy shot by the SS.” The boy, she told her adolescent daughter, “couldn’t have been more than fourteen.” He had been shot for defecting his military post.
The boy Koehn saw was just one of thousands of young boys drafted by the German government during the last year of the war. These children, most of whom had been born just before the Nazis’ rise to power, were among the most fervent of Hitler’s followers. Indoctrinated in fascist ideology almost at birth, many were ordered to take up arms in 1944 and 1945.
These boys did not simply take up arms—many did so with fierce joy. In fact, in Koehn’s daughter’s school, when boys who were born in 1929 were called to arms to defend the city in April of 1945, several of the boys had jumped up, shouting “Finally, Finally!” Crying, “Who needs this silly Latin?” they mocked the weeping teacher who told them that they were to report for duty.
Why did these young boys and adolescent embrace war?
In explaining why his generation became such willing soldiers, Alfons Heck, a former member of the Hitler Youth who served as a sixteen year old on the western front, has pointed to the power of indoctrination. “We…were,” Heck has said, Hitler’s “purest creation, unencumbered by the ballast of a non-Nazi past, only beholden to him.”
Heck’s generation, born in the late 1920s and early 1930s, grew up in a nation in which preparation for military service began in childhood. Like most adolescents, Heck and his peers were eager to demonstrate their maturity by assuming what they viewed as adult responsibilities. But as Hitler’s “purest creation,” these child soldiers were also eager to prove their loyalty to the Nazi state even if it entailed their own death.
In 1920, Adolf Hitler, authorized the formation of a Youth League of the National Socialist Workers’ Party (NSDAP) based upon the principles of an earlier German youth group known as as the Wandervögel. The Wandervögel (translated as “Migratory Bird”) were the German equivalent of the Boy Scouts of America and the World Organization of the Scout Movement.
Wandervögel members had an idealistic, romantic notion of the past, yearning for simpler days when people lived off the land. Wandervögel members distinguished themselves by wearing shorts and hiking boots rather than the starched shirts and creased trousers of the middle class. They believed in the importance of rediscovering nature without any modern conveniences. They sang old German folk songs around the campfire and greeting each other by saying “Heil.”
This new Nazi Youth League attracted very few members at first, competing against numerous other well-established youth groups, and following the failed Munich Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler’s arrest, the Youth League of the NSDAP had been outlawed.
However with Hitler’s release from prison and the resurgence of the NSDAP, a new Nazi Youth Party was established and headed by Gustav Lenk. In May 1922 Lenk held a beer hall meeting in Munich, to officially proclaim the foundation of League. The Nazi Youth League was formally established small units were created in Nuremberg and other cities.
The growth of the League was slow at first, and in 1922 assistance came from the party newspaper theVölkischer Beobachter which now called for new members, declaring:
“We demand that the National Socialist Youth, and all other young Germans, irrespective of class or occupation, between fourteen and eighteen years of age, whose hearts are affected by the suffering and hardships afflicting the Fatherland, and who later desire to join the ranks of the fighters against the Jewish enemy, the sole originator of our present shame and suffering, enter the Youth League of the NSDAP…”
In May 1923, Lenk published the first Nazi youth magazine, Nationale Jungsturm, which proved to be a money loser and was subsequently diminished to being merely a supplement of the Völkischer Beobachter.
Gustav Lenk maintained strong convictions on exactly how the League should be managed, and soon had a falling out with the party and its leader Adolf Hitler.
Hitler would tolerate no insurrection within the ranks and Lenk was soon discredited by the party on trumped up charges that he was a traitor and petty thief. Lenk had no recourse and was eventually removed from all party functions and replaced by Kurt Gruber.
Kurt Gruber, who impressed Hitler with his zeal and organizational talent was officially proclaimed as its first leader. On July 4,1926 at a Nazi party rally On Sunday, Gruber’s Greater German Youth Movement was renamed as the Hitler Jugend, with the official name being:
Hitler-Jugend, Bund deutscher Arbeiterjugend (Hitler Youth, League of German Worker Youth)
When it originally began, the Hitler Youth was Munich-based only. In 1923, the organization had a little over one thousand members. In 1925, the membership grew to over 5,000. Five years later, national Hitler Youth membership stood at 25,000. By the end of 1932 (a few weeks before the Nazis came to power) it was at 107,956. At the end of 1933, the Hitler Youth had 2,300,000 members.
Kurt Gruber organized the corps under adult leaders, and the general membership comprised boys aged fourteen to eighteen. Gruber initiated new guidelines stipulating that all Hitler Youth members over age 18 had to be Nazi Party members; appointments to high ranking positions required Party approval and Hitler Youths must obey all commands issued by any Nazi Party leader.
Through our Faith in Germany, we shall Master Destiny. Adolf Hitler. As 1934 came to an end, Hitler and his party were in complete control of Germany. They had neutralized or eliminated political opposition, and the Gleichschaltung process had penetrated every institution save the Catholic Church and the German Army.
Moreover, Goebbels’ remarkable propaganda efforts had impressed thousands of Germans with their forceful presentation of a leader who was in complete control and whose Will would prevail against all obstacles.
Even more compelling, the horrors of the depression had largely ended. By the end of 1934 unemployment had fallen to its lowest level since the war; new jobs had been created, and a note of real optimism was present in all sections of the country.
This clever poster shortly before the start of a new year stressed these same themes. A German mother, happily surrounded by her children, gazes up at her hard-working husband, once again employed. The whole family seems to thrive under the blessed sun of the Eagle and Swastika.
By the end of 1927, a further requirement was that Hitler Youths turning 18 had to join the storm troopers. However, this resulted in a shortage of trained leaders within the upper echelons of the Hitler Youth. The Youth Committee of the NSDAP then worked out an arrangement with the SA allowing valuable members to stay in the Hitler Youth past age 18.
The basic unit of the Hitler Youth was the Banne, the equivalent of a military regiment. There were more than 300 throughout Germany, each of a strength of about 6000 youths. Every unit carried a flag of almost identical design, but the individual Bann was identified by its number, displayed in black on a yellow scroll above the eagle’s head. The flags measured 200 cm long by 145 cm high.
At the end of 1928, Gruber called for a meeting of the entire Hitler Youth leadership to streamline the organization. That meeting resulted in the addition of a new department for boys aged 10 to 14, later known as the Jungvolk. A separate branch was established for girls, later called the Bund Deutscher Mädel, the League of German Girls, or BDM.
By 1931 Gruber himself ran into difficulties with high ranking members within the NSDAP over his management of the Hitler Youth. He came under fire by SA leader Ernst Röhm who felt the Hitler Youth should be subordinated to the SA. Gruber was often criticized for slow growth of the Hitler Youth ranks when the rest of the party was seeing large increases in membership.
In October of 1931, under increased pressure from Hitler, and Rohm, Gruber resigned as leader of the Hitler Youth and was replaced by the newly appointed Reichsjugendführer (Reich’s Youth Leader) Baldur von Schirach.
The Nazis capitalized on the natural enthusiasm of young people, their craving for action and desire for peer approval, hoping, ultimately, each young person would come to regard his or her Hitler Youth or BDM unit as a home away from home, in some case as an alternative to their real home.
Beginning in 1933, every year thereafter was to be given a special theme by the leadership of the Hitler Youth. 1933 was aptly named the “Jahr der Organization” or “the year of organization”.
Many of the HJ activities thus centered on such topics as administration, organization, structure, etc. As a reward for his previous years of service, On June 17th, 1933 Hitler elevated Baldur von Schirach to the new position of “Jugendführer des Deutschen Reiches” answerable only to him.
On December 1st, 1936, a law was enacted which made it mandatory for all German youths to be educated according to the philosophies of Nationalist Socialism from the age of 10 and higher. This was called the Reichsjugenddienstpflicht (mandatory youth service) and it essentially legalized the Hitler Youth movement and organization while also neutralizing nearly every other, non Hitler Youth affiliated youth movement.
Schirach’s goal in 1936 was to enroll the entire population of ten-year-olds throughout Germany into the Hitler Youth as a present for Hitler on his 47th birthday. 1936 became the “Year of the Jungvolk”
This is one of the most famous posters to come out of pre-war Germany. Yet its message is open to broad misunderstanding. It does NOT suggest as so many commentators have implied that this young girl has become the property of the Führer, or that her individuality has become submerged in him.
The phrase means that just as Hitler represents the entire Volk, the German people, so too this girl is a part, must be a part of the whole Volk. Her role as an individual can only be attained by becoming part of the whole, and in this sense part of the Führer.
The second meaning which the German language permits here is that built into “gehörst” is Gehorsam [Obedient]. Belonging is not enough, one must learn obedience to the whole, to the Führer, in order to really become a part of the Volk.
But there is still a third implication in this poster. Most of the great Nazi propaganda graphics of the past years have been masculine.They have shown men and boys doing their duty, following the Führer. Here, the poster flatly states, EVEN girls have a role to play. And in this sense, it marks a kind of “liberation” from the patriarchal society which many commentators insist characterized the Third Reich.
Our Children now have a future because of Adolf Hitler.
In early 1936, the German government decided that the time had come to end the last remaining clause of the Treaty of Versailles — the Demilitarized Zone in the Rhineland. In 1932, the Reparations had been eliminated; in that same year, Germany’s unilateral disarmament had been set aside; in 1935, Germany had regained the Saarland; in 1935 Germany had introduced military conscription; and in 1935 had recreated the German Air Force and signed a treaty with Great Britain which permitted the building of a navy of up to 35% of British strength.
Only the demilitarized Rhineland remained intact. Using the ratification of the French-Soviet Pact as justification, Hitler ordered two divisions into German territory on the left bank of the Rhine, and simultaneously offered to come back to the Disarmament Conference which Germany had left in 1933.
The government also called for new elections to confirm to the world that these moves had the full backing of the German people.
But instead of stressing the military and foreign accomplishments, the campaign wisely kicked off with this poster. Handsome children and a grateful mother makes for great appeal. And then, of course, all thanks ago to the great leader, Adolf Hitler.
In 1937, a Hitler Youth rifle school was also established. About 1.5 million boys were trained in rifle shooting and military field exercises over the next few years with over 50,000 boys earning a marksmanship medal that required near perfect shooting at a distance of 50 meters.
Special Hitler Youth Paramilitary formations for boys eventually included: the Flieger-HJ in which aviation enthusiasts built gliders, participated in annual glider flying competitions, visited Luftwaffe facilities and went for rides in fighters and bombers; the Motor-HJ for boys 16 and older in which they acquired their driver’s license and learned to ride motorcycles; and the Marine-HJ in which they obtained sailing certificates, learned river navigation, and participated in naval exercises aboard German training ships.
In September 1938, the last peacetime Nuremberg rally was held. This event was called “Rally of Greater Germany” (Reichsparteitag Großdeutschland), and hosted nearly 700,000 members of various Nazi Party organizations over its weeklong festivities.
Every Youth Hostel is a Parental House. Help Build them! This is another poster urging Germans to help build and maintain Youth Hostels. The illustration shows a handsome castle, set high in the mountains. Many of the hostels were located in these ancient castles, which required frequent and expensive repairs. Hence the necessity for these appeals. But there is a second message contained here. By suggesting that these youth hostels were the equivalent of the parental homes, it staked a claim to the free-time of the youth of Germany. By organizing boys and girls in constant youth activities, including many overnight hikes to castle hostels such as is pictured here, the Hitler Youth leaders believed they could undermine the often hostile or at least indifferent attitude of parents towards National Socialism. Hitler was fond of saying that if the movement won over the youth, the future of Germany was guaranteed to rest with National Socialism.On Saturday, September 10, over 80,000 Hitler Youths marched into the city stadium and performed military-style parade maneuvers, which they had been practicing for an entire year, ending with a grand finale in which they spelled out the name ‘Adolf Hitler’ in the grandstand.
On November 9 1938, a coordinated destruction broke out in cities, towns and villages throughout the Third Reich. In a single night, Kristallnacht saw the destruction of more than 2,000 Synagogues, and the ransacking of tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes.
Although predominantly perpetrated by Nazi SA Storm troopers, German women and children also participated in the riots and destruction of Jewish property. When von Schirach learned that Hitler Youth members had indeed engaged in such offensive actions, he issued an order officially forbidding Hitler Youth members from taking part in any similarly minded actions in the future.
By 1939 the Hitler Youth became the largest youth organization in the world with over 7.3 million strong within its ranks. A new law was issued on March 25, 1939, conscripting any remaining holdouts into the organization amid warnings to parents that unless their children were enrolled they would be forcibly removed and placed in the custody of state run orphanages.
Here is one of Ludwig Hohlwein’s most successful posters. It features an attractive young blonde, her arm outstretched in the Hitler salute, her right arm grasping the standard for a flag similar to those in the background. The caption is unexceptional: Union of German Girls in the Hitler Youth. But the undertones of the Eugenics program is clearly present. In the Nazi world view, a woman’s prime function was to bear children for the Volk. And to this end, developing healthy women, trained in exercise and proper ideological outlook, was a crucial prerequisite for a healthy population. The BdM took this charge very seriously. The program stressed equally domestic accomplishments (sewing, cooking, child dare) physical conditioning (athletic competitions especially gymnastics, dancing, running) and ideological preparation woman’s role at the heart of the German family.
In 1940 Baldur von Schirach organized the evacuation of 5 million children from cities threatened by Allied bombing. Not wanting to be left out of the war, received Hitler’s permission to volunteer for the army and later that year, he joined the army and volunteered for service in France, where he was awarded the Iron Cross.
He was replaced by Artur Axmann as Reichsjugendführer who immediately began to reform the group into an auxiliary force which could perform war duties. The Hitler Youth became active in German fire brigades and assisted with recovery efforts to German cities affected from Allied bombing.
The Hitler Youth also assisted in such organizations as the Reich Postal Service, Reichsbahn, fire services, and Reich radio service, and served among anti-aircraft defense crews.
In 1942, the Hitler Youth established the W-E Lagers. These were special military training camps lasting three weeks in duration. By November of 1942, the Wehrmacht operated 120 W-E Lagers and the SS operated 42 such camps. If all of the Hitler Youth boys at their local school were 17, the whole class was sent to the W-E Lager as a single unit.
The year 1943 marked the military turning point for Hitler’s Reich. In January, the German Sixth Army was destroyed by the Soviets at Stalingrad and the call to arms amongst the ranks of the Hitler Youth was raised. The result was the formation of the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend.
The division was deployed during the Battle of Normandy to be deployed against the British and Canadian forces in the north of Caen. During the following months, the Hitlerjugend division earned itself a reputation for ferocity and fanaticism.
Towards the fall of 1944, many of the Hitler Youth were drafted into service digging anti-tank ditches around eastern German towns to stop the advancing Red Army, and in the west to stem the advance of the Allied forces. Hundreds of miles of trenches were frantically dug by young boys all over the country.
By September of the same year, the war had taken its toll on German youth. The Hitlerjugend division numbered only 600 surviving soldiers, and with little ammunition and no armour, thousands had of young lives were wasted in Normandy and Falaise. The division also participated in the failed Battle of the Bulge, and were later sent to Hungary where they participated in the failed attempt to recapture Budapest.
Of all the images produced by the propagandists of the Third Reich, this poster and painting is one of the most unusual and arresting. It was painted by Hubert Lanzinger shortly after the remarkable triumph of the Saarland Vote to return to Germany. In that election, supervised by an international military presence, primarily Italian and British soldiers, more than 91% of the population voted to join Germany. This spectacular result gratified Hitler immensely, who realized that he now possessed an invincible weapon — popular German nationalism, especially among Germans living outside of Germany. Privately he scoffed at French Politicians who had accepted the electoral results and evacuated the Saarland within two months. He would never have done that, he insisted. This poster shows Hitler in the dress of a medieval knight, riding a horse and bearing the Swastika flag. The image is extremely convoluted. Hitler never appeared on horseback, and his bared head does not at all fit the Aryan image so beloved by German illustrators. Moreover it is unclear exactly what the pose represents.But to contemporary Germans, it represented their restored pride — first in adopting an independent foreign policy by leaving the League of Nations rather than endure second-class status, and now the restoration of the unity of the Reich, so badly truncated by the Treaty of Versailles. The poster is untitled, but is usually referred to as Hitler the Standard Bearer, that is the knight representing the German Reich.
On May 8, 1945, numbering just 455 soldiers and one tank, the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend surrendered to the American 7th Army.
The Hitler Youth formed a major part of the last line of German defense, and were reportedly among the fiercest fighters. The city commander, General Helmuth Weidling, ordered Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations but the order was never carried out, and many more Hitler Youth died defending Berlin street by street from the ever-advancing Soviet army.
The Hitler Youth was disbanded by Allied authorities as part of the De-Nazification process and many of its leaders were put on trial by Allied authorities for corrupting the hearts and minds of millions of young Germans.