Uniformed Youth Group Biography: Baldur von Schirach (Germany, 1907-74)


Figure 1.--Baldur von Schirach has been described as the American NAZI. He is shown here behind Hitler at a Hitler Youth ralley in 1934. From the very beginning, Hitler saw youth as the key to building a New Order. Schirach played a major role in that effort.

Baldur von Schirach was arguably the most successful organizers of youth group's in history. In the space of a few years he had shaped German youth into young men willing to prosecute the most destructive war in history as well as to engage or acquiesce in the most brutal atrocities in modern European history. The boys he helped trained remained loyal to the end, in many cases joining in the hopeless often suicidal defense of their towns and villages even though the War was lost. Baldur von Schirach was born in Berlin on March 9, 1907, the son of an aristocratic German father and an American mother, whose ancestors included two signatories of the Declaration of Independence. On his father's side descended from an officers' family with artistic tendencies and a cosmopolitan background (Carl von Schirach had resigned from the army in 1908 to become a theater director in Weimar), Baldur grew up in a pampered, well - to - do environment. One of the earliest members of the NSDAP (he entered the Party in 1924 while attending the University of Munich where he briefly studied Germanic folklore and art history), von Schirach was soon a member of its innermost circle, in spite of his youth. A convinced anti - semite, after reading Henry Ford's The International Jew and writings by Houston S. Chamberlain and Adolf Bartels, the aristocratic von Schirach was also a militant opponent of Christianity and of his own caste. Throwing himself body and soul into organizing high school and university students for the NSDAP, von Schirach proved himself an outstanding organizer and propagandist of National Socialism. With his infectious enthusiasm and power to inspire youth with the ideals of comradeship, sacrifice, courage and honor, von Schirach was highly regarded by Hitler who also appreciated his blind devotion as expressed in hero - worshipping verses and such sycophantic sayings as 'loyalty in everything and everything is the love of Adolf Hitler'. In 1929, von Schirach was put in charge of the National Socialist German Students' League and two years later, he was appointed Reich Youth Leader of the NSDAP, a post which he held until 1940.

Parents

Baldur was actually more American than German. He was the son of an an officer in the Imperial German Army and an American citizen and in fact three-quarters American.

Father

On his father's side descended from an officers' family with artistic tendencies and a cosmopolitan background. His parental grand-father had emigrated from Germany, served in the Union Army and been selected as one of President Lincoln's pallbearers. He married into a wealthy Philadelphia family. [Conot, p. 421.] His father, Carl von Schirach had resigned from the army in 1908 to become the director of the Imperial Theater in Weimar. He lost his post when the Kaiser abdicated and Weimar Republic officials replaced him. He became a supporter of right-wing politics and hated the Weimar Republic. He was an early supporter of Hitler.

Mother

His American ancestors included two signatories of the Declaration of Independence and a Union Civil War officer. . His mother was an American, daughter of a New York lawyer. He was killed during a World War II bombing raid.

Childhood

Baldur von Schirach was born in Berlin on March 9, 1907. He grew up in a pampered, well-to-do environment. His first language was English because of his mother. He traveled to America with his mother and could have stayed with relatives to pursue a career. He chose to return to Germany. As his father had resigned from the Army to direct the court theater in Weimar, Baldur grew up in an artistic, even romantic environment. [Conot, p. 421.]

The family was traumatized not by World War I, but the disorders in Germany surrounding the fall of the monarchy. Baldur's father was fired from the court theater and for a while unemployed. He was eventually rehired, but not before Baldur's older brother Karl committed suicide.

Baldur was introduced to Hitler as a teenager. His father had invited Hitler to his home. Hitler at the time was pursuing contacts with respectable families to offset the NAZI image of SA street thugs. Baldur was deeply impressed and wrote a poem dedicated to Hitler after he left. One source suggests he entered the party at age 18. Another source suggests he joined even earlier.

Childhood Clothing

HBU has little information on how Baldur was dressed as a boy. Coming from an affluent family he presumably was well dressed. One photograph HBU has noted shows him wearing a well-tailored suit as a younger teenager.

Education

Baldur claims that his anti-Semitism stemmed from his reading Henry Ford's venomous The International Jew . The writings of Houston S. Chamberlain and Adolf Bartels also influenced him. About 1927 (another source says 1924) Hitler suggest that Baldur enter Munich University to organize a NAZI Student Bund. He briefly studied Germanic folklore and art history. [Conot, p. 422.]

Folk Culture

Von Schirach and the NAZIs did not exist in a vacuum. Germany was perhaps the preeminent industrial nation of Europe. Yet the country's intellectual avant-garde seemed to reject the achievements of the country's industry and science. Many Germans instead devoted themselves passionately to reviving folk culture and an anachronistic national heritage. Groups like Wandervogel sang Landsknecht songs around camp fires. Many exspoused ideological concepts to return to what was seen as pure pre-Christian Germany. Books exspousing nonsensical cosmologies associated with Atlantis and a racially superior master race were enormously popular. Liberalism, Christianity, and democracy had little appeal to many Germans.

NAZI Party

Von Schirach was one of the earliest members of the NSDAP. His more cultured background, in comparison to the average NAZI, was an asset as was his success in organizing student groups. The seemingly aristocratic von Schirach was also a militant opponent of Christianity and of his own caste. Von Schirach was soon a member of its innermost circle, in spite of his youth.

Recruiting Students

He threw himself into the task of organizing high school and university students for the NAZIs and proved himself to be an outstanding organizer and propagandist of National Socialism.

Noted by Hitler

With his infectious enthusiasm and power to inspire youth with the ideals of comradeship, sacrifice, courage and honor, von Schirach was highly regarded by Hitler who also appreciated his blind devotion as expressed in hero--worshipping verses and such sycophantic sayings as "loyalty in everything and everything is the love of Adolf Hitler".

Student League

Hitler in 1929 put von Schirach in charge of the National Socialist German Students' League.

Family

Von Schirach married in 1931. His wife was the daughter of Hitler's personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. I do not know yet if they had any children. We do note one dramatic scene during the War at the Berghof. At an evening gathering, Frau von Schirach had seen a train load of Jews at a Vienna train station being transported and Vienna asked Hitler if he knew about or allowed people to be so mistreated. Hitler was furious, he barked back that people should not talk about things which they know nothing about. He stormed out of the room, ending the evening gathering.

NAZI Youth Leader

Von Schirach from the beginning viewed the NAZI Party as "the party of youth". [Von Schirach] Hitler in 1931 appointed Von Schirach NAZI Youth Leader Hitler with a SA rank of Gruppenführer. He held this post until 1940 and when Hitler seized power in 1933 used it to organize the most effective state-controlled youth organization in history. Von Schirach in 1932 organized a gigantic youth gathering in Potsdam. Boys from all over the Reich converged on foot to Potsdam marching through German villages and towns. The waves of these boys passing by must have affected many boys and some parents. Schirach delivered about 70,000 saluting boys to greet Hitler and cheer his speech. Hitler was impressed. Already before the Nazi seizure, von Schirach's ceaseless propaganda, his idealism and organizational flair for mobilizing youth, had succeeded in winning over hundreds of thousands of young Germans to Hitler's cause.

Reich Youth Leader

Hitler upon seizing power in May 1933 he was made Youth Leader of the German Reich at the age of only 26 years. Given control of the Hitler Youth movement, which by 1936 already comprised 6 million members. No other group of Germans were so totally under NAZI control than children one they reached 10 years of age. Von Schirach used a powerful mixture of pagan romanticism, militarism and naive patriotism to build up recruits for Hitler's war machine. Young Germans were to be drilled into acceptance of Nazi concepts of character, discipline, obedience and leadership as set out in von Schirach's book, Die Hilter-Jugend (1934). A whole generation was molded into a new race of "supermen". The success of the Hitler Youth in imbuing German youth with NAZI principles and idelogy was an important element in preparing Germany for war. Von Schirach taught German youth that their blood was better than that of any nation and devoted his lyricism to hollow worship of the Führer's genius.


Figure 2.-- This Hitler Youth poster clearly shows one of the primary functions of the organization managed by Van Schirach, to create effective soldiers. The caption, "Offiziere von morgen" means "Officers of the future".

Hitler Youth

Of all the Reich youth groups, it was the Hitler Youth that was of greatest importance. Von Schirach was involved in every aspect of the Hitler Youth. He chosen a military-type organization. He was a very effective organizer. Given his theatrical back ground he was very skilled in staging impressive events. He wrote a great deal of material used by the movement such as slogans used at camp. Von Schirach signed an agreement with the military to funnel Hitler Youth boys into the armed forces. There was no secret about this, the poster shown here exalts in the fact that the HJ was the training ground for future officers. More ominous was the fact that particularly outstanding boys were funneled into the SS and boys offered the opportunity considered it a great honor. Von Schirach was not liked by many top NAZIs. SS Leader Himmler was the major exception, presumably because Von Schirach helped create such an effective recruiting system and provided boys ready to accept the terrible tasks assigned the SS.

Religion

At the Nuremberg trials, part of von Schirach's defense was based on the fact that he, unlike other top NAZIs, continued to practice his Christian religion and that he pursued correct ties with Christian church groups in Germany and later in Austria after he was appointed Gauleiter (the German term for a kind of governor). We know the devotion to Christianity is correct as regards his wife, who actually raised the treatment of the Jews personally with Hitler. We are less sure about von Schirach himself. And in fact, the Hitler Youth adopted policies designed to discourage church attendance. HBU is unsure at this time how to evaluate these claims. Many of the claims sound like efforts to save his skin by rewriting history, but we are just beginning to acquire information on this.

Image

Interestingly, von Schirach himself was a far cry from the image of the youths that he sought to create for Hitler. The Führer said that the German youth he was creating were to be "Slim and straight, fast as a greyhound, and tough as Krupp steel." Von Schirach could not have been more different. He had been pampered as a boy. He came from an artistic family where culture had been more important than athleticism. He was fond of quoting Goethe. He was pudgy and no fan of camping out and roughing it. He much preferred luxury hotels. He probably would not done well at all as a boy in the Hitler Youth himself. One former Hitler Youth boy looking back reports, "Von Schirach was not an athletic leader. He was good with words. He kept his distance when visiting our camps."

Books

Von Schirach, who fancied himself as a writer and poet, published two books which were best sellers in 1932, Hitler, wie ihn Keiner Kennt (with photographs by his father-in-law) and Triumph des Willens. The following year, his collection of poems, Die Fahne der Verfolgten, and the short biographies of NAZI leaders, Die Pionere des Dritten Reiches , were published.

NAZI Infighting

Von Schirach was from the beginning considered to be an outsider by most leading NAZIs. Towards the outbreak of World War II, von Schirach's position, was being undermined by the intrigues of Martin Bormann and other enemies. Jokes about his effeminate behavior and his allegedly white bedroom furnished in a girlish manner, were legion, and he was never quite able to live up to his own ideal type of the hard, tough, quick Hitler youth. Von Schirach in fact felt much more at home in a luxury hotel than a Hitler Youth tent.

World War II

With the outbreak of World War II, many HJ officials volunteered for military service. After doing so much to prepare boys for battle, von Schirach could hardly avoid military service himself--especially given the jokes an innuendo about him. At the beginning of 1940, von Schirach enlisted as a volunteer in the German army, serving in France for a few months as an infantry officer and receiving the Iron Cross (Second Class). It was hardly front-line duty, he reported with a substantial staff--hardly routine for a low-ranking officer.

Gauleiter and Governor of Vienna

Hitler decided to recall von Schirach from France. He had been relieved of his post as Leader of the Hitler Youth, but Hitler appointed him NAZI Gauleiter (Governor) of Vienna in August 1940. A particularly brutal NAZI Gauleiter there had caused some dissatisfaction in Vienna. Von Schirach tried to be a cultural gloss on NAZIism. He reportedly said, "Vienna cannot be conquered with bayonets, only with music." At the same time, the transports of Jews steadily rolled to the death camps in Poland. As Vienna Gauleiter, supported cultural event as much as practical during he War. While he was in Vienna, he was noted for noxious statements like, "Every boy who dies at the front, dies for Mozart." Of course while making these statements, he was safe in Vienna. When the Russians approached Vienna, he took off his uniform and quietly left. Von Schirach's unorthodox cultural policies in Austria soon aroused Hitler's distrust. This was encouraged by Bormann who especially disliked von Schirach. [Conot, p. 423.]

The Holocaust

Reports vary as to von Schirach's knowledge or role in the Holocaust. One report indicated that after a visit to the Berghof in 1943 where he pleaded for a moderate treatment of the eastern European peoples and criticized the conditions in which Jews were being deported. HBU cannot confirm this. We do know that he did nothing to limit the deportations from Vienna and bragged about presenting a Jew-free Vienna to Hitler. Von Schirach claims that he never knew of the death camps. Nevertheless, he was on record as saying that the "removal" of Jews to the East would "contribute to European culture". [Speech September 15, 1942.] Von Schirach (and Speer) were probably saved at the Nuremberg trials because the prosecution did not present evidence that they attended the 1943 Posen meeting where Himmler explicitly explained the Final Sollution to Reich leaders. [Conot, p. 424.] Most of whom were well aware of what was being done. Anyone attending that meeting, however, could not clain that they did not know. As this was not known by the judges, many were impressed with his impassioned plea, "Before God, before the German nation, before my German people, I alone bear the guilt of having trained our young people for a man whom I for many long years had considered unimpeachable, for a man who murdered by the millions". [Conot, p. 424.] Th prosecution pointed out that he was on the distribytion for Einsatzgruppen reports. Von Schirach claimed that a subordinate had never passed them on to him. [Conot, p. 424.]

Frau Henriette von Schirach

While in Portugal, Henriette von Schirach came across a copy of Life magazine with of German reports of atrocities on the Eastern Front. On the way home she stopped in Amsterdam and witnessed a brutal round up Jewish women and children. The Netherlands was in fact one of the most deadly places in Europe for the Jews during the Holocaust Afterwards, an SS officer showed her some of the booty seized from Dutch Jews and offered diamonds at a cheap price. The von Schirach's were on many occasions invited to Hitler's intimate social gatherings at Berchtesgaden. At one of these occasions, Frau von Schirach attempt to report these observations to Hitler. (I am not sure if she confronted with her husband in advance.) Hitler was enraged. She and her husband were never invited back to the Berghof. [Conot, p. 423.]

Relationship with Hitler

For whatever reason, he did lose any real influence with Hitler--a factor here was his wife. Even so, he remained in office as Vienna Gauleiter. After the War he criticized Hitler for using children to defend Berlin. "I don't see how the young can be sent to war," he said. He himself, however, did the same albeit on a smaller scale in Vienna.

Surrender

Unlike many top NAZIs, he had no intention of fighting to the end or in killing himself and family. He tried to hide as mystery writer after the War. Finally fearing Austrian anti-NAZIs and French occupation troops, he quietly entered the American occupation zone and surrendered. [Conot, p. 424.]

War Crimes

Von Schirach's attorney in his closing speech at the Nuremberg War Crime trials claimed that his client did not have blood on hands. Von Schirach at Nuremberg did not deny the military role of the HJ, but he claimed, "The idea of attacking other nations never entered my mind." The deportation of 185,000 Jews from Vienna to Poland during his tenure as Governor was a major item in the indictment against von Schirach at the Nuremberg trials. The war crimes tribunal conceded that he did not originate the policy, but had 'participated in this deportation, though he knew that the best they [the Jews] could hope for was a miserable existence in the ghettoes of the East'. Von Schirach admitted that he had approved the 'resettlement' but denied all knowledge of genocide, denouncing Hitler from the dock as 'a million fold murderer' and calling Auschwitz 'the most devilish mass murder in history'. He claimed at Nuremberg that "My primary activities in Vienna were social work and cultural work." While Gauleiter he said, "If anyone reproaches me with having driven from this city, which was once the European metropolis of Jewry, tens of thousands upon tens of thousands into the ghettos of the East, I feel compelled to reply: I see in this an action contributing to European culture." [Conot, pp. 423-424.]

The Court sentenced von Schirach on October 1, 1946 to 20 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity which he served out at Spandau prison in Berlin in the company of Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer. Von Schirach continued his purported change of heart, admitting that he had misled German youth and contributed to poisoning a whole generation which had idolized him. In his memoirs, Ich Glaubte an Hitler (1967), published 1 year after his release from Spandau. Von Schirach tried to explain the fatal fascination which Hitler had exerted on him and on the younger generation. He now considered it his duty to destroy any belief in the rebirth of NAZIism and blamed himself before history for not having done more to prevent the concentration camps. [Von Schirach]

Release

Von Schirach was released from Spandau September 30, 1966, after serving his 20 year sentence. He lived a secluded life in south-west Germany. He died in his sleep at a small hotel in Kroev on August 8, 1974.

Participle

Mang Germans added the participle "von" to their names to denote aristocratic family origins. The Dutch used "van". As he belonged to the lower nobility, the particle is written in the lower case, except of course at the beginning of the sentence.

Sources

Conot, Robert E. Justice at Niremberg (Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, 1983).

Pross, Harry. Das Gift der blauen Blume. Eine Kritik der Jugendbewegung', in Vor und nach Hitler. Zur deutschen Sozialpathologie (Olten-Freiburg, 1962).

Von Schirach, Die Hitlerjugend.

Von Schirach, Baldur. Ich Glaubte an Hitler.






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