Hitler Youth: Critical Charges/Criminality

Hitler Youth World War II
Figure 1.--Here Whermacht soldiers are showing DJ members how to use MG machine gun during Winter 1944-45. Notice the boys are actually firing it. You can see the spent cartridges on the ground and oine boy nuffeling his ears. The MG was a marvelously crafted weapon, but like many German weapons was so complicated that it was hard to mass produce. Many HJ leaders encouraged boys younger than the 16 year old mobilized for the Volkssturm to take up arms. No German soldiers or HJ leaders were ever tried for encouraging children to fight in a war that was already lost.

The Hitler Youth movement continues to be of interest to historians studying the 20th centurty. The NAZIs and their sumpathiuzers after World War II claimed that charges concerning the evil nature of the Htler Youth were unfounded, that they were nothing more than a youth movement comparable to the Boy Scouts. Hitler Youth organizer Bauder von Schirach used this argument at his Nuremburg trial, although he did admit the organization had been misused during the War, when he was no longer the leader. HBU has noted numerous accounts about the Hitler Youth both before and after the War. Some relate to actual HJ programs, other the individual actions of HJ members which may or may not have been instigated or tolerated by HJ leaders. Some of thes charges are widely know and well documented. Others are based on individual observatuions and thus less open to confirmation. We have begun to collect some of the acoounts that we have noted.

Early Years

The Hitler youth was a small, but growing group in the years before the NAZIs seized power. By 1932 there were over 100,000 youths. The children, mostly boys, were very enthisiastic. They were used by the NAZIs to generate enthisiasm and a favorable public image of dedicatedm idealistic youth in public rallies. HJ leader Baldur Von Schirach in 1932 organized a gigantic youth gahering 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 at this crucial time in German history. Scirach delivered about 70,000 saluting boys to greet Hitler and cheer his speech. Hitler was impressed. In the German context, the youth of a youth auxilery for political purposes was not unusual or illegal. The HJ, especially the older boys, however, was involved in street fights, which often did vilolate the law. I do not know to what extent this was actual HJ policy. Ceratianly their adult counterparts, the SA was used in streer fighting to destablize the Government. I am not sure to what extent the HJ was used in this way as a matter of policy.

Suppression of Disidence

The Hitler Youth acted to supress criticism of the NAZIs even in the privacy of the home. There was also the problem that achild might repaeat a comment inocently, not understanding the refercussions. Also HJ children often became NAZI converts and did not understand their parents lack of enthusiasm or sometimes outright opposition to the New Germany. Thus given the consequences, German parents were reluctant to vocalize any criticism of the regime.

Jewish School Children

When the NAZIs seized power in January 1933. At that time there were still many Jewish children in German schools. They were not officially expelled until the Nuemburg race laws were promulgated in September 1935. They were increasingly harassed even before expulsion, insulted and not infrequently phyisically attacked so that many many withdrew even before they were expelled. We are not sure to what extent these attacks were simply the induividual actions of HJ boys influenced by NAZI teaching or if some Hitler Youth boys actually planned such attacks as part of organized HJ activities. We do know that often groups of HJ boy perpetrated the attacks. One such example is Stephen Muller who was beat up by former friends.

Attacks on Jews

It was not just school children that were attacked. We believe that Hitler Youth boys, especially the teen agers, carried out attacks on Jews as various acts of vandalism. Here we have little information, but would be interested in any comments readers might have. We believe that for the most part that this was mnot an organized effort by the HJ, but rather the actions of boys influenced by abti-Semitic propaganda. Another factor was that it was unlikely that boys would be punished for attacks on Jews by the police or other authorities.

Dr. Martin Niemoller

One of the bravest men in Germany was Dr. Paul Niemoller who regularly preached brave anti-NAZI and anti-Hitler sermons from his pulpit, attracting a packed progragation. Loud speakers swere set up for those who could not find room in the church. One Sunday in the summer of 1937 he was preaching at Berlin's Hohenzollernplatz Kirche. After a second Sunday sermon , trucks loaded with uniformed Hitler Youth members pulled up in front of his church in a carefully planned show. The HJ boys jumped out ran up the church steps and just as Dr. Niemoller stepped out of the church to greet the emerging congregation, grabbed him by the arms and arrested him for his anti-Hitler "diatribe" which of course they had not heard. It has been reported that he was arrested by the Gestapo at his own church in the Dahlem suburb of Berlin, but it was the Hitler Youth boys who arrested him. Clearly the NAZI authorities sensed that it would be a better show for the incensed youth of the New Germany to arrest him than the Gestapo, The HJ boys of course simply turned him over to the Gestapo. He was incarcerated at the Sachsenhausen and (later) Dachau concentration camps until the Allies liberated him there in 1945. [Kuttner] Kuttner who was a boy at the time knew one of the the Hitler Youth boys who grabbed Dr. Niemoller and forced him to the waiting police car. The boy's mane was Alfred Perschke. Alfred 8 years later was killed by the Russians in a Volkssturm unit defending Berlin. Kuttner's mother, Margarete Kuttner (Fraenkel) was killed by the NAZIs in the last gassing operation in Auschwitz during November 1944.

Fifth Columns

The Hitler Youth was accused of organiizing Fifth Colums among the Volksdeutsche or other Germans in countries the Germans invaded. The Prosecution at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials charged that the Hitler Youth on Duty organized the Volksdeutsche of the Serbian Banat as a Fifth Column. Hitler Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach denied that the Volksdeutsche were organized from and by the Third Reich. "The Hitler Youth was never active in the Fifth Column either in Yugoslavia or anywhere else." The Prosecution presented evidence a book written by Sepp Janko, the youth leader in Yugoslavia. He wrote, "I put at the disposal of the Fuehrer almost the entire German national group in the former State of Yugoslavia and gave him so many volunteers as soldiers." Volksdeutsche leader Otto Kohler of the Bacska (Bachka) region wrote, "Ninety percent of our youth are members of the Hitler Youth, the youth organization for Germans abroad." Schirach did admit,"I know that there were young people among the German minority in Yugoslavia .... This German youth felt that it belonged to the Hitler Youth, and ... these young people welcomed the German troops on their arrival." One possibility that has to be considered is that the HJ units organized might have arried out aange of activities organized by Reich security agencies which operated outside of the HJ organizational structure.

World War II Role

The Hitler Youth organization played an important role in the German World War II war effort. Many Hitler Youth boys did more than just home front war work, but actually saw military service. The Hitler Youth was important in the German military effort. It no only prepared boys for military service, providing physical and ideological conditioning, but also was a conduit for chaneling the boys into the various service branches. But once accomplished the boys were no longer HJ members. Some boys acutually participated in the War as active HJ nembers. This was accomplished in several ways: 1) anti-air craft batteries, 2) Volkstrum (Home Guard), and 3) other ways. Whole military units were formed from Hitler Youth boys. I'm not sure if the boys in these units continued to be HJ members once their military unit was formed. The use of the HJ boys in military units, especially the younger boys in sometimes suisidal Volkstrum missions is one of the many tragedies of the War. The effort by the boys in fighting for their country certainly was not ariminal act, the effirt by the HJ leadership in prepsarng the boys for agressiuve war and throewing poorly armed boys against the overwealming force of the Allied armies in 1945 when the War was already lost is a very differebnt matter.

Warsaw Ghetto

Jan Karski was a liaison officer of the Polish underground. Because of his photographic memory, he was chosen to infiltrate both the Warsaw Ghetto and a German concentration camp and then carried the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. He did so and reported to the Allies. He recounted seeing naked dead bodies lying in the streets and emaciated and starving people, listless infants and older children with expressionless eyes. Many officials did not fully accept his account. One observation concerned the Hitler Youth. He described two pudgy teen-aged boys in the uniforms of the Hitler Youth uniforms hunting Jews for sport. He described the boys cheering and laughing when one of their rifle shots hit a Jew bringing screams of agony. [Wood] Karski is a very creditable source. Given the conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto, there was no need to make up anything. What was happening was unbelievaeable enough. This leads us to several questions. Who were these boys? Presumably they were the sons of NAZI officials in Warsaw. It is difficult to believe that this was an actual HJ assignment, but we winder if the boys descrribdd what they were doing to the other boys or leaders in their HJ unit and what the reaction was.

The Hollocaust

We are not sure to what extent the HJ staff was aware of the Holocaust. It is likely that most ranking officials knew about it, but this is difficuklt to prove. We note one interesting Soviet report. While most of the Operation Reinhard killing of Polish Jews was done at death camps, Majdnik played a role in the SS Aktion. The slave labor at Majdank was used to sort through the belonings of the murdered Jews. The items were being stored pending disposition in a warehouse on Lublin's Chopin Street. It was here that Red Army troops found the plunder from mass murder. Among the loot were piles of 0.8 million empty shoes. It was immediately apparent to the soldiers what this meant. Among the items found were requests for items. Included were requests from Hitler Youth units for among other things bed linnen and crockery. [Werth, pp. 884-99.] We are not sure about the nature of these HJ requests. They are of course not the kind of things boys would ne interested in obtaining. They presumably were from HJ staff, but we do not know at just what level. They suggest an understanding of what was happdening in Poland beyond SS circles.

Executions

The killing of Jews as part of te Holocaust was for the most part done in the East beyoud the borders of the Reich. Thus few HJ boys were involved. This changed in the last year of the War. As the Red Army drive into Poland, the SS dismantled the death camps. Surviving Jews were shot or forced on tragic msarches west into the Reich. At this time, some HJ boys came into contact with these wretched columns of staeving people. I read once about a group of concentration camp prisionors in 1945 that had been moved west and were starving. As a result of an Allied air attack on a train they managed to escape into the woods. A local HJ unit was armed and ordered to track them down. As the prisionors were in poor physcal condition, they were quickly rounded up. The boys were then ordered to shoot them. I have forgotten the reference, but am looking for it.

Procecutions

The first Nuremberg War Crimes Trial began with four Allied nations (Soviet Union, United States, Britain, and France) charging 22 principal Nazi leaders with crimes against peace, against humanity, and against defenseless civilians (November 20, 1945). Hitler, Himmler, and Goebbels were absent as they had commited suiside. Former Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach was among the top 22 NAZI leaders charged. Horifuc ecidence of NAZI attrocities, including film footage, was presented. The NAZI leaders pleaded not guilty and claimed that they were not responsible. Schirach shocked his fellow NAZI defendants when he expressed remorse upon taking the witness stand. The once slavish alloclite of Adolf Hitler, denounced his former idol and described Auschwitz as "the most devilish mass murder in history." He stated, "The murders were ordered by Adolf Hitler. That can be seen from his last testament. That last testament is genuine. He and Himmler together committed that crime which for all times is the darkest blot on our history. It is a crime which is shameful to every German. ... It is my guilt which I will have to carry before God and the German nation, that I educated the youth of that people; that I raised the youth for a man who, for many years, I considered impeccable as a leader and as a head of state; that I organized youth just as I did. It is my guilt that I educated German youth for a man who committed murder by the millions." While Schirach is best known as the head of the HJ, he was also the Vienna Gauleiter and in that position oversaw the deportation of 65,000 Jews from Vienna to ghettos in occupied Poland in preparation for their murder as part of Operatioin Reinhard. Schirach claimed he did not know that they would be murdered. This is difficult to believe. Evidence presented against him included a 1942 speech in which he enthusiatically stated that the "removal" of Jews to the East would "contribute to European culture." The hudgement of the Tribunal was handed down (October 16, 1946). Schirach was sentenced to 20 years. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity for educating German youth in the spirit of National Socialism and subjecting them to an extensive program of Nazi propaganda. We do not know of other HJ leaders convicted of crimes in connection weuth their HJ work.

Sources

Kuttner, Paul. Memoirs: Dangerous Religious Service.

Werth, Alexander. Russia at War (London, 1964).

Wood, E. Stephen. Jan Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust.






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Created: August 16, 2002
Last updated: 5:58 AM 10/30/2009