Hitler Youth: Background


Figure 1.--Many German boys were powefully moved by NAZI Party rallies and pagentry. As strange as it now seems, the NAZIs very effectiverly appealed to the naivity and idealism of German youth.

Many leaders at least give lip service to the idea that the future of a nation lies with its youth. Perhaps no national leader so fervently believed this and acted on it wityh greater effectivness. He envisioned an entire generation of obedient fighter pilots and panzer commanders extending the domination of the Reich to the farthest reaches of the world and implementing his chilling vision of the future. Many idealistic German boys were attracted by the powerful nationalist appeal of Hitler and the NAZIs. The Hitler Youth (HJ) movement played an important role in the NAZI seizure of power. Armed with the authority of the German state, the NAZIs created perhaps the most effective youth organization ever used an an arm of state power. Previously the HJ had been devoted to teaching youth NAZI ideology through hiking trips and other youth activities and to support party activities. After the NAZI takeover the HJ expanded to over 3.5 million members. Soon it was made more militaristic. Members marched in military formations. At first there was no weapons training, but a variety of filed operations such as map reading and working woth communications gear. Eventually weapons training was added to the program. The HJ was used to feed boys into the German military after a year of labor service. The HJ played an important role in World War II and eventually whole units were formed of Hitler Youth boys. Especially young boys wound up in Volkstrum units at the end of the War, many believing in the Fuhrer to the end.

Overview

Indoctrinating children in National Socialist idelogy was a key goal of the NAZI Government once Hitler assumed control over the German state. Hitler and other NAZIs leaders saw the indoctrination of young Germans as of critical importance. He understood that a majority of Germans had not supported his seizure of power. He believed that he could win over some of those that were not with him, but others he could never convince. Thusd it was essential to win over German youth. He velievd that he could win over the vast majority of the new generation. In the same year that Hitler seized power, the NAZIs organized German youth organizations into two branches of the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugen), one branch for boys and one for girls. Membership was eventually made compulsory and all boys had to report to a neigborhood office to have his racial background checked and be registered for membership. There was then a typically elaborate introduction ceremony on the Fehuerer's birthday. The Hitler Youth was not just a German version of the Boy Scouts. There were key differences. The most important was that in the HJ unlike Scouting, the parents were not involved. HJ adult leaders were committed NAZIs and their goal was to mold the new generation in the principles of National Socialism regardless of the parents attitudes. Involving parents in the organization would have impeded this process. Hitler from the beginning saw the Hitler Youth movement as a tool not only to win over the new generation, but to harden boys for their future role of soldiers. He wanted a generation of "victorious active, daring youth, imune to pain." There was to be no "intelectual" training for the boys of the New Order, he saw intelectual pursuits as damaging to German youth.



Figure 2.--Hitler reviewing Hitler Youth boys at the annual Nurrenburg NAZI Party rally.

The Beginning

To survive, any regime must gain the support of future generations. Hitler and his chronies were well aware of this and immediately upon seizure of the Government executed plans to ensure it. The Hitler Youth (Hitler-Jugend) was Hitler's primary means tool to ensure that the younger generation would be committed and totally loyal to the National Socialist regime. Hitler had to be sure that German boys would be willing and prepared to fight in the upcoming war that he envisioned from the very begining of his political "awakening" after World War I. War was not what German parents had in mind for themselves and their boys. Thus a thorough indoctrination of the youth was needed and this was the role assigned to the Hitler Youth.

Hitler saw German youth properly organized and indoctrinated as the "guarantee of the future." Older Germans were to set in their ways and "corrupted" by Weimar. It was only through the youth of Germany that he could achieve his goals. He saw the Hitler Youth as being untainted by what he considered the "decadent" Weimar Republic and believed that they were the only organization that he could trust without reservation. Seeing this trust, it is not surprising that he gave amazingly important responsibilities to the Hitler Youth--even during the war years. Even more amazing was the sacrifices made by Hitler Youth units to the dieing NAZI regime. The performance of the Hitler Youth Division before Caen in June 1944 is lengendary. Even more amazing was the use of boys in the defense of Berlin during the last hours of the Reich. The Hitler Youth Movement continues to fascinate historians and social psycholgists. Why would millions of children become as loyal to Hitler as to a father?


Figure 3.--A Hitler Youth member making a presentation to Hitler at the annual Nuremburg ceremonies of the NAZI Party.

Several accounts exist of Hitler Youth members. One of the most chilling is the story told by a 9-year old German boy, Alfons Heck. Why would a 9-year-old child believe, "I belonged to Hitler body and soul. My fate as bound to the Fuhrer's"? The devotion of these children clearly shows in the newsreals and propaganda films like Triumph of the Will (193?) and (Der) Marsch zum Fuehrer/The March to the Fuehrer (1940). These children did believe. The Hitler Youth movement largely succeded in gaining the willing support of German youth to the goals of Adolf Hitler. They were committed to the New Order, although few fully comprehended what Hitler had in mind. As Heck's chilling true account shows, like 8 million other German Hitler Youth, he was so captivated by Hitler that he watched his favorite childhood friends be taken away to be murdered while he cared for nothing but to win the war or die for Germany and its leader. Graphic documentary footage dramatizes how songs, youth camps, speeches, and education reinforced Hitler's mesmerizing lies of racial science and a master race. Heck, now an adult who can barely believe his own fanaticism and Hitler's atrocities, sees no reason why history cannot repeat itself.


Figure 4.--The NAZI Party's elaborate rituals were repeated in the Hitler Youth activities. Martial music was an important part of the ritual. Note the attention to uniformity among the boys.

Supplementing the Schools

The NAZI Party sought to supplement the school system by training the youth through the Hitler Jugend. Many NAZI's initially viewed the schppl system as suspect as it included many teachers not commited to National Socialism and it would take some time to weed them out. The Hitler Youth movement, however, was immediately available. The NAZI's from their early days expressed their belief in the fundamental importance of controlling the education and training of youth. Hitler stated in Mein Kampf: It is precisely our German people, that today broken down, lies defenseless against the kicks of the rest of the world who need that suggestive force that lies in self-confidence. . But this self-confidence has to be instilled into the young fellow-citizen from childhood on. His entire education and development has to be directed at giving him the conviction of being absolutely superior to others. With this physical force and skill he has again to win the belief in the invincibility of his entire nationality. For what once led the German army to victory was the sum of the confidence which the individual and all in common had in their leaders. The confidence in the possibility of regaining its freedom is what
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Figure 5.--Knives, compases, and other gear were made for the Hitler Youth, including this board game. Note the sawastica arm band with the white stripe, the officical symbol of the Movement.
will restore the German people. But this conviction must be the final product of the same feeling of millions of individuals."

Again in Mein Kampf Hitler said:

The racial State will have to see to it that there will be a generation which by a suitable education will be ready for the final and ultimate decision on this globe. The nation which enters first on this course will be the victorious one.

Organization

The law of the Hitler Youth provides in part as follows:

The future of the German nation depends on its youth, and the German youth shall have to be prepared for its future duties. The German youth besides being reared within the family and school, shall be educated physically, intellectually and morally in the spirit of National Socialism to serve the people and community, through the Hitler Youth.

The Hitler Youth, like most party organs, was organized on a military model. The members wore brown uniforms similar to Storm Troopers/Sturm Abteilungen (the SA). Hitler wanted them to be as he constantly referred to as "quick like greyhounds, tough like leather, and hard like Krupp steel." In the years before the war, the Hitler Youth incorporated more military style drill in the training of its members. All boys were given firearms training, starting with small caliber rifles and then moving up to regular infantry pieces. They sent those who excelled to sharpshooter and sniper school. The services of these boy snipers were to be offered to the army and the Waffen-SS. The army snatched them up and placed them in reserve units. All of this military training fostered an aggressive spirit that could be realized only in actual combat. The Hitler Youth was in essence providing Germany with fervent National Socialists that served as cannon-fodder for the war.

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Figure 6.--German cities echoed with drum and bugle parades of the Storm Troopers, Hitler Youth, and other NAZI organizations. Again note the uniformity among the boys.

All military services in the world have different branches or specialties within. The Hitler Youth was no exception. In order to maintain the interest of the boys, as well as to provide needed military skills, the Hitler Youth created many special formations.
Air arm: One of the largest of these special formations was the Flieger-HJ or Flying
Hitler Youth. Members were distinguished by wearing Luftwaffe-blue uniforms. The purpose of the Flying Hitler Youth was to learn the basics of flying. Members spent their first two years building model gliders. They would also be taught the theory of flight. The closest they would get to a real glider was when they manned the catapult that launched an older boy in glider training. After completing the model phase, they graduated to real gliders. They would attempt to earn A, B, and finally C levels of glider certifications. The Luftwaffe supported close relationships between its personnel and those of the Flieger-HJ. This is not surprising since the Luftwaffe wanted eventually to train them as pilots for their fighters and bombers. Sometimes they would actually take up members for flights in bombers or fighters (two seaters, of course). Members who showed promise were made a future F„hnrich, or officer cadet in the Luftwaffe. This was to ensure that when the boys became old enough for military service, no other branch could take them.
Motorized units: Hitler Youth members who were not interested in flying could join the Motor-HJ. When a boy reached 16, the age at which a driver's license could be obtained, he could petition for entrance. Members had to log their driving hours like a pilot. Eighty hours a year were required for continued membership. They also had to have 105 hours of mechanic experience as well. These boys were also being groomed for their own special place in the military. A memorandum from the Reichsjugendfhrung stated, "It is self-evident that members of the Motor-HJ will later serve in the motorized units of the Whermact." Members were especially drawn to units of the SS since all SS units were fully motorized.
Naval units: Other special formations included the Marine-HJ, who trained with the navy. The highlight of the naval training was a cruise on the navy's training ship Horst Wessel, named after a NAZI hero.
Other: There were smaller units for future medics, a cavalry unit that was mainly for rural boys, and the Flakhelfer, a unit of anti-aircraft helpers. The older boys in the anti-aircraft units actually manned the guns. Younger boys manned the searchlights and were assigned as messengers.


Figure 7.--The Hitler Youth was the subject of NAZI propoganda and paintings like this appeared in endless numbers.

Hitler said in a speech to the youth on May 1, 1938:

Since the victory of the Movement, under whose banner you stand there has been completed within our people the unification of heart (innere Einigung) of the Germans. And as wages for this work of ours Providence has given us Greater Germany (Grossdeutschland). This unification is no gift of chance, it is the result of a systematic education of our people by the National Socialist Movement... And this education begins with the individual at an age when he is not already burdened with preconceived ideas. The youth is the stone which is to go to the building of our new Reich ! You are Greater Germany! In you is being formed the community of the German people. Before the single leader there stands a Reich, before the single Reich stands a people, and before the single people stands German youth! When I see you my faith in the future of Germany has no bounds, nothing can shake it. For I know that you will fulfill all that we hope of you. So I greet you today on this 1st of May in our new great Germany: for you are our spring. In you will and shall be completed that for which generations and centuries have striven, Germany!

Other Youth Groups

The Nazi conspirators destroyed or took over all other youth organizations. The first Nazi youth League (Nationalsocialistischen Jugendbund) was organized in 1922. In 1925 the Hitler Youth was officially recognized by the Nazi Party and became a Junior Branch of the SA. In 1931, Baldur von Schirach was appointed Reichs Youth Leader of the NSDAP with the rank of SA Gruppenfuehrer.

When the Nazi conspirators came to power the Hitler Jugend was a minor organization among many youth associations in Germany. At the end of 1932 it had only 107,956 members -- less than 5 percent of the total youth population of Germany. Schirach was appointed "Jugendfuehrer des Deutschen Reichs" (Youth Leader of the German Reich), in June 1933. In this osition he was directly responsible to Hitler for the education and training of the German youth outside of the home and school in accordance with the ideology of the NAZI Party. In June of 1933 on orders of Schirach, an armed band of Hitler Youth occupied by force the headquarters of the Reich Committee of The German Youth Associations and took over all files and personnel records of the youth leagues represented by the Committee. By the same method the offices and property (including all youth hostels in Germany) of the Reich Association for German Youth Hostels was seized, and a Nazi representative of Schirach put in charge (1458-PS). By decree dated 22 June 1933 Schirach dissolved the Grossdeutsches Bund and all of its affiliated organizations and took over their property; he dissolved The Reich Committee of The German Youth Associations, and required all other youth organizations to make a complete report of all organizational information, including names of all officers and members and inventory of all funds and property. German Scouting suffered the same fate.

The Youth Associations of all political parties and of all labor organizations were dissolved by decree of Schirach. By virtue of these decrees all youth organizations except those sponsored by the Catholic and Protestant Churches were abolished or incorporated in the Hitler Jugend. The Nazi-appointed Reichsbishop Mueller entered into an agreement with Schirach which transferred all members of the Evangelical Youth to the Hitler Jugend and provided that the Hitler Jugend alone would provide the state political and physical education of the Protestant youth. By the end of 1933 only the Catholic Youth organization remained untouched.

The Concordat entered into with the Holy See on 20 July 1933 provided for the continuance of the Catholic Youth Association. Contrary to the provisions of the Concordat, the NAZI conspirators immediately set out to smash the Catholic Youth organization and to force all young people into the Hitler Youth. Ten days after the signing of the Concordat, Schirach issued an order forbidding simultaneous membership in the Hitler Jugend and the Catholic Youth League. In 1934 Schirach wrote, "The denominational youth league (Catholic Youth Association) has no right to exist in our time." A year later Catholic youth associations were forbidden to wear uniforms, to assemble publicly, to wear insignia, or to engage in outdoor sport activity. Additional pressure was exerted on the Catholic Youth by the requirement of membership in the Hitler Youth as a prerequisite of public employment. Finally, in 1937, Schirach announced:

The struggle for the unification of the German Youth is nourished. I considered it as my duty to conduct it in a hard and uncompromising manner. Many might not have realized why we went through so much trouble for the sake of the youth. And yet the National Socialist German Workers Party, whose trustee I felt I always was and always will be, this party considered the struggle for the youth as the decisive element for the future of the German nation.

Compulsory

The NAZIs eventually made membership in the Hitler Jugend compulsory. The Hitler Youth Law of 1936 provided that "All of the German Youth in the Reich is organized within the Hitler Youth." Executive decrees later implemented this law by the establishment of severe penalties against anyone who deterred a youth from service in the Hitler Jugend, and confirmed the policy of excluding Jews from membership.

The War Years

The Hitler Youth organization seized the facilities of many Scout and other organizatiins in Austria, the Seudetenland, and areas of Poland and France added to the Reich. In the occupied countries the Scouts were first discouraged and then banned. Wearing the Scout uniform was illegal and was actually dangerous. The measures taken against the Scouts varied from country to country. At one camp raided by the Gestapo in Czecheslovakia, the uniforms of the Scouts were seized and the boys had to return home in their underway. Scout leaders could be arested and many were sent to concentation camps. The Germans attempted to organize organizations like the Hitler Youth in some of the more "favored" occupied countries, like the Netherlands, but they had little appeal to the boys. These organizations seized some of the facilities of Scouts like summer camps. An excellent history of Scouting in the occupied countries, including encounters with the Hitkler Youth is available.

The Hitler Youth played a direct role in the war. The SS decided in 1943 to create a special division of the Waffen-SS comprised of Hitler Youth. This division was eventually called the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Fifty Wehrmacht officers who had been Hitler Youth leaders were transferred to the Hitlerjugend division. Promising Hitler Youth members received orders to NCO school. In the Summer of 1943, 10,000 boys reported for basic training. Many of these boys had not yet turned 17. They were treated exactly like other soldiers with one exception; the Hitlerjugend Division received a sweet ration in lieu of the usual cigarette ration other soldiers got. The division first went into battle in June 1944 against the Canadians during the Normandy campaign. They managed to destroy 28 tanks while losing only 6 of their own. The ferocity of this division was said to be "seldom equalled and never excelled during the whole campaign." Despite the fact that the division fought well, it paid a heavy price. After only one month the division lost 20% of its men. Forty percent were wounded and 50% of its armored vehicles were lost. By September 1944, the division was in retreat, with only 600 men left. All of its tanks were gone and there was no ammunition left for artillery support. Field Marshal von Rundstedt said, "It is a pity that this faithful youth is sacrificed in a hopeless situation."

Hitler Youth units were heavily involved in building the defenses in Germany. In the Summer of 1944, a Flieger-HJ unit was deployed to Eastern Germany to assist in the construction of anti-tank traps. These traps were mostly big ditches. One boy assigned to the digging said that he hoped to get home soon because, "my mother will give me a mighty good thrashing. She will never believe me when I tell her that they sent us to dig trenches." The Westwall, the German's name for the Siegfried Line, was entirely rebuilt in 1944 by Hitler Youth. By this time, the draft had taken many of the older leaders of the Hitler Youth. Younger boys were promoted faster and faster. On the Westwall, a 16 year old boy could be a Gefolgschaftsfhrer in command of 800 boys. The Unterbannfhrer in charge of the Westwall was 17 years old and in charge of over 2,800 boys. Soon, the Westwall was completed, the boys were sent home, and the Allies over-ran the Siegfried Line. The Allies were now in Germany proper. The hour of the Hitler Youth's final sacrifice was at hand.>







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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 8:38 AM 5/29/2006