The Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) was the separate girls units of the Hitler Youth. NAZI related girl's units began to form in 1923, but only small numbers of girls were involved. Tthe BDM was not founded until 1930 ad was not integrated into the HJ organization until 1931. The male orientation of the HJ organization meant that at first the BDM was not very popular with girls. The number of girls were limited, significanbtly trailing that of the boys until 1936 when membership was made compulsory. The girls like the boys were expected to join at age 10. The units were separated from the boys and activities and program quite different in keeping with the NAZI view that the proper role for women was motherhood--producing boys for the German Army. As with the boys, failure to join the BDM could be dangerous, both for the girl and the family. We are adding some notes about individual experiences.
The Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) was the separate girls units of the Hitler Youth. Membership was at first voluntary, but as a result of a law passed in 1936, both boys and girls were required beginning December 1936 to join the Hitler Youth organization (HJ) at age 10. The age limits were 10-21 years. The BDM units were separated from the boys.
The BDM was under overall leadership of the male Hitler Youth, ie Baldur von Schirach and later on Artur Axmann. The head of the BDM was the BDM Reichsreferentin, or national speaker. The first one was Trude Mohr (later Trude Buerkner-Mohr when she got married), who was succeeded by Dr. Jutta Ruediger in 1937 (if memory serves) who remained in the position until the end of the war. Dr. Ruediger was a doctor of psychology and has written several books on the BDM after the war, including "Ein Leben fuer die Jugend", "Der BDM - Eine Richtigstellung", and "Hitlers Kinder antworten Guido Knopp." The latter is a rebuttal on Guido Knopp's series "Hitler's Children". [Crawford]
The NSDAP or NAZI Party begn organizing girls as early as 1923. There were a variety of names used for these early units, including „Mädchenschaften“ and "Mädchengruppen“. Frequently they were called also "HJ-Schwesternschaften“ (HJ Sisterhoods). The names were in part because the early units were organized locally with little centralized control.There were not large numbers of girls in these early units. The BAZI party was not large in the early years and had an image of rowdy behavior if not thugery--hardly the type of organization that parents wanted their daughters to join. The NAZIs at the 1926 Party Congress officially created an official youth orgnization--the Hitler Touth. There wasat first no girls section.
The Bund Deutscher Mädel was not created until 1930 and not integrated into the Hitler Youth organization until 1931. The number of girls involved was still small, especially compared to the number of boys involved. The HJ wirh its Maennlichkeits ethos and hero cult did not appeal to girls. The BDM in 1932 just before the NAZIs seized power had only about 25,000 girls. Even after the the NAZIs seized power (January 1933), the membership of the BDM continued to trail that of the HJ boy's section. New regulations issued in 1936 required all German children to join the HJ organization at age 10 years--both boys and girls. The law mandated that the German youth be "educated physically, mentally and morally in the spirit of National Socialism to serve the people and the community" ("gesamte deutsche Jugend“ in der Hitlerjugend „körperlich, geistig und sittlich im Geiste des Nationalsozialismus zum Dienst am Volk und zur Volksgemeinschaft zu erziehen“).
The BDM goal like that of the HJ boys was the educate the girls in National Socialism and to prepare them for their role in the National Socialist community. The BDM program and activities, however, was very different than that of the boys because the NAZIs saw a very different role for men and women in National Socialist Germany. The BDM program was in keeping with the NAZI view that the proper role for women was motherhood--producing boys for the German Army. One observer reports, "'Motherhood" was not the main thing taught in the BDM, they actually placed a lot of importance on job training for girls. But as in most countries at that time, women were expected to eventually leave their jobs, marry and have children. Germany was no different in that aspect than, say, the United States." [Crawford]
The BDM was part of the HJ organization. Some of the activities were comparable and the program for girls included some of the same mixture of campfire romanticism, folk tradition, and comradship as used with the boys. The BDM program, however, did not include the same intense competionions and mock combat used in the boys' program. We note the girls involved in meetings, charitable collections, field trips, singing, summer camps, hiking, sports, and other activities. As the program was different for the girls, so were some of the activities.including arts, crafts, child care, cooking, sewing, theater, and various other activities. The program was heavy on domestic skills. These were specifically for the BDM girls to prepare them for their intended roles in the new NAZI order--wife, mother, and homemaker. The NAZI slogan was Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children. kitchen, and church). The church prt of tht was for public consumption and not psrt of the BDM program. The activities appealed to many girls. Some sources suggest that the BDM program w more popular than the more rigorous boys' program. Germany was still a very conservative, traditioal society. The opportuniisfor girls was still very limited. The ability to get away from home and to get involved in actiities seen as "boyish" seemed liberating to many boys. Girls were expected to stay with their parents even more than the boys. This was not peculiar to Germany. Programs like the Girl Scouts and Girl guides in other countries encountered the same social conservatism. Hee Germany in 1933 seemed still very conservative. Here given the conservative NAZI social outlook, even important NAZIs were not happy with the activities the BDM girls pursued. Heinrich Himmler for one was not happy with the BDM. They looked to boyish for his tastes. Himmler stated in a speech at Bad Toelz, "When I see these girls marching around with their nicely packed backpacks - it's enough to make me sick."
The BDM in 1938 founded the Belief and Beauty movementas a part of the BDM. Membership was voluntary for girls ages 17 through 21 and the organization offered courses in arts and sculpture, clothing design and sewing, gymnastics, first aid,home economics, life skills, and music. Classes were generally taught by expert teachers from local universities or hospitals or women from the Frauenschaft (the NAZI Party women's auxillery). The Belief and Beauty movement focused more on a woman's future role as a wife and mother than any training the rest of the BDM provided." [Crawford] The German ZeitReisen Verlag will have an English-language version of their movie about the BDM "Belief and Beauty" movement (girls age 17-21) available in 2005.
Girls showed less interest in the male-dominated HJ organization than boys. Many parents were also reluctant to have their daughters participate. The BDM after it was founded in 1930 continued to trail the male section ogf the HJ in membership. This began to change in 1936 when the first of three Hitler Youth Laws was promulgated. The Laws made participation in the HJ mandatory for all German youth, bth boys and girls. As with the boys, failure to join the BDM could be dangerous, both for the girl and the family. The Second Hitler Youth Law provided penalties for guardians who attempted to prevent youths from participating.
HJ boys and BDM girls did 8 months service of farms which was called Landjahr. This was apparently for children who finished school at age 14 as well as older youths. The Landjahr program was only mandatory for university students. There were apparently boarding facilities in rural areas. At a typical camp the children were awaken at 6:00 in the morning for catlestetics or sport. Accommodations varied. Some were newly built or modernized facilities. Others were more make-shift arrangements. This involved a morning salute, farm work, care of animals, marching, singing, outdoor games, and communal living. The program was different for boys and girls. There was also some military training like rifle training for the boys. The children were sometimes rausgejagt at night at 1 o'clock for a night march. There were outdoor campfires. The size of the groups. Varied. One source reports a group of 80 youths. I think the Landjahr could also be satisfied by arrangements with individual farmers. The Landjahr grew out of a much smaller program initiated in the 1920s. It was first just for boys, byr BDM girls began to paricipate in 1935. Gradually the girls came to outnumber the boys in the program.
NAZI German invaded Poland launching World War II (September 1939). Western Poland was annexed to the Reich and the NAZIs began the process of forcibly expelling Poles to the Government General. To support this effort the BDM initiated a new program called the Osteinsatz (eastern action). Girls wishing to participate could volunteer work in the areas of Poland annexed to the Reich (Reichsgaue Wartheland and Danzig-West Prussia). This "land service in the east" was different that the Landjahr program. They worked with the Germans brought in to replace the Poles expelled from their business, homes, and farms. I am unsure to what extent the Osteinsatz volunteers were aware of the attricuties assiciated with expelling the Poles or how they regarded it. Few German farmers wanted to move east so the NAZIs moved in Germans from the Baltics that had been ordered home to the Reich. While ethnically German, the Baltic Germans had lived away from Germany sometimes for centuries, Thus the Osteinsatz BDM girls set out to teach the settlers what it meant to be German. This included given German lessons as some of the settlers did not speak proper German. I'm less sure about what else it meant or how the BDM girls went about it. Did they teach classes or have a proscribed curriculum. Or did they go house to house. Perhaps both. We are unsure to what extent there was a political or racial components in teaching the settlers to be Germans.
BDM girls were also involved in World War II. They wre not deployed in combat. Even when the Volksstrum was form in the last desperate yea of the War, the NAZIs did not draw on the BDM. They did serve in many ways. Younger girls along with te boys collected donations. They solicited coins in cans on the street. They all collcted clothing and newspapers for the Winter Relief and other Nazi charities. This of course ws somethoing they did before the War, but the need for these charities increased as the war progressed. BDM choirs and musical groups helped to maintain morale by performing before wounded soldiers at hospitals. I don't think they went to the front, but rather did this within the Reich. BDM units prepared and sent packages to soldiers at the front. Older girls volunteered as nurses' aides at hospitals to help care for wounded soldiers. There was not a BDM program for this, rather the girls serving as nurses became part of the German Red Cross. BDM girls also helped at train stations where wounded soldiers or refugees needed assistance. Here we also see HJ boys. There was on exception to the NAZI decesion not to use the BDM girls in combat. They were used to anti-aircraft FLAK batteries--Luftwaffe Flak Helferinnen. This occurred especially after 1943 when the level of the Allied air raids increased and the ability of the Ludtwaffe to defend German cities declined. The BDM girls not only served on FLAK gun crews, but signals auxiliaries, searchlight operators, and office staff. At the end of the War, some BDM girls did receive small arms training and like the HJ boys fought the Soviets. This appears to have been done oin alocal or individual initiative. BDM leader Dr. Jutta Rüdiger after the War emphatically denied ever approving the use of BDM girls in combat. As far as we can determine, this was accurate.
Most of the NAZI concentration camp guards were me, but they were also some women. One estimates suggests that about 3,500 German women worked as guards and supervisors in the camps. As best as I can tell they were involved in the work camps more than the death camps, but this is just an initial assessment. Most of these women were recruited from the ranks of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM). They served as SS-Aufseherinnen, female SS-supervisors, in concentration camps. [Brown and Schwartz] The number involved is not large given the enormity of what the SS carried out in these camps. The SS used various expedients to limit the personnel needed. These expedients included using camp trustees (especially German criminal inmates and guards from occupied countries (especially Lithuania and the Ukraine). The significant part of this section is the fact that the SS used the BDM to rescruit camp guards.
The uniform of the BDM consisted of a dark-blue skirt (lengths varied with the fashions over the years), a white blouse (mostly shortsleeved, but we see long-sleeved ones in winter), and a black neckerchief. In addition, the BDM had a brown "climbing jacket" for winter, as well as a long brown overcoat for when it was even colder. The BDM had a black wool beret early on which was mainly worn in winter and not very popular. The BDM in 1939 introduced a leader's uniform which consisted of a dark blue costume worn with a white shirt (no neckerchief or tie), a dark blue hat, and a blue cape or overcoat. A white costume jacket was worn for high summer as well. [Crawford]
Some fascinating accounts are available on the experiences of individual girls in the BDM.
A fascinating account by Simone Arnold Liebster provides information on what could happen to discenters. Simone came from a French family in Alscace. After the German victory in 1940, Alscase which had been a bone of contention between Germany and France, was incorporated into the Reich. Thus the children were expected to join newly formed Hitler Youth units. For Simone this was a special problem. Not just that she felt French, but her family was Jehova Witnesses--a sect detested by the NAZIs because they refused to recognize the sovereignty of the state, to salute or swear oaths of allegiance to Hitler, to attend political rallies or to serve in the military. She felt the pressure to conform to the newly NAZIfied school system. Her refusal to give the "Heil Hitler" salute or to join the BDM, resulted in her being sent to the Wessenberg Reformatory for Girls in Germany. (Her parents were sent to concentration camps, but miracously survived. Many Jehova Witnesses did not. Interestingly, Jehova Witnesses were some of the few concentration camp inmates that could gain their release by simply signing a paper saying they renounced their beliefs.) Simone's life at the reformatory consisted of soul destroying hard labour, semi-starvation, and unpredictable punishment--all designed to break her spirit and lead her to renounce her religious beliefs. It is iteresting to note the people that denounced the family to the Gestapo included the Catholic parish priest, the Protestant pastor, and neighbors in their apartment complex.
A British reader writes, "My wife worked with a young German woman whose father was a high ranking German Officer in the Whermacht. He was killed in the War and her mother subsequently married an English Officer during the occupation. When they returned to England, she attended Canterbury and trained as a nurse with my wife. She was of course only a small child during the War, but she said that life was good for them. [HBC note: Germany did not suffer from strict rationing during the early years of the War. And food as well as consumer goods were easily available because of German war-time which looted the economies and created shoerages in the occupied countries.] She enjoyed the BDM Hitler Youth activities. Her father was of the old school Officer Class, she said, and not a Nazi by conviction. I think he died on the Russian Front."
Much of the pagentry of the modern Olympic Games dates from the 1936 NAZI Berlin Olympics. A HBC reader is compiling an album of his Mother's life growing up in Berlin. Like other German girks, she was a member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), the girl's division of the Hitler Jugend. She performed in the 1936 Olympic Games opening ceremony. She is in the lower left group facing the Olympic torch / cauldron. This was taken just before the girls refilled the stadium field after revealing the 500 boys in rotating rings. The girls re surged on to the field around them to form the white flag background and form a" living" Olympic flag. Rather impressive." These kind of displays were also part of the NAZI Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy--KdF) program. Simlar displays were organized fir the annual NAZI Nurenberg Party Rallies. Our reader provides more details about his mother's experience here/ "Saturday morning, August 1, was a once in a lifetime day of JOY as my mother arrived at her school, Uhland Oberlyceum, dressed in her whitejumper for dress rehearsal and boarded one of two military trucks sent to take her group of 60 girls to the stadium after weeks of day long rehearsals. At 8pm that night the "Festspiel Olympische Jugend" of 1,000 would perform to an audience of 100,000 in the Reich Stadium with music composed by Karl Orff and Werner Egk to the brilliant choreography of Dorothee Gunther and Maja Lex. A sea of white costumes parted to reveal 500 boys in lines that bent to form the Olympic rings rotating as the Berlin Opera chorus and Philharmonic Symphony performed Beethoven's Ode to Joy choral finale. 30,000 white doves were released above their heads. The public's reaction was so overwhelming that three additional ENCORE performances were given on the 3rd, 18th, and 19th. An Olympic memory never to be forgotten.
More detailed information on the BDM can be found at this interesting site which focuses on the Bund Deutscher Mädel. Our HBU page is only a brief summary of the BDM program. The informative site here provides a much more detailed assessment of the program.
Here is another excellent site with a detailed description of the BDM. There are also an extensive collection of many interesting images.
Brown, D.P. The Beautiful Beast. The Life and Crimes of SS-Aufseherin Irma Grese (Ventura, Cal., 1996).
Crawford, Chris. E-mail message, June 6-7, 2005.
Simone Arnold Liebster, Simone. Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe (New Orleans: Grammaton Press, 2000), 369p. ISBN 0-9679366-5-9]
Schwarz, G. ‘Verdrängte Täterinnen. Frauen im SS–Apparat der SS (1939–1945)’, in Mi>VerdeckteSpuren nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen ed. Th. Wobbe (Frankfurt/M., 1992), pp. 197–223.
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