Hitler Youth: Personal Experiences


Figure 1.--This Hitler Youth boyswears the winter coat over the brown shirt. He wears a neckerchief with an unuttoned collar. Note the belt buckle and how he is holding it.

Interesting details about the Hitler Youth are available from the children involved looking back as adults on their experiences. The reflections are quite varied. Most boys were at first eager to join. Parents had more mixed feelings, especially anti-NAZIs. In many cases the boys from these families could not understand their parents misgivings. Often it was not safe for their parents to explain why to their children--both boys and girls. Many boys enthusiastically participated. Other boys hated it, especially smaller boys and boys who did not have an atheletic bent might have difficulty. And of course some boys were excluded such as Jewish boys are part Jewish boys. We hope to archive a variety of accounts here. We would be very interested in hearing from our older German readers about their experiences. We are also interested in any personal accounts which may have been published. Millions of boys were involved. We think many have been hesitant to write about their experiences which is unfortunate. A few boys' parents managed to keep them out of the Hitler Youth or could not participate because they were not Aryan. In many cases these boys envied the Hitler Youth boys with their fine uniforms and comradship.

Unidentified DJ Boy (1934 or 37)

Here we see the first portrait of a boy in his new DJ uniform. So we know he must have been 10 years old. We do not yet know his name, but hope to figure it out from the writing on the back of the postcard. The portrit was taken in 1934 or 37. It was taken during an outing to the zoo. We believe he was part of a DJ unit visting the zoo rather than a family outing, but we are not positive. The boy was photographed holding a great lion cub.

Austrian Boy: Edward Behrendt

Edward Behrendt describes his experiences as a boy in Austria. Let me respond, at least briefly, to Melinda's question for some details about the Hitler Youth. Incidentally, my information does not come from the movies or books or just talking to a couple of people about it. It comes from actually being there at the time and physically being involved and seeing what went on. The severity and dedication of members or groups of Hitler Youth varied somewhat, depending upon the area or part of Germany involved.

German Boy: GŁnther Bruns

This is reportedly what happened to a boy who did not report for induction in the Hitler Youth. The translation here needs working on.

German Boy: Stefan Wellershaus

Stefan, an HBC reader, has provided us some of his memories as student in a German school and a member of the Deutche Jugend, the youth division of the Hitler Jugend.

The Boy Between: Karl Heinz Schaeffer

Heinrich Frenkel helped Karl Heinz Schaeffer tell his personl story in the The Boy Between. This is the personal story of a Berlin boy, a "cockney" pastry-cook's son who, because he was born in 1927 was brought up first in the Hitler Youth and then in the Communist Youth Movements. At the age of 16 he joined the Waffen S.S., was severely wounded in the head, and was captured by the Americans. After the war he lived in East Berlin, eventually escaping to the West. The book was published in London (Allan Wingate, 1955). Illustrated with B&W plates.

Unidentified German Family (1933-1944)

HBU has found a fascinating photographic album kept by or for a HJ boy. This is a difficult album to assess because so few of the images have captions and the captions that do exist are very cryptic. The album covers the full sweep of the Third Reich from 1933 through to the later part of the War. There are, however, no post-War photographs. We are not even sure that the album is about one boy. We do note several photographs of the same boy who went into the Luftwaffe. We see a school phortrait and many HJ images followed by World War II photographs. This may have been more of a family album because there are mny photographs that do not relate to the images of the HJ at the front of the book. We see another HJ boy and his BDM sister. We think they may be isters. Some of the photographs may be another family son or other members of the family. There are several adult photograpgs, inclluding military groups, and even a SS group. We are not entirely sure how to weave the story together. We suspect this is a family album, but we do not know the name of the family.

American Boy: Edmund Keeley (1936)

Edmund Keeley is today an award winning translator of modern Greek poetry. He was in 1936 a new student at the German school Salonika, Greece. He was 9 years old and the son of the American Consul. As an American of German ancestry he was allowed to attend, but not permitted to join the Hitler Youth unit. He remembers feeling an outsider. [Keeley]

Rudolf Hanig (about 1936-38)

We believe that the name of this HJ boy is Rudolf Hanig, although we are not positive. We believe that he was from central Germany. While we are not positive about his name, he has left us a record of HJ experiences in a photographic album he prepared. It is not a complete record of his HJ experiences, but rather focuses on the trips that he and his HJ unit took. The photographs are largely undated, but look to us to have been taken before World War II, about 1936-38. The album contains 56 original photoographs. We assume he took them and thus is not in many of the photograhs. The quality of the photographs suggest that he is an older teenager and a rather talented photographer. The albumn shows that HJ got the opportunity to take many different trips as well as biking and skiing trips. We note visits to: Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Kiel, Laboe, Turingen, Timmendorf, and other places. Most of the photograph have interesting captions in old German script. For some reason the album wound up in Italy some time after the War.

Enthuiastic Supporter (1938)

After the War, the Hitler Youth was roundly condemned by both Germans and non-Germans. We suspect that most of the Germans commnting are being honest and they now saw their country in ruins because of the NAZIs. Not said is the fact ghat the opinions of mny Germans was affected by the fact tht the NAZIs lost the War and brought down Germany with them. The sameis true of many former HJ members. Less often said was the fervor with which msny boys join the HJ. Some might say that their comments were the result of NAZI propaganda and this is true to an extent. Scholars may debate the relative importance. It should not be forgotten that the German population embraced the NAZIS becausethey agreed with many NAZI policies. This did not include the War and Holocaust, but did inclue issues like repudiating the Versailles Treaty and reparations, regaining lost territory, national revitalization, remilitarization. These were issues that excited many ardently patriotic boys. Here is a short essay written by one such boy in 1938.

Unidentified Brothers: NAZI Family (late-1930s)

There are counrless images of German children wearing HJ uniforms. In most cases they are not identified and we are left to wonder how the HJ affected their thinking and what were their expeiences during the War. For the most part, HJ boys suring the 1930s, even the younger, children, probably served in the military during World War II. The younger boys in the 1940s probably did not join the military, although some very young boys did so in 1944 and 45. One of the questions of German history is the extent to which many Germans were willing suppoters of the NAZIs or were unaware or weven unwilling pawns in the the NAZI enterprise. It is a difficult question to answer because after the War it was suddenly difficult to find ardent NAZI supporters. These HJ portraits are interesting little documents providing object insights into German families. German children had to join the HJ, so the fact that they were HJ members tells us nothing about the family's political orientation. Having studio portaits or snapshots tells us a little more, suggesting that the family was supportive of the HJ program. Of course the boy rather than y\the parents could have been the enthusiastic party. This portrait tells us a good bit more, suggesting that the boys came from an ardent NAZI family.

Flieger-HJ: Hans

A HBC reader has provided us this fascinating account of a Flieger-HJ boy. In 1946 when I was with the 1st US Infantry Division, 26th Infantry I met Hans who was living in Ludwisgburg, Germany. His sister who became one of the first German war brides was married to my good friend and I was their best man. Hans told ne how he was not only in the Flieger-HJ, but flew the ME-163 rocket plane.

German Boy: Armand Walter Lehman

Armand briefly described his experiences in a television interview. Thus I only have a few notes I took down. Hitler like all German boys his age was inscribed into the Hitler Youth when he turned 10. He did not explain his pre-war experiences, except to describe that he was very enthusiastic about joining as a boy. He had two reasons. First was to belong and fit in. Second was the uniform. He desperately wanted to wear the uniform.

Jost Hermand (1940-45)

The intrduction to this book reads, "Between 1933 and 1945, millions of German children between the ages of seven and sixteen were taken from their homes and sent to Hitler Youth paramilitary camps to be toughened up and taught how to be "German"." Jost Hermand in his book A Hitler Youth in Poland: The Nazis' Progrm for Evacuating Children during World War II describes his experiences in KLV camps during the War. He was one of the more gentle boys that tended to have a difficult time, especially in camps away from their parents. It is a fscinating, honest account of one boy's experience with the HJ.

Christian Family: Eric Kreye (1941-45)

This is an interesting account of a Grman boy's experiences in school and the Hitler Youth during World War II. The author indicates that is his personal experiences, althogh he g=has changed names for privacy reasons. While it is an interesting acoount, we have some concern over the accuracy of the account. It is posted on a Christian web site. While that in itself does not bring us to question the historical accuracy of the account, the author says in the introduction, "We have attempted to instill values, such as loyalty to family, allegiance to country, honesty, integrity, and faithfulness to God." That does cuse us to be concerned with accuracy. Authors attempting to instill values may not always be scrupulous about historical accuracy. We note at the beginning that the author describes his teacher beating him and a driend in class. While we know that corporal punishment did occur in German schools, our general impression is that it was not as common and in Bfritain. Also based on readings and material submitted by German readers, the incident the author describes was unusual. We note that accounts by Jewish boys more often describe beatings by school mates than teachers. At any rate we will be interested in reader comments about this account. It is entitled "Under the Blood Banner: The Story of a Hitler Youth".

Jewish Boy: Lotte Evans

In the last two years there have been many questions asked of the Memories panel by school children about World War II. Mostly they were concerned with what was it like to be under a bomb attack, a concentration camp or what were ones feelings to specific actions during World War II. Very few questions have been raised on the everyday life of children and their parents during that time. No one has ever asked what was life like on a ration book or what sort of clubs or youth organizations children during the war years could or had to join. One of the 'had' to join organizations was the Hitler Youth.

German Boy (1923-41): Ralph Ross

The effective indocritnaiton of Hitler Youth boys is often attibuted to he provincialism and lack of contact with pople from other countries. Ralph was the son of German explorer Colin Ross (who was of Scottish decent). Ralph had a lot of expeiences outide Germany. He went to school in Chicago. He wrote a book From Chicago to Chungking. He volunteered to fight against "Bolshevism" at the Eastern front and he was killed in Russia in 1941. He was only 18 years of age. Even boys that had cosmopolitn experiences could be influenced by NAZI propaganda.

Alsatian Boy: Tomi Ungerer (1940s)

Tomi Ungerer has provided us a fascinating view of his Alsatian boyhood during World War II. His Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis was published in 1998) and by describes life in NAZI occupied Alsace from the viewpoint of the author, born in 1931. The book provides a great deal of information about Alsace, quite a lot about daily life under the Nazis, but unfortunately for HBC's perspective, only limited information about about clothing. The illustrations are particularly good; many of these are the work of the author, a talented artist. One interesting aspect of Tomi's account concerns the Hitler Youth (HJ). After the NAZI take over, all Alsatian children had to join the Hitler Youth. This included both French and German speaking Alsatians. Tomi should have joined, but his mother hated the NAZIs and would not let him. He describes how he envied his friends marching off "in splendid uniforms" for games and sports.

German Boy: Unidentified

We do not jnow who this German boy was, but this intimate family snapshot gives us an intreaguing look into his life. He looks to be about 10 years old. He is picturecwith his mother in what looks to be a new Hitler Youth uniform. There are no patches on the uniform yet and he does not have his uniform, thus perhaps he has not yet become a member. His mother certainly looks proud of him. Does wearing the uniform make her proud? We do not know, but she does not seem to have any objection to it. We wonder why he was photographed with his mother and not his father.

British Boy (1939-45)

An interesting aspect of World War II is the children of foreign nationals trapped abroad. A little known fact is that there were unaccompanied German children trapped in Britain at the start of World War II and British children trapped in Germany, on exchange visits or staying with relatives. I believe both sides made efforts through the Swedish Red Cross to trace the parents and repatriate the children, and many of these must have been successful. However there were some kids who, for one reason or another, could not be returned. The Red Cross was, I believe, particularly reluctant to take children whose parents could not be traced, especially if there were relatives in the country where they were trapped who were willing to care for them. Here is an account about a British boy stuck in Germany during the War and who joined the HJ.

Mischlinge: Frank A. Lojewski (1944)

After reading a few personal accounts, I thought I'd add something. It appears that the HJ differed somewhat from region to region. All Mischlinge where inducted in the last years to "save" the Aryan half from that "evil" Jewish portion in the "blood". In the autumn of 1944 it caught up with me, although I was barely past 7 years old but abnormally tall (and skinny). My elder borther and sister were already members. I was happy to don the nice black unifor and be issued long trousers and a dagger. The uniform was made of sackcloth, the knive was dull enough to ride on and the bakalite handle was loose and rattled: war-time junk.. Overall, this being the far north of Germany, the fact that my maternal grandmother was Jewish never was raised and I believe few knew of it.

Sources

Keeley, Edmund. Borderlines (White Pine, 2005).






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Created: December 14, 2001
Last updated: 12:04 PM 1/15/2013