** German Youth Groups

German Youth Groups

Figure 1.--These two Hitler Youth boys were photographed in their uniforms. The photograph is undated, but HBU would estimate about 1940-42.

The first German youth group was the Wandervogel. Scouting also became popular, although its association with England was not an advantage in Germany. While Scouting was not as popular in Germany as the rest of Europe, both it and Wandervogel strongly influenced other groups. After World War I, the Wanndervogel splintered into many different groups. Competing political parties also organized their own youth groups. The German Youth movement was perhaps the strongest in Europe and the most diverse. The Hitler Youth was one such group, organized by the SA as the NAZI youth movement. The NAZIs abolished or absorbed all youth groups after taking power in 1933. Scouting was reorganized after the NAZi's defeat in 1945. The Wanndervogel has also reappeared in Germany. The Communists in East Germany made the Young Pioneers the only permitted youth group and membership virtually manditory. After the fall of Communism, the Pioneers disappeared.


The history of Germany youth movements is exceedingly complex and because of the limited records, difficult to document. The movement began in Germany with Wandervogel which translates to something like Searching Birds or more less literaly Searching Youth. One source translates Wandervogel as Birds of Passage, meaning youth passing from childhood to adulthood. The movement was founded by a young university student teaching in Berlin suburb. To enliven his classes he described his excursions into the beautiful German countryside. Soon his students were insisting that he lead such excursions. The movement spread and was officially registered in 1901. Wanderwogel was a reaction to the formality and stern authoritarianism of Wilelmine Germany. The boys hiked and gloried in the fresh air. They sought to create a better human condition. They pursued drama and poetry and endless debates on the issues of the day. They also exaulted in a idealized Nordic past and pursued volk culture in song and dance. Here there was some overlap, but aconsiderable difference in orientation. The Scouts appeared in Germany during the 1900s, but the movement was less successful than in other countries. Other groups with sectarian and political agendas in the early 1900s sought to organize youth--the Scocialists with some success. The first generation of boys inbued with the idealism of Wandervogel was descimated with by World War I. After the War the romantic idealism of Wandervogel had little appeal to German youth, but Nordic Vol culture and nationlistic fervor did. Wandervogel plintered into politically oriented groups like the Hitler Youth and Socialist youth groups. After the NAZI rise to power, NAZIs officials seized control of the diverse German youth movement and forged it into one single, compulsory group. And a major purpose of the Hitler Youth was tp prepare bous for war, ideologically and physically.


We have noted quite a wide range of uniformed youth groups in Germany over time. Germany at the time that the NAZIs seized power (1933) had one of the largest and most diverse youth movements in Europe. Unlike most other countries, Scouting was only a small part of the movement. There were several large groups, but a large number of smaller grops. In addition to national groups, there were also a number of small local groups like gun nd hiking clubs. The German youth movement becane highly politicized in the 1920s which was not the case before World War I. The movement also became highly divisive with many different political and religious groups involved. The NAZIs changes all this and built a single and mandatory national youth movements--the Hitler Youth. We have developed information on several of these groups, but quite a number are still unknown to us. After World War II the German Youth movement was not nearly as diverse as before the NAZI era. In East Germany the Young Pioneers like the Hitler Youth was madatory, but was not nearly as effective. In West Germany, Scouting was the principal movement, but was not mandatory and was a relatively small movement. It was also divided by different competing associations.


Organized uniformed youth groups began in Germany during the mid 1890s when Wandervogel began to form. It was officially chartered in 1900 and had an imense influence on the development of German youth groups. Scouting also appeared in Germany in the 1900s, but never had the nfluence that it had in American, England, and other European countries. The first generatio of boys joining youth groups was shatered by World War I. After the War a defeated and demoralized Germany searched for its soul. Wandervogel split into a great multitude of sectarian and often higly politicized groups, including the Hitler Youth which was formed in 1926. The German youth movement during the Weimar era was very extensive and vibrant. It was extremely varied. There was not national youth group like the Scouts in Britain and America. Many German youth groups duing the Weimar era were both sectarian and highly politicized. Many boys participated in the different groups. Upon seizing power, the NAZIS absorbed or abolished all youth groups except for the Catholic youth association which was allowed to operate for a few years before also being absorbed. The NAZIs effectively used the Hitler Youth movement to mold a new generation of Germans and prepare them for war. After World War II, Scouting was restablished in West Germany. The Russians did not permit Scouting in East Germany and instead organized the Pioneers. The Pioneers disappeared after German unified and state subsidies were terminated. Scouting continues and there are still Wandervogel units located throughout the country.

Figure 3.--Uniforms declined in popularity among German Scouts in the 1970s, but did not entirely disappear. These Scouts were photographed in 2000.


For many countries, the garments worn by youth groups are fairly standard because the youth movements have been dominated by a single orcsmall number of youth groups. With Germany this is a little different. Certainly therec are four groups which have dominated German youth groups (Wandervogel, Scouting, Hitler Youth, and the Young Pioneers--East Germany). While these groyps were dominant, the German Youth movement, especially during the Wimar Republic was very large and diverse. Unfortunately wedo not have a lot of information on many of the different youth groups tht were active during this period. They were supressed after the NAZIs seized power (1933), although Catholic groups were allowed to operate a few years longer. The first important German youth group had a uniform, but it was more like a agreement on utilitarian garments. As far as we can tell, the rather loosely organized organization did not give great attention to a uniform and we do not see Wandervogel images with the boys all outfitted in matching uniforms. Instead easy manyinence short pants (especially corduroy shorts), dark shirts, a waterproof jacket, and hob-nailed boots were indispensable. This was in effect a uniform, but was not the para-military uniform adopted by the Scouts or later by the Hitler Youth and Pioneers. Some of the available images of the Wandervogel seem to show the boys without uniforms, although it is not always easy to tell. The Boy Scouts were less important in Germany than other European countries, but the military-inspiref Scout uniform had enormous importance on the uniforms of other German youth groups. You can see Scout items like neckerchiefs, short pants, and knee socks echoed in the uniforms of the other groups, especially the Hitler Youth and to a lesser extent the Young Pioneers. The various smaller groups also added some garments to the ones used by the country's youth groups.

Unknown Groups

We note German boys wearing what look to be organization uniforms in the late 19th century, perhaos as early as the 1870s. We are not sure what these early groups are. The earliest groups may be band units. We note some 19th images of German boys wearing a variety of uniforms which are clearly not just band groups. We have no idea as to what organization they belong. Many of these images show boys with musical instruments suggest some kind of band groups. The uniforms are quite varied. One example here is a Berlin boy about 1880 with a drum and fancy uniform. Hopefull our German readers will provide us some insights here. Some may belong to village or community bands, but we believe that other kinds of organizations are involved. We have found some images of German boys in uniforms we can not identify. Some of these images we have since identified and developed some information like the gun clubs and fire rescue brigades. This is a difficult topic because there were in Germany during the early 20th century a large number of small youth groups, often with informal uniforms. We have some limited information on these groups, but rarely information on their uniforms. Rhese different organizatuins were closed or asbsorbed into the Hitler Youth by the NAZIs beginning in 1933. Thus the histortu of German youth groups has since been less complicated.


Germany in maby ways did not change during the Weimar era. The social structure was little affected. One area that did change was the was the role of women. There were major changes affecting women, including education, economics, morality, and technology. Abortion laws were weakened, but noy eliminated. One author describes a 'total transformation. Women increased educational schievements as more women completed secondary school and gained entry to universities. The developing cult of youth in particular aided young women. This can be seen in both hair styles and clothing. We see the Bubikopf (boyish bob). Young women joined sports clubs. Participation in youth groups increased dramatically. Important groups included the Wandervogel, Sozialistische Arbeiterjugend (Socialist Labor Youth), Deutsche Turnerschaft (German Gymnastic Association), and Reichsverband f�r Frauenturnen (National Union of Women's Gymnastics). [Classen] Many but not all were single-gender groups.

Individual Accounts

We have collected quite a few indivudual accounts from German children participating in youth groups. Most come from Hitler Youth boys and girls. The provide fascinating glimses of what the HJ was like. There are a range of opunions expressed and images which orovide many fascinating glimpses. We do not yet have any personal accounts from German Scouts. We have found some albums and photographic collections from German Scouts. Unfortunately we do not know who they belonged to, but the photographs included provide some interesting insights into German Scouting. Curiously one album appears to show Scouting activities during the Third Reich. This we do not yey understand.


Classen, Albrecht. "Germany, 1919-1933 (Weimar Republic)".


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Created: September 7, 2000
Last updated: 2:33 AM 7/18/2012