Hitler Youth: Religion--Baldur von Schirach

Figure 1.--

At the Nuremberg trials, part of von Schirach's defense was based on the fact that he, unlike other top NAZIs, continued to practice his Christian religion and that he pursued correct ties with Christian church groups in Germany and later in Austria after he was appointed Gauleiter (the German term for a kind of governor). We know the devotion to Christianity is correct as regards his wife, who actually raised the treatment of the Jews personally with Hitler. We are less sure about von Schirach himself. And in fact, the Hitler Youth adopted policies designed to discourage church attendance. HBU is unsure at this time how to evaluate these claims. Many of the claims sound like efforts to save his skin by rewriting history, but we are just beginning to acquire information on this.


Baldur von Schirach was arguably the most successful organizers of youth group's in history. In the space of a few years he had shaped German youth into young men willing to prosecute the most destructive war in history as well as to engage or acquiesce in the most brutal atrocities in modern European history. The boys he helped trained remained loyal to the end, in many cases joining in the hopeless often suicidal defense of their towns and villages even though the War was lost. Baldur von Schirach was born in Berlin on March 9, 1907, the son of an aristocratic German father and an American mother, whose ancestors included two signatories of the Declaration of Independence. On his father's side descended from an officers' family with artistic tendencies and a cosmopolitan background (Carl von Schirach had resigned from the army in 1908 to become a theater director in Weimar), Baldur grew up in a pampered, well - to - do environment. One of the earliest members of the NSDAP. (He entered the Party in 1924 while attending the University of Munich where he briefly studied Germanic folklore and art history.) Von Schirach was soon a member of its innermost circle, in spite of his youth. A convinced anti-semite, after reading Henry Ford's The International Jew and writings by Houston S. Chamberlain and Adolf Bartels, the aristocratic von Schirach was also a militant opponent of Christianity and of his own caste. Throwing himself body and soul into organizing high school and university students for the NSDAP, von Schirach proved himself an outstanding organizer and propagandist of National Socialism. With his infectious enthusiasm and power to inspire youth with the ideals of comradeship, sacrifice, courage and honor, von Schirach was highly regarded by Hitler who also appreciated his blind devotion as expressed in hero - worshipping verses and such sycophantic sayings as 'loyalty in everything and everything is the love of Adolf Hitler'. In 1929, von Schirach was put in charge of the National Socialist German Students' League and 2 years later, he was appointed Reich Youth Leader of the NSDAP, a post which he held until 1940.

Nuremberg Charges

One of if the charges made against von Schirach concerns his attitude and policies adopted in the Hitler Youth concerning German Churches. This was a relatively minor matter in comparison to some of the other charges, but according to his defense attorney, "appears to be of considerable importance as far as the judgment of Schirach's personality is concerned".

Church Members

Schirach's defense attorney, Dr. Sauter, points out that Schirach and his wife, remained members of the Church throughout the NAZI years. This may not sound like very important, but the NAZIs exerted considerable pressure upon ranking Party officials to sever church memberships. There were few in important positions who failed to comply. Sauter stresses, "Schirach was one of those few." We know the devotion to Christianity is correct as regards his wife, who actually raised the treatment of the Jews with Hitler--an act of considerable moral courage. [Conot, p. 423.] (It would be interesting to know what was said between husband and wife on the road home from that encounter.) We are less sure about von Schirach himself.

NAZI Actions Against the Church

The NAZI actions against the Jews and the burning of synagogues are well known. Less well known are actions aimed at the Church. Christian churches were not burned, but thousands of Christians were arrested and killed by the NAZIs. The Jehovah Witnesses were a special target. But mainline Christian Churches, especially the Catholic Church was also targeted. Many priests were arrested and killed in concentration camps. Besides the killings, the NAZI Government took a wide series of actions to reduce the role of Christian churches in the national life, especially aimed at reducing the Church's influence upon youth.

Schirach and NAZI Actions Against the Church

Schirach at Nuremberg painted himself as a defender of the Church. Sauter claims, "He was that high-ranking Party Leader who constantly and invariably acted with extreme severity when he learnt of hostile interference and outrages against the Church on the part of the Hitler Youth." HBU has no information at this time to assess these claims.

Hitler Youth Slogans and Songs

Schirach was known port composing inspirational songs, slogans, devotions, and other items. Critics said some of these were highly offensive toward the Church. Sauter claims, "He has, indeed, been reproached for the fact that various songs were sung by the Hitler Youth which contained offensive remarks about religious institutions, but in this respect Schirach could, with a good conscience, confirm on his oath that he was to a certain extent unaware of those songs, which is quite conceivable where an organization of seven or eight million members is involved. Moreover, certain songs now considered objectionable date back to the Middle Ages and have figured in the song-book of the "Wandervogel"; a former youth organization which the prosecution surely does not propose to condemn. Schirach has, however, especially pointed out that in the years 1933 to 1936 several million youths from an entirely different spiritual environment joined the Hitler Youth and that in the first revolutionary years, that is, in the period of storm and stress of the movement, it was quite impossible to hear of and prevent all outrages of this sort. Whenever Schirach heard of such things he intervened and repressed abuses of that kind, which naturally represented excesses on the part of isolated elements only and cannot compromise the Youth organization as a whole. [Nuremberg transcript, July 18, 1946]

Conciliatory Behavior

Sauter maintains, "It is Schirach's conviction that the examination of evidence leaves no doubt as to his conciliatory behavior in the matter of the Church, and that he strove to establish a proper relation of mutual respect between the Church on the one hand and the Third Reich, and more especially the Reich Youth Leadership, on the other hand, embracing a careful observation of their respective rights and competencies."

Catholic Church

Schirach insists that he requested and was given permission by the Reich Minister of the Interior to take part in conducting the concordat negotiations with the Catholic Church in 1934, because he hoped to achieve an agreement with the Catholic Church more easily by his personal co-operation. Sauter insists, "He honestly endeavored to find a formula for the settlement of the youth question on which agreement with the Catholic Church could be possible. His moderation and good will in this respect were frankly acknowledged by the representatives of the Catholic Church at that time. But everything was ultimately frustrated by Hitler's opposition and the complications created, particularly for these negotiations, by the events of 30th June, 1934, the so-called Roehm Putsch."

Protestant Churches

Sauter reports that "With the Protestant Church on the other hand, Schirach achieved an agreement with the Reich Bishop, Dr. Miller, so that the incorporation of the Protestant youth groups into the Hitler Youth was not attained by constraint but by mutual agreement, and therefore, not by the breaking up of these associations by the State or Party as the prosecution assumes, but upon the initiative of the Protestant ecclesiastical head and in complete agreement with him."

Hitler Youth Church Participation

Assessments of the Hitler Youth commonly charge that meetings and activities would be planned to make it difficult for HJ members to attend church or participate in church activities. Sauter insists that this was not Schirach's doing. He stated at the Nuremberg trials, "It must be pointed out here that it was always Schirach's policy that no restrictions were to be imposed on Church services for youth by the youth leadership, either then or later. On the contrary, as he himself has testified and as was confirmed by the witness Lauterbacher, Schirach emphatically stated in 1937 that he would leave it to the Churches to educate the younger generation according to the spirit of their faith and at the same time he ordered that, as a principle, no Hitler Youth duty was to be arranged on Sundays during the time of Church services. He gave strict orders to the unit leaders of the Hitler Youth not to arrange any duties which might interfere with Church services. However, in individual cases such interference did occur and religious authorities made complaints about it, as cross-examination revealed, but the defendant Schirach cannot be blamed for this, nor does it alter the fact that he had good intentions." Given the many reports from numerous sources that Hitler Youth activities were commonly scheduled to conflict with Church attendance and participation in Church activities, this seems very difficult to accept. This testimony does confirm that Hitler Youth units did pursue this strategy, only the who was personally responsible is in question.

Anti-Religious Statements

Sauter claimed at Nuremberg, "During the trial not a single case could be shown in which he stirred up feeling against the Church or made anti- religious statements; on the contrary, at numerous rallies, as revealed to the Tribunal in the von Schirach Document Book, he not only repeatedly denied the accusation that the Hitler Youth were enemies of the Church or atheists, but he always particularly impressed upon the leaders and members of the Hitler Youth the necessity of fulfilling their obligation toward God; he would not tolerate anyone in the Hitler Youth who did not believe in God ; every true teacher, he told them, would have to be one who inculcated religious feeling, it being the basis of all educational activities; Hitler Youth duties and religious convictions could very well be associated with each other and exist side by side; the Hitler Youth leader was to cause no conflicts of conscience whatsoever to his adherents. Leave from duty was to be granted to Hitler Youth members for religious services, rites, etc. That was von Schirach's point of view. Whoever gives such instructions to his deputies, and repeats them over and over again, can demand that he should not be judged as an enemy of the Church and as an enemy of religious life."

We know that the Hitler Youth used chants and marching songs that were anti-religious. One for example to "evil old priests" and insisted there was "no need for Christain truths". [Conot, p. 422.] There were many others. We also know that Schvirach churnedout such slogans and chants. To what extent he was the author of such anti-religious chants I do not know. The authorship of many such NAZI slogans and chants is often not known. There can be no doubt, however, that he was well aware of how the HJ was being used to undermine Christain Churches.


Schirach's defense at Nuremberg claims that his attitude toward religion was often expressed in his public addresses. He even sites the Nevile Henderson, British Ambassador to Germany, who was surprised to hear what Schirach had to say at religion at the 1937 Reich Party Rally. Henderson expected him to follow the approach of other top NAZIs, to speak against the Church at the Reich Party Rally and would influence the young people in the spirit of enmity to the Church, as was often done by other leaders of the Party. Henderson writes, "That day; however, it was von Schirach's speech which impressed me most, although it was quite short .... One part of this speech surprised me when, addressing the boys, he said, 'I do not know if you are Protestants or Catholics, but that you believe in God, that I do know'." And Henderson added, "I had been under the impression that all references to religion were discouraged among the Hitler Youth, and this seemed to me to refute that imputation." [Henderson]. Sauter goes on to claim, "What Schirach really thought with regard to religion and in what sense he influenced youth is indicated not only by the declaration of his opinion, which he made on the occasion of his speech to the teachers of the Adolf Hitler Schools at Ordensburg Sonthofen, that Christ was the greatest leader in the history of the world ..."


Schirach's defense contends his view of religion can be seen by a small book entitled, Christmas Gift of the War Welfare Service . This book, which was sent to the front in large numbers, was dedicated by Schirach to the soldiers at the front who came from the Hitler Youth movement. Sauter adds that it was sent "... at a time at a time when radicalism in all spheres of German life could hardly be extended further. Here also Schirach was an exception: you will find no swastika, no picture of Hitler, no SA song in the book of Reich Leader von Schirach, but among other things a distinctly Christian poem from Schirach's own pen, then a picture of a Madonna, and beside it a reproduction of a painting by van Gogh who, as is generally known, was strictly taboo in the Third Reich. Instead of inflammatory words, we find an exhortation to a Christian way of thinking and a copy of the Wessobrunner Gebet, known as the oldest Christian prayer in the German language. Bormann was enraged by the pamphlet, but Schirach remained firm and refused to withdraw the little book or alter it in any way."


There were a variety of charges that while Gauleiter of Vienna, Schirach acted against the Church. Here we are not going to address those charges as we want to restrict the assessment here to the Hitler Youth.


Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg (Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, 1983).

Henderson, Nevile. Failure of a Mission.

Nizor Project, Nuremberg transcript, July, 18, 1946.


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