This is an article that I wrote for an educational journal back in 2004. They wanted something about children in the Third Reich, in particular, about the Hitler Youth. I recently found it while cleaning out, so I scanned it and I am now reproducing it here, because I think it is one of the best pieces of work I have ever done.
I have also done a similar article about children in the Soviet Union.
With Donald Trump beginning to sound more and more like a dictator, I am starting to feel as if my old article here is becoming relevant once more.
I hope some of you will find some educational value in it. If you want to reproduce it for any school projects or whatever, please contact me first and obtain my permission. I will gladly give it, but I would just like to be told first. Thanks!
“When an opponent declares, “I will not come over to your side,” I calmly say, “Your child belongs to us already…you will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.”
These words, spoken by Hitler, sums up the Nazi Party’s whole philosophy & attitude towards Germany’s children. The Nazis looked upon German children as the foundations and the basis of a more prosperous and stronger future Germany. They would be part of a Germany which they would accept unconditionally because they would know no other possible way of life. A Germany with blond Aryans, healthy citizens with no physical or mental defects, and fanatical unquestioning National Socialists.
They would start their association with the Nazi Party by joining the Hitler Youth or the Bund Deutscher Maedel, and after school progressing to the armed forces where they would be expected to fight for the Reich and quite possibly die for it too. They would become parents and produce even more Aryans and fanatical healthy unquestioning National Socialists.
Hitler saw early on that the key to Germany’s strength lay in controlling the destinies of the children “from the cradle to the grave”. Using a phrase first mentioned in his book “Mein Kampf”, Hitler told colleagues in 1935, “Youth must be swift as greyhounds, tough as leather and hard as Krupp steel. The weak must be chiselled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain”. In his book “Inside the Third Reich”, Albert Speer wrote “On the whole he (Hitler) regarded children as representatives of the next generation and therefore took pleasure in their appearance, stature or intelligence than in their nature as children”.
From the moment Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, he immediately set about making sure that he and his party would keep that power forever by ensuring there would be no viable opposing political force to oust the Nazis from government. Hitler would later boast that his Reich would “last a thousand years”. Hitler achieved absolute power in many ways but the most basic fundamental one was to ensure the complete unconditional loyalty of the German people. For if the people were to be allowed to start to question the regime then eventually a opposition movement would develop and that was unacceptable. Dissent would not be tolerated under any circumstances.
So Hitler and other senior Nazis (such as Goering, Hess, and Himmler, amongst others), realised right from the outset that in order to keep the loyalty and obedience of the German people, they had to keep strict control over people’s lives. The regime had to control what people read, watched, heard, did in their spare time and they had to control people’s way of thinking. These days, we would call that brainwashing. Back then, it was considered business as usual.
The children of the Reich were a big part of that control process. The Nazis realised that in order to preserve the purity of the German race, they had to control who was born and was not. They achieved this by introducing forced sterilization to mothers considered to be unfit to give birth. This included mothers who suffered from any physical or mental ailment such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, insanity and any other condition deemed to be “impure”.
Once the children were born, they would then be told what to do, what to say and what to think. The casualties of the First World War robbed Germany of their healthiest people, as they ended up on the battlefield and most often, eventual death in front of a machine gun. Those that survived the war were mainly those who were either maimed or crippled (both physically and mentally) by the war, or those who were medically unfit to serve in the military. These would be the people who would now become parents and produce Germany’s future generations. This concerned the Nazis greatly as they felt that the blood lines and heritage of the German people would be permanently tainted by the effects of the First World War. So a policy of state-run birth control was started and the Reich’s children got extra-special attention to ensure they grew up the way the regime wanted them to.
Before we go into specifics, let’s take a look at the two people, appointed by Hitler to supervise the German children in their lifelong development. It basically comes down to two people at the top of the hierarchy – Baldur Von Schirach and Artur Axmann. Von Schirach was half-American and was directly related, on his mother’s side, to two signers of the US Declaration of Independence. His father was a German aristocrat and Von Schirach led a pampered life, even into adulthood.
Described by his colleagues as “wet, deluded and arrogant”, Hitler liked him because he wrote many of the Nazi marching songs and also poems in praise of Hitler including such lines as “loyalty in everything and everything is the love of Adolf Hitler” and “His soul touches the stars and yet he remains a man like you and me”. He became Gauleiter (Governor) of Vienna in 1940 and in his place as Reich Youth Leader stepped Artur Axmann. Axmann, who founded the first Hitler Youth group in 1928, went onto active military service in Russia (losing an arm in the process).
Both Von Schirach and Axmann were arrested in 1945. Von Schirach was put on trial at Nuremberg and received 20 years in prison. Axmann was convicted twice by De-Nazification courts in 1949 and 1958 respectively. The first court sentenced him to 3 years and 3 months in prison and the second court fined him 35,000 Deutschmarks, both for “nazifying German children”.
The Hitler Youth
“I promise to do my duty in the Hitler Jugend. In love and fidelity to the Führer and to our flag”
Hitler Youth vow
A lot of people have compared the Hitler Youth to the modern day Boy Scouts but there was one big difference – the Boy Scouts have and always will be voluntary, the Hitler Youth definitely wasn’t. There were no exceptions and refusal or resistance to join was interpreted as “political unreliability” – this would in turn create problems for the child and their family, both immediately and in the future. Even though some parents didn’t like the idea of their child going into the Hitler Youth, they decided there was no other option. If the child refused to join, the father could lose his job or at the very least the prospect of promotion, the family could lose their apartment and the child could lose all hopes of a meaningful career.
When Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, membership of the Hitler Youth stood at 100,000. Not long afterwards, all other youth movements were abolished and Hitler Youth membership increased to 4 million by 1936. 100% attendance at meetings was actually not compulsory until 1939, When it became clear that some children were not going to regular meetings, a law was passed making 100% attendance compulsory. Many teachers then complained that late-finishing Hitler Youth meetings were making children too tired to come to school the next day.
There were separate organisations for boys and girls. The main mission of the boys section was to prepare the boys for military service, For girls, the organisation prepared them for motherhood. Boys, when they reached the age of 10, joined the Deutsches Jungvolk (German Young People) until the age of 13 when they transferred to the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) until the age of 18, Come their 18th birthday, they transferred to the military, unless a medical problem or other circumstances made them exempt.
Girls, at the age of 10, joined the Jungmadelbund (League of Young Girls) and at the age of 14 transferred to the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls), Girls had to be able to run 60 metres in 14 seconds, throw a ball 12 metres, complete a 2 hour march, swim 100 metres and know how to make a bed. They were taught that their sole purpose in life was to give birth to healthy children as many times as possible and be a good loyal wife to their husband. The idea of a young woman having a career was considered ludicrous and as such, educational and career opportunities were virtually non-existent. The best a girl could hope for in the way of education was home economics.
The Hitler Youth was very paramilitary in nature. Members wore uniforms and the emphasis was on marching, bayonet drill, grenade throwing, trench digging, map reading, cutting barbed wire and firearms training., as well as the usual dose of National Socialist brainwashing. In fact, the Hitler Youth was so military in nature that the former Reich Youth Leader and Gauleiter of Vienna, Baldur Von Schirach, had to answer accusations at his trial in 1945 that the Hitler Youth was a covert and illegal method for training under-age children for a future career in the German military. At Nuremberg, Schirach told prosecutors that he “preferred poetry to steel helmets and guns”.
However, an earlier quote from Schirach seems to contradict himself. He told colleagues that “he who marches in the Hitler Youth is not one among millions but the soldier of an idea”. Scholars have interpreted that remark to mean that Schirach and Axmann, amongst others, subconsciously prepared German youths for the possibility of falling in battle for the Reich.
Hitler Youth members would later go on to careers in the military or the Gestapo (Geheimestaatspolizei – Secret State Police). The more fanatical believers in National Socialism would end up later in the SS or its more notorious counterpart, the Waffen-SS. Having been indoctrinated in the Hitler Youth, these SS soldiers would carry out orders unquestioningly and with pleasure, believing totally in the Nazi ideal and knowing no other way of life. They would murder and wage destruction in the name of their Führer, believing that the ends justified the means.
That’s why when the horrors of the concentration camps were revealed in 1945 to advancing Allied troops, the SS were the ones running away the fastest. They were the most guilty because they truly believed that what they were doing was right. There was no grey area between right and wrong.
Everyday Life For a Child In Nazi Germany
“Führer, my Führer, given to me by God.Protect and preserve my life for long. You rescued Germany from its deepest need. Í thank you for my daily bread.”
Evening meal prayer for children
As part of the control process against the Reich population, the Nazis encouraged people to report others who made disparaging remarks against the regime and to inform on anyone who said or did something that could be deemed to be against the best interests of the state.
What constituted “against the best interests of the state” was very broad and often decided on the spot by a Reich official or the People’s Court. The Nazis encouraged children most of all to be informers as children were considered to see and hear everything and perhaps pick up on something an adult might miss.
Through Hitler Youth meetings, children would be taught the importance of loyalty to the Führer and to the Reich. They would be taught that informing on friends and family was not bad but actually good. They would be told that the person they informed on would be “treated” or “re-educated” and that in the long run, informing on people would benefit everyone. In reality, the people informed on would end up in a concentration camp and the only “re-education” they would receive would be gas or a bullet. But of course, the regime made sure such inconvenient details never made its way back to the German population.
An interesting picture exists of US soldiers taking captured Hitler Youth children to a train filled with dead Jews. The Hitler Youth refused to believe that the people they informed on were murdered so the allied troops were forced to take the children to see the bodies. Even then, they refused to believe it was done by German soldiers.
There’s no doubt that encouraging children to inform on friends, family and strangers helped the regime to strike decisively against enemies, both real and perceived. But the social downside was that families were split because children informed on their parents and close relatives and parents were suddenly afraid to speak in front of their children. Children in the Hitler Youth became aggressive with their patriotism and their sabre-rattling. The repercussions of this behaviour by the children towards their families lingered on for many years after the war.
To be a teacher in Nazi Germany, you had to have nerves of steel, a careful tongue and a constant ability to walk a very precarious tightrope. Everything you said would be interpreted in many different ways and teachers were under constant pressure to teach their subject the way the Nazis wanted them to – there was Nazi history and Nazi science for starters. History teachers were told to teach history to gloss over Germany’s not so wonderful moments and emphasise Germany’s achievements.
Any teacher daring to venture another opinion would be informed upon, probably by one of their own students. Students studied the concept of “Blood and Soil”, which said that the advancement of the Aryan race and the “reclaiming” of Germanic lands were far more important than the liberty and the rights of any one individual.
As boys and girls moved into their teenage years, they were instructed in which forms of entertainment were acceptable. Jazz was forbidden as the racially impure sound of the African, and German composers, especially Richard Wagner, were promoted. Girls were discouraged from wearing makeup, as the Nazi ideal was freshly-scrubbed and pure. “A German woman does not wear makeup and a German woman does not smoke,” a Nazi girls handbook warned.
Physical fitness was very important, and both boys and girls were urged to participate in sports. Nazi recreation camps were popular, as was the “Strength Through Joy” organisation, which sent German teenagers to work on rural farms. The scheme became a joke when many girls returned home pregnant. German teenagers would joke, “I lost my strength through joy.”
The Nazi regime was so successful in brainwashing their children that after the war, the Allies were faced with a huge problem – how to “de-Nazify” the country. Even though Hitler and the Nazi party were gone, they had citizens who were still committed National Socialists. These citizens, who had been through the Hitler Youth and then the military seemed unfazed with the destruction of the country and the deaths of so many people. Due to their Nazi beliefs, they believed that they were once again the victims of victorious and vindictive Allied nations, the same as what happened in November 1918 after the First World War ended.
Many of these children-turned-soldiers managed to evade capture by the Allies and they started to burrow their way back into German society. Some profited from Germany’s defeat and destruction by becoming black marketeers and criminals. Others steadily and discreetly made their way back into the service of their country by occupying low-level positions in the government. Others joined the police force (mainly those who were in the Gestapo).
Once in, they would cover for their former colleagues by ensuring that they got jobs and were not prosecuted for anything they did during the Nazi era. When former Nazis got into jobs in the Ministry of Justice and prosecutors offices, prosecutions against many low-level and medium-level Nazis then became much more difficult.
However, with pressure and help from the newly formed state of Israel, high profile Nazis continued to be prosecuted, the most notable being Adolf Eichmann in 1962.
When it came to brainwashing children, no-one did it better than the Third Reich.