UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Courses > Hist 133D Homepage > 133D Book Essays Index page > Student essay

The Hitler Youth during World War II: An Uncommon Enemy

Book Essay on: Michael Kater, Hitler Youth:
( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 265pages.
UCSB: DD253.5 .K28 2004

by Shaun O'Hollaren
April 26, 2010

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in European History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2010

About the Author
& Abstract
Book available at Shaun O'Hollaren

About Shaun O'Hollaren

I am a senior sociology major at the University of California Santa Barbara. I am going into a career in talent management but wanted to learn about World War II and the Holocaust because of my Jewish heritage. It is hard to imagine what it would be like growing up in this time and being taught such hate and racist values. Most of our generation cannot imagine what it would be like to go to war and follow orders to the death. Learning about the Hitler Youth helped clarify many questions I had about children growing up in this time as well as the Nazi party in general. I still do not know exactly what I would do if I were thrown into this situation, but it helps to know that some people rebelled against the Nazi cause. Knowledge of history can help us prevent situations like this in the future, and I am happy I learned about it.

Abstract (back to top)

Hitler Youth, by Michael Kater, is a fascinating history of German children and their role in the Nazi party. German leaders instilled in them hateful values and prepared them for inevitable war. Over 90% of children who were over the age of ten joined the Hitler Youth because it was a way for them to explore their freedom and sexuality, as well as prove their loyalty to Germany. Their minds were turned from play to politics as outdoor hunting and fishing adventures turned into military training camps. Kater describes what kind of role they played in the Holocaust, rounding up Jews and acting as another force to aid the SS and other Nazi affiliations. They became the ultimate leaders, serving the Fuhrer obediently and going to fight a war for their country when he called upon them to do so.

Essay (back to top)

The history of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi regime, the holocaust, and World War II is common knowledge for most people growing up in present day society. What is not always known is the complete totalitarianism- where all people in Germany were involved with this new regime in one way or another. Post 1930, Hitler became interested in gaining youth support for a coming Reich which would be the pinnacle of the Nazi party. He realized how important they could be to his ideas of spreading German influence, and because of this, in 1936 over 5 million young adults of ages 10-18 were enrolled in the Hitler Youth. It began as activities that were used to unify the children-- such as “belonging to a large, dominant, and protective community and participating in their communal singing, marching, and camping” (Kater pg.4). This idea held true after the ruins left from World War I, as these children needed something to look forward to. They were also taught biological racism and the idea of a Germanic world empire as early as the age of ten. Their toy guns from hunting trips were slowly replaced with machine guns and they were taught to have a lust for war. Members of the Hitler youth were drawn to the cause because of the autonomy they were able to gain from their parents, the power they were given over others, and the adult like behavior they were able to explore. Kater argues that this autonomy helped Hitler recruit, with the goal of preparing these young Germans for war as they transformed from children to soldiers and took up a pivotal role in the Nazi regime. Kater uses many sources to explain his theory, including UCLA Historian Peter Loewenberg, who looks into the psychological approach of Nazism. He also utilizes personal accounts of HJ members like that of Margarete Hannsmann, to give a first hand account of what it was like to be a child soldier. Kater incorporates dozens of other sources, letters, and diaries from survivors and experts in the historical field of the Nazi regime and Hitler Youth to strengthen his argument.

Kater explains what he sees as the main purpose of the HJ as “although this was always denied by Hitler Youth leaders after 1945, the hallmark of HJ socialization was militarization, with a view to a war of territorial expansion and, as its predetermined goal, the neutralization of Europe’s Jews” (Kater pg. 28-29). These boys and girls joined on their own, or with the help of parents and teachers from 1933-39 because of the ‘everyone is doing it mentality.’ They were taught the idea of Social Darwinism from an early age, and were made to believe it was their duty to speed up the process in order to solidify their standing as the elite and only Aryan race. One of the main roles that the Hitler Youth regularly performed was when the round-up of the Jews started, it was their duty to officiate the movement of them. They would make sure no Jews got out of line during these deportations. They were able to carry out these exercises because of prior training given to them by HJ leaders. For example, one group of HJ soldiers was taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Protectorate to “view the Jewish enemy first-hand” (Kater pg. 64). They saw two prisoners who were made to stand upright for 24 hours, or else they would be punished. This was meant to make them numb to the torture process and not speak out against it. Not to mention the fact that many of these soldiers were witness to countless deaths by the SS and others factions which they were incorporated into as their training developed. Aiding this process was the anti-Semitism that began for the youths in their homes and at school. This taught them to be numb to much going on around them and follow orders obediently. Many of these orders centered on the fact that Germany was trying to expand their influence in Europe, and in the process, kill the Jewish people. The Hitler Youth were utilized to help with the leg work, as well as breed a generation of like-minded Nazi thinkers.

The group was headed by Baldur von Schirach, who sought to follow Hitler’s goal of transforming the youth into warriors for the German cause. The amount of organization he brought to the HJ was astounding. After the initial incorporation of members, in 1937 Hitler Youth schools were being created and attended in order to break off ties with the traditional school system. These were called Adolf-Hitler-Schulen or AHS, and the idea was to fully incorporate their students into the Nazi party. Character was weighed more than intelligence in the beginning, based upon dedication to the HJ and to the party in general. This was the case for the teachers as well, who were picked because for them “Nazi politics and ideology ranked above scholarship” (Kater pg. 49). The Nazi regime was showing kids around Germany how small and weak they were individually, but that they were an amazing force to be reckoned with when they were together, united. This helped prepare them for war as well, as it instilled the feeling that they were never really alone. Although the HJ continually faced immense problems dealing with gaining popularity throughout certain parts of Germany, their national pride and ideas, mixed with the fear they instilled in parents and school teachers, helped recruit members.

Kater does a great job of describing the reasons why Hitler initially sought out youth recruits, and then how they were molded to carry out his orders and follow his beliefs. In a History News Network interview, Kater says Hitler was convinced by his cronies that “for the Party and the National Socialist movement to continue and survive, they needed recruits. Those had to be reared in good time and systematically.” It initially began as a way to gain votes and party affiliation, but it became clear that they were the ideal people to sway the nation in favor of Hitler, and could train and be ready quickly when war inevitably came. Later in the war for example, HJ leaders from 17 years old and up were conscripted to be leaders in the army because they were so well trained and would follow any orders. He uses the examples of two HJ members, Herbert Taege and Claus von Amsberg who fought in the war. Taege eventually became an SS member after he was injured in the war, while Amsberg fought as a cannoneer and tank driver, finally being captured and held in England. They both had incredible Socialist and Nazi values, which they were taught through their affiliation with the Hitler Youth, and they both eventually went on to kill in the war. Their association with the HJ made them stronger soldiers, as they firmly believed what they were fighting for.

“When war broke out in early September 1939, former Hitler Youths aged eighteen or older found themselves as members of the Wehrmacht, helping to advance the German front against Poland.” (pg. 172) They were optimistic that Germany would have a quick victory over Poland because of their natural superiority, something believed by all German soldiers. Their beliefs were fortified by their loved ones at home, who supported the war and what they were fighting for. The Hitler Youth was still recruiting and training during the war, but it turned into a much less positive experience, where they were simply being trained to go quickly to fight on the front. The Cambridge press published an article of an interview with Michael Kater, that boys as young as twelve years old were sent to the front to fight after only a little training with HJ leaders. What some youths didn’t see clearly and which is illustrated in the book is that “Indeed, no Hitler Youth war games could have prepared these young soldiers for the death and destruction they would now help to cause on a daily basis and would often fall victim to themselves” (Kater pg. 179). The organization prepared them to think in a certain way, but they still were never prepared for the atrocity of war, even as they experienced it.

The book describes in some detail that contrary to some belief, every German was not fully behind the Nazi party or the Hitler Youth. He says how “to insiders, as well as many on the outside, the HJ appeared corrupt and diseased to the core” (Kater pg. 58). The members would embezzle money, were arrogant, and would casually have sex with each other in very promiscuous places. In an explanation of Kater’s book, The Harvard University Press explains how he shows that the group had difficulty getting people to choose “Nazi Party career positions or to volunteer for the SS once they left the group.” Most learned to be dedicated and loyal to the party, accepting and believing its doctrines of social Darwinism and survival of the fittest, but that did not mean they wanted it as a full time career. They initially joined because they wanted independence from school and their parents, followed orders to gain that freedom, and eventually helped with the end result of seeing Germany’s territory expanded and the Jewish people wiped from Europe. This was Hitler’s main goal, and in a lot of ways he accomplished it.

Associated with the HJ was the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) and the League of German Girls, which sought to prepare women for motherhood and marriage. “In a patriarchal movement based on the biological-eugenic tenets of Adolf Hitler, women had three important interrelated functions: to serve as helpmates to the men, to bear them children and rear them according to Nazi values, and to be faithful homemakers” (Kater pg. 73). This belief led Hitler to take many of the gorgeous Aryan women of Germany, and make them readily available to procreate with members of the party and SS in particular. Many of these men had wives as well, but Hitler deemed it a necessary action in order to make sure the elite race survived. It is not said how many children came of this system, but children as well as sexual gratification was the goal Hitler had in mind. The present and reality became very skewed for many Germans, including HJ members as they grew up and were able to take advantage of this system. These women were said to be pure German women and as “future mothers of heroic males, must not allow themselves to be defiled through sexual congress with Jews” (pg. 77). This was just another aspect of German society that had racist tendencies, helping citizens like the HJ members to continue to follow the often bigoted orders they received, as well as give them another reason why fighting for their country was so heroic and manly.

There were many families who refused to let their sons and daughters join the Hitler Youth when, in 1939, it became mandatory that they do. Many moved, or just ignored the orders of HJ soldiers who came to collect their kids. Many children dropped out of the HJ program as well “Individual withdrawal from the Hitler Youth in peace or war constituted an important form of dissidence in the Third Reich, although it hardly ever endangered the institution’s monopoly” (Kater pg. 115). There were also illegal offshoot groups that went beyond the HJ’s control, in both good and bad ways. One young man, part of the group called Christopher and led by Wilhelm Eckert, got caught copying anti-Nazi and pro-Christian documents after his parents had helped him escape the Hitler Youth draft. Others left the HJ to help Jews or other minority groups who were being harmed by Nazi actions. These were very rare though, as it is evident that most in the HJ followed blindly and believed everything the party stood for.

Regardless of why children joined the Hitler Youth, it is evident that the Nazi party was able to transform their adolescent minds from “play to politics” and mold them into soldiers. Most of the youth did enjoy the power and freedom they received from being part of the group. They had power over many people in German society, and became the ideal followers of Hitler’s masses. They did commit horrible acts, both in the HJ itself, and in roles they took on after their membership ended. Many times they weren’t directly involved in the killing of Jews, but they were part of the machine that fueled the killings. Children should never have to be a part of something so above their level of understanding, but it cannot be denied that it was a very effective strategy in getting the entire nation behind a cause, and molding these children into soldiers, ready to die for their country.

Shaun O'Hollaren


Annotated Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 11/21/10)

Book Reviews

  • Evans, Richard J., Review of Hitler Youth The Historian Journal. Blackwell Publishing. Winter 2006, Vol. 68 Issue 4, p879-881.

    This article is a review of Kater’s book, giving background on the sources he used to write it, such as the recollections of former members of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls to make his argument. Richard Evans explains how a good portion of the book is dedicated to dissidence that Hitler Youth members and other Germans showed before and during the war. This is something Kater added to the work, and which a lot of books on the HJ do not include.

  • Shenkman, Rick, The Pope and Hitler Youth: An Interview with Michael H. Kater May 2005

    This article is an interview with Kater, asking him questions about his book with regards to media stories that had recently come out regarding Hitler Youth members. One question asks him about the fact that the Pope had been found out to be a past HJ member. He explains that he is not surprised as it became mandatory for them to join to prepare them for war. He explains when asked that the children did indeed have to undertake some horrible acts. They were socialized for war and to be good Germans by doing things like obediently jumping into an empty swimming pool with a blindfold on. This was how they were socialized.

  • Jenkins, Jennifer L., Review of Hitler Youth Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. 2001.

    This review details the wartime activities of young people during the war. She also gives some background of Kater’s scholarship on the Third Reich and how he came to write this piece. The appeal for adolescents who wanted certainty in a world that was rapidly being restructured was a major theme in the review. She praises him for his work and recommends everyone read this book.

  • Adolescence, Review of Hitler Youth Libra Publishers Inc. Winter 2006, Vol. 41 Issue 164, p773-773.

    This is more of a summary on why the youth in Germany between 1926-1939 joined the Hitler Youth. The entire society was tied up in Nazi culture and if you did not join, you were basically a leper of society. Added to this was the fact that most children ten and older wanted to join because they were able to gain independence from their parents and explore new things. All the while proving their loyalty to Germany and the Nazi regime.

Books and Articles

  • Finell, Karin, Goodbye to the Mermaids: A Childhood Lost in Hitler’s Berlin (Columbia, University of Missouri Press) 2006. Main Library D757.9.B4.F56

    Written by an author currently residing in Santa Barbara, the story tells of three generations of women living in Hitler’s Germany. Six year old Karin, her mother Astrid, and her Grandmother Oma who all have different experiences in the war. The older generations are more outspoken about the war and what Hitler is doing, while the younger conforms with the rest of her youth. The book is an excellent account of the Holocaust through the eyes of women, and how their views on Hitler were transformed as the war progressed.

  • Bartoletti, Susan Campbell, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow (New York: Scholastic Nonfiction) 2005. Curriculum Lab DD253.5 .B37 2005

    A non-fiction account following German youth growing up under Hitler’s reign. Explores Hitler’s plan for using the youth, and some of the orders they had to carry out. Like Kater, she includes first hand accounts of HJ members who were in the group, were not allowed to join, or who opposed the group all together. The book also looks very deeply into the methods in which Hitler used to gain the trust of the youth, an important aspect in understanding why they joined.

  • Gieson, Rolf, Nazi Propaganda Films: A History and Filmography (N.C. McFarland & Co. Publishing) 2003. Main Library PN1995.9.N36.G54

    Includes some of the propaganda that was used to sway the minds of Germans in favor of Hitler and his policies. Many of the films were produced and financed by the Third Reich, ensuring that only their views would be heard. Some of the films used include: Hitler youth: soldiers for the Führer, Baptism of fire: Nazi Germany at war, and The eternal Jew: anti-Semitic films.

Relevant Websites

  • Prikryl, Jana, Hot and Horny for Hitler December 10, 2004. Copyright © 1994-2010 Powells.com.

    The author talks about Kater’s book and its range from the origins of German Youth Leagues to 12 year old children being sent to fight on the front. She believes that the allure of the league is not very well covered by Kater but he does do a great job of being morally careful while compiling all his data and first hand accounts. Describes how the book is great at describing how Hitler did a great job of creating groups like this to unify Germany as it was still torn apart from the previous war.

  • Youtube , Hitler Youth Speech Last Updated May, 2006, Speech Given in 1930.

    This is a first hand look at German Youths clamoring to get a look at Hitler, and using the Nazi salute at all times. It shows just how involved everyone was and the sense of nationalism that took over the country. He is telling them they are an integral part of Germany and what it stands for. He explains how they are chosen to lead Germany into greatness and that it is their duty to do so. In them Germany must live, and they must be courageous. This video gives you a real sense of what it would be like to grow up in this era and be part of the Hitler Youth.

  • Wikipedia, The Hitler Youth

    This includes the origins, doctrines, leadership, and even the flags of the Hitler Youth. It explains what these members had to go through after the war and how little was done to blacklist these soldiers because it was mandatory for them to join, and some did not have a choice in the matter.

  • Carlson, Heather J. , Hitler Youth Leader to Share her Story Encyclopedia.com News Article Stewartville, MN. September 7, 2006.

    An article about how a young Czechoslovakian woman named Hansi Hirschmann joined the Hitler Youth in 1938. She was an orphan and it offered food, clothing, and a better life for her. She said everyone in the country fell for Hitler because he offered a better life, so joining was an accepted and expected thing to do.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Shaun O'Hollaren on 4/26/10; last updated: 11/21/10
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