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Eugenicist Fischer

"The Role of the Hitler-Jugend
(Hitler Youth)"

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

by Alex Sanchez
March 14, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in German History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
$13 & searchable
at amazon

About Alex Sanchez

I am a senior history major with a special emphasis on warfare from 1850-present. Having already taken a class on World War II, it seemed only fitting to expand my knowledge of what happened to the millions of Jews that were killed in the Holocaust. I also have enjoyed learning about the world wars through my parents who take special pride in their vast knowledge on the subject. I choose Kater’s book because I wanted to know what it was like as a teenager growing up in such a different world, and how I might have reacted had I been put in the same situation.

Abstract (back to top)

Michael Kater’s book, Hitler Youth, is a compelling source to understand what the children of Germany were put through during Hitler’s reign in Germany. At its peak the Hitler Youth encompassed about 90% of the children of Germany who were at least ten years old or older. Instead of focusing of education and the arts, these students were put through strenuous sport activities, which included boxing, fencing and swimming. Leaders only a few years older than their followers were put in charge and a military type of camp was created. In his book, Kater attempts to explain why these children joined and why they were so willing to do whatever the elites told them to do. These adolescents were being trained for warfare and service to the Führer, instead of being trained for their own good. These were young boys and girls who were being prepared to serve the fatherland and be brainwashed to pledge allegiance to Nazi Germany.

Essay (back to top)

Michael H. Kater’s book Hitler Youth gives an in-depth look at the most influential and all encompassing youth group the world has ever seen. At the age of ten, these youths devoted their lives to serving Hitler and became brainwashed into the Nazi propaganda that flooded Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Kater attempts to answer why so many children choose to enter the voluntary group and how it prepared them for use in Hitler’s war machine. Kater convincingly argues that the Hitler Youth was instituted in order to prepare the youth of Germany for war and to also train them for proper German citizenship so that every person would know exactly what to do for the benefit of the Nazi government. Kater looks to reports, letters diaries and memoirs of those affected by the Hitler Youth, emphasizing that many are reaching an age in which recounting the past is not as painful as it once was (Kater, 265). Kater addresses the importance of both males and females and the role they would ultimately play in the years of World War II. It can be firmly stated that the Hitler Youth was a institution that centered around war and destruction, for the benefit of Adolf Hitler.

The Hitler Youth or Hitler-Jugend (HJ), was a preparatory service for children, who upon reaching age ten were deemed worthy to start focusing on politics, ethnicity and, by 1939, war. Despite its best efforts to hide it, the HJ was a pre-military training facility in which Hitler and the elitist leaders of the Nazi regime would prepare the youth of Germany for war. Headed by Baldur von Schirach, the HJ was able to gain about 90% of the youth of Germany, with the vast majority embracing it wholeheartedly. Instead of focusing on school, these adolescents were participating in sports such as boxing (Hitler’s favorite) or fencing (Kater, 30). Hiking and rifle training appealed to many youths, and thus it is easy to understand why recruitment was so attainable for Schirach. All of these activities had an ultimate goal of training young Germans into submissive, rule-abiding soldiers and citizens after the “Final Victory” was achieved.

What the HJ did that was so unique was to completely enforce Nazi ideals into the heads of developing young adults. Antisemitism, eugenics, and euthanasia were all taught to the youthful minds of Germany. Young boys were taught that fighting and dying for your country were what true heroes did and Hitler himself stated that the Nazi party could “rejuvenate itself only from the ranks of youth and the ranks of soldiers” (Kater, 59). Young girls were taught in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) or the League of German Girls that the role of women in Germany was to “serve as helpmates to the mean, to bear them children and rear them according to Nazi values, and to be faithful homemakers” (Kater, 73). Thus, it begs the question of responsibility on these youth. Who is to blame for the catastrophes of World War II? Are the leaders and promoters of these youth groups responsible? Or are the children who actually went through with the terrible actions the ones to blame? As Kater points out, “The question of responsibility and even guilt looms large in a study of Hitler Youths, who were being asked to fight and kill in a real war” (Kater, 169). There really is no clear-cut answer here, except only that those members involved in the Hitler Youth were the ones involved in many of the horrific acts in World War II.

With the emergence of the Youth Ordinance of March 1939, and later the Youth Service Compulsion Decree of November 1942 (Kater, 25-26), the children of Germany were required to fulfill their duty to their country. Before these compulsory acts, however, the appeal of the Hitler Youth was very evident. Uniforms, power and even status was something that no other institution could offer these children, who ranged from ten to eighteen years of age. The allure of becoming a valiant soldier was present and most parents were happy to send their children off to these camps, for many were Nazi supporters themselves. Where else could a fourteen year old boy gain a leadership position in which he was in control of several young boys, whom he could bully or beat as much as his heart desired? As mentioned before, sports and extracurricular activities often took up the majority of the day, and military style drills were commonplace in these camps (Kater, 50). All of these activities point to the notion that these young boys and girls were being militarized in such a way that they could go on to the next level to fight in combat. Whether that next level was the SS or the Wehrmacht, the HJ was a tool in that Hitler used to mold and program the future of his soldiers and citizens.

Another main argument that Kater makes is that the perception of reality and the mindset of these young children were dramatically altered in order to fit Nazi idealism. The most apparent is the anti-Semitism that was forced into the minds of these adolescents. Kater refers to a primary source, a former Nazi, to reiterate this point. The source recalls frequently hearing that Jews were the German destroyers and that the Jewish race was “parasitical and responsible for Germany’s defeat in 1918” (Kater, 67). Antisemitic songs were sung, previous encounters were shared, and Führer worship were all ways of brainwashing the youth at an age in which they were the most susceptible (Kater 63-68). Whether or not these children realized the purpose of such activities is irrelevant. The main fact is that these activities were indeed taking place and the children of the HJ were dramatically influenced as their enthusiasm clearly proves.

While the males were clearly being trained for war, the females were treated differently, as Hitler, until his death, refused to put weapons in women’s hands. That does not mean that they were not influenced; on the contrary, they were very much brainwashed by the leaders of the HJ. Their role was to please German soldiers and to produce acceptable offspring for Germany, with the idea of a true “Aryan race.” The main institution for this was the League of German Girls (BDM), in which girls were taught how to “properly run a Nazi family” (Kater, 75). Girls were taught not to mingle with Jews as well (Kater, 77), and many of the ideas that boys were receiving were the same for girls. Girls wore uniforms in such a way that they were conservative, but at the same time had a very sexual innuendo appeal to them. Women were told to dress like this in order to “attract a German man for breeding and child-rearing” (Kater, 83). Those women who did not settle down with a permanent mate (which was often the case, seeing as the majority of bachelors were often fighting and dying on the battlefields of WW II) were encouraged to please those soldiers on furlough from the front. Kater claims that “as the girls became older, that sense of sexuality escalated, and the BDM leadership itself reinforced this disposition” (Kater, 105), and many acts of sexual favors from girls as young as twelve are cited. It became a “covert prostitution” and again the main goal of these girls was to please the male population, because it would ultimately benefit Germany, and thus Hitler.

Perhaps the most convincing argument that Kater uses to illustrate his point is that many of these youth actually did fight on the front before they should have been conscripted. Although many were terrified out of their minds, it proves that Hitler did not really care about his youth, but rather he wanted them to be completely brainwashed into Nazi propaganda so that they would help continue to fight in his war. After Hitler’s failure at Stalingrad the HJ became the true breeding ground for able soldiers, where theoretically these youths were trained and ready for war. However, as Kater points out, “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 victims to themselves” (Kater, 179). Evidence for this is given when Kater states Joseph Goebbels’ willingness to use HJ members on the western front, or the Flakhelfer division in which fifteen year old boys were used in shooting down enemy aircraft (Kater, 200). From the beginning of its creation in 1933 to the end of the war, the Hitler Youth was used as an institution to train the youth for war by altering their perception of reality. It is a tragic case, but one that must be studied to understand why so many Germans participated in such vile acts of antisemitism and brutality.

While it seems certain that the HJ used these future youths of Germany for the good of Hitler, some may question the true intentions of Adolf Hitler. After all, the members of the HJ had freewill and no one forced anyone to join these camps (That is, until 1939). Kater himself states, “There is no denying that most Hitler Youths in the fold loved its program of activities and did feel looked after” (Kater, 15).Walter Laqueur, an American historian, claims that the youth movement that preceded the Hitler Youth was an “unpolitical form of opposition to a civilization that had little offer the young generation, a protest against its lack of vitality, warmth, emotion, and ideals” (Kater, 7). Indeed this is why so many young people joined the cause, as it was no doubt appealing to belong to something even if it stood for something that would later be viewed as pure evil by the outside world. It does not take away from the fact, however, that Hitler and his followers used these poor children for their own benefit, and completely diminished the youth that every young person deserves to enjoy in their lifetime. Hitler may have claimed that he was helping the youth by enlightening them and providing opportunities to “acquire rich knowledge, in order to assume leadership positions in a coming Reich” (Kater 11), but the fact remains that the purpose of the HJ was to provide soldiers for the future.

After these youths have entered our organizations at age ten and there experienced, for the first time, some fresh air…we shall under no circumstances return them into the hands of our old champions of class and social standing, but instead place them immediately in the Party or the Labor Front, the SA or SS…And then the Wehrmact will take them over for further treatment…And thus they will never be free again, for the rest of their lives. (Kater, 37)

Hitler saw these young men and women as nothing more than pawns for his own use and it is clear that the HJ was the culprit of such evil ideologies.

Michael Kater does an excellent job of providing solid evidence to support his claim that the Hitler Youth was used primarily to train future soldiers for the Third Reich and to brainwash the youth so that Hitler could have an army completely loyal to him. With the majority of the youth of the country involved in the HJ, it is truly an amazing accomplishment, albeit one that has several flaws. Hitler had the entire youth of Germany in the palm of his hand and anything seemed possible. Much to the dismay of Hitler however, Germany did not proceed as planned and some of these children were able to free themselves both intellectually and spiritually from the grasp of Hitler. However, the question of who is responsible still looms large. Whatever the answer may be, it is safe to assert that much of the youth of Germany was wasted on an evil dictator and it is an indignity that so many innocent children have to live the rest of their lives with so much guilt.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/24/08)

Book Reviews

  • Brian, M. Amanda “Review of Michael H. Kater, Hitler Youth,” H-German, H-Net Reviews, June, 2005. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=7251126795437
    A mixed review of Kater’s book which claims that it is a good starting point but lacks some in-depth material that could have helped. He does recommend this book, however to students and anyone who is interested in the Hitler Youth.
  • Grill, Johnpeter Horst. “Hitler Youth. (Book Review).” The Historian 68.4 (Winter 2006): 879(3). Expanded Academic ASAP. http://find.galegroup.com/itx/start.do?prodld+EAIM
    Grill’s review is much more favorable than Brian’s in that he claims that there are many interesting ideas about the Hitler Youth. He does however claim that some of the facts that Kater gives are basic to those familiar with the World War II era.
  • Walker, D. Lawerance. “Book Review Europe: Early Modern and Modern.” The American Historical Review Oct. 2005.
    Walker truly loves Kater’s book and it shows in this review. In the book, he claims, are great morality issues as well as little know facts about the Hitler Youth.
  • Rick Shenkman, “ The Pope and Hitler Youth: An Interview with Michael H. Kater”, May 2005. http://www.hnn.us/articles/11987.html
    A very interesting interview with the author, Michael H. Kater. In the interview, Kater responds to reviews and comments on his book, as well as some questions about the Hitler Youth that are very informative.

Web Sites

  • Wikipedia, “Hitler Youth” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler_Youth
    -A great basic over view of what exactly the Hitler Youth was. If you are confused on exactly what the Hitler Youth was or stood for, then look no further than here.
  • “Hitler Youth Timeline,” 1999
  • A fantastic source of information, this website gives a very detailed timeline of important events in the Hitler Youth in. Also included are some great quotes and important terms and people that were vital to the Hitler Youth. Overall this is a great reference guide to keep one organized when it comes to the life of the Hitler Youth.
  • Youtube, “Hitler Youth Speech,” May, 2006
    In today’s modern age, primary sources can be a great alternative to text after text. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to share this clip of Hitler addressing the Hitler Youth. It is fascinating to see just how dedicated these children were to the cause and how masterfully Hitler influenced the youth of Germany.
  • Michael H. Kater, “ When Truth Was Treason: German Youth Against Hitler Book Review,” May, 1996. http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=12588851405669
    Written by the author of the Hitler Youth, Michael Kater, this book review critiques a book in which anti-Hitler youth groups are analyzed. This is particularly important because it is important to understand the Hitler Youth was not the only group available to the youth of Germany.

Books and Articles (Suggested reading)

  • Bartoletti, Susan Campbell, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow. (New York: Scholastic Nonfiction), 2005. Curriculum Lab DD253.5 .B37 2005
    As described on the UCSB Library webpage:
    “The story of a generation of German young people who devoted all their energy to the Hitler Youth and the propaganda that brought Hitler his power, and the youths that resisted the Nazi movement. "I begin with the young. We older ones are used up. But my magnificent youngsters! Look at these men and boys! What material! With them, I can create a new world."-Adolf Hitler, Nuremberg, 1933. By the time Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, 3.5 million children belonged to the Hitler Youth. It would become the largest youth group in history. Susan Campbell Bartoletti explores how Hitler gained the loyalty, trust, and passion of so many of Germany’s young people. Her research includes telling interviews with surviving Hitler Youth members.”
  • Wieck, Michael, A Childhood Under Hitler and Stalin: Memoirs of a "Certified" Jew. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press), 2003. Main Library DS135.R95 W5413 2003
    As described by Google Books:
    “A bestseller in Germany, Michael Wieck's account of his childhood in Konigsberg recalls a German city obliterated by fire-bombing during the Second World War. As the child of a Jewish mother and Gentile father, Wieck was persecuted first as a "certified Jew" by the Nazis, then as a German by the Russian occupiers, including horrific internment in the Rothenstein concentration camp. In the midst of privation, savagery, and death, there were moments of absurdity, and Wieck powerfully depicts them in this unforgettable memoir.”
  • Stachura, Peter D. Nazi Youth in the Weimar Republic. (Santa Barbara: Clio Books, 1975). Main Library DD253.5.S73
    One of the first books written with the youth of Germany in mind and it is interesting to compare a book written in a different generation than Kater’s. It takes the first step on the way to understand the Hitler Youth and it no doubt influenced Kater’s motivation for his own work.

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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 Harold Marcuse on 3/20/08; last updated:
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