Hitler Youth
Hitler Youth

The Mindset of the

by Kyle Frabotta
June 2004

student research paper for
UCSB History 133P proseminar, Spring 2004
Prof. Marcuse (Courses page; homepage)

to 133p proseminar homepage; papers index page


History of the Hitler-Jugend, 1926-1939, p. 2
The War
Years, p. 4
After the War
p. 10
p. 12
(not on web)

Introduction (back to top)

World War II will be remembered in world history and taught to younger generations for years to come. Important people and events became forever famous such as Hitler and the Nazis, the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Nuremberg Trials. Compared to these important events and people, little has been written on a group of young men and women (often young boys and girls) called the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth). In March 1933, before the onset of World War II, Hitler became chancellor of Germany and created this nationalistic youth group, with Nazi ideology and physical fitness as top priorities. As the years went on and the war started, the members of the Hitler-Jugend became more than just a youth group, they became soldiers, medics, and helped in any way they could for a war based on principles they did not understand. Those Hitler-Jugend members who survived World War II and faced the evidence of the Holocaust first hand,for example by listening to the hearings at the Nuremberg trials, came to feel remorse, regret, and guilt for participating in the events and believing in Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.[HM: this could be your thesis]

When I began to research the feelings of the Hitler-Jugend after the war, I realized I needed to dig much deeper into the history of the youth group and figure out why they were so loyal to the Nazi party and realize why their mindset after the war was the way it was. At first, knowing little about the Hitler-Jugend, I was under the assumption that it was almost like a nationalboys club, similar to Boy Scouts of America. In a way it was, with taking pride in wearing uniforms and badges, strict guidelines and rules, and the possibility of moving up in the ranks. Yet the differences were drastic: Hitler and the Nazis created the Hitler-Jugend to be future soldiers and to police anybody who was not loyal to the Reich and anybody who was not of Aryan blood, while the Boy Scouts of America was founded on peace and inclusion of all races.

History of the Hitler-Jugend, 1926-1939 (back to top)

The Hitler-Jugend was formally established in July of 1926 with Kurt Gruber as its leader. At this time, membership was small and consisted of patriotic marches more than the teaching of radical Nazi ideology, but by April of 1929, the Hitler-Jugend was declared the only official youth group of the Nazis, among dozens of other Nazi party groups. As historian Eileen Hayes summarizes:

The Hitler Youth was such a group, with its own departments of culture, schools, press, propaganda, and so on. All this early organizing was done because Hitler realized that, if and when he finally managed to overthrow the Weimar government, he would need to have something ready to take its place immediately.[1] (Hayes 1993, p. 15)

After the Hitler-Jugend became the sole Nazi youth group, Hitler and Gruber stressed the importance of loyalty to the Reich and the ideologies of the Aryan race. 1933 was the year that changed the future of the Hitler-Jugend. Hitler was appointed chancellor on January 30, 1933 and formally entered office in March of that same year. Hitler immediately disbanded over four hundred youth groups and encouraged the youths from the canceled groups to join the Hitler-Jugend. These youth groups included Protestant, communist, Jewish, Catholic, and several other denominations. The only youth group that did survive was the Catholic youth group due to a Concordat signed between the Vatican and Hitler. At this time Hitler-Jugend could be seeing serving as altar boys while wearing their Hitler-Jugend uniforms. Due to Hitler's demolishing of Germany's youth groups, from 1932 to 1933 the Hitler-Jugend membership jumped from 99,586 to 2,292,041.

Education for the Hitler-Jugend changed drastically during these years before the war and leading into the war. No longer were math, science, and literature the focus in grammar school, but now it was Nazi racial principles, German history, and leadership training. Teachers could not teach their normal lecture plans, and the German history they taught their students was distorted by commands from Hitler to teach them only about atrocities the Jews and non-Aryan races had supposedly inflicted upon the Germans. As Hitler-Jugend member Alfons Heck recalled:

Unlike our elders, we five-and six-year-olds knew nothing of the freedom, the turmoil and the death throes of the Weimar Republic. We had never heard the bracing tones of public dissent, let alone opposition. We just went to school. My first teacher was Herr Becker, former company commander in World War I, super patriot and strict disciplinarian who, in the first three months, wholeheartedly embraced the new guidelines imposed by the Nazis. The Law Against Overcrowding of German Schools was put in effect on April 7, 1933. In imposing a quota system, it was specifically directed at the Jews.[2] (Heck 1988, 49)

School educators were not only limited to the material they could teach to their students, but were forced not to express their own opinions on the current situation of Nazi Germany in any negative way. The students in the schools, who were members of the Hitler-Jugend as well, were instructed by their youth leaders to report anybody or anything that was even remotely not in favor of the Aryan race or the Nazi ideologies and principles. Cases did exist where a teacher accidentally said something negative about the Nazis or Hitler, and within a few days the teacher would just disappear without a trace.[HM: didn't HJ members play an active role in reporting teachers? Does this support your thesis that the HJ were victims too? Address the counterargument.] School curricula also had to make more time available for physical exercise on the grounds that there was no point in loading young minds with an excess weight of knowledge, of which only a fraction would be retained anyway. The customary two hours weekly of physical training was increased toa recommended minimum of one hour every morning and one every evening (Koch 1975, 163).[3] With this physical education came leadership training, which strengthened the character of the youth and emphasized faithfulness and readiness to sacrifice, and was followed by the training of willpower and the readiness to take on responsibilities.

It was this type of education, and the lack of schooling in independent thinking, that instilled the ideology that brainwashed the Hitler-Jugend and eventually led some to their graves. The Hitler-Jugend were merely puppets for Hitler and Nazi officials, who were capitalizing on the natural enthusiasm of young people to please their elders.[HM: this comes closest to being your thesis. The rest of your paper should argue to support this.] In October of 1936 the Hitler-Jugend law made it compulsory for youths aged ten to eighteen to join, and in 1939 an even tougher law concerning compulsory Hitler-Jugend membership conscripted all German boys aged ten into the Hitler-Jugend as well.

If the laws required boys aged ten and over to join, why were boys at age six fighting to join Jungvolk, a group for younger boys similar to the Hitler-Jugend, but voluntary? As I read the memoirs of former Hitler-Jugend and looked at pictures from various sources, it became clear to me. These young boys wanted to be a part of a group and fit in, and most of all, wanted to wear a uniform. Alfons Heck described his infatuation with the Hitler-Jugend uniforms, comparing it to being part of a sports team and having pride in wearing your own team's jersey. [reference?]

The War Years (back to top)

When the World War II began, there were over seven million Hitler-Jugend in the ranks, not to mention over another million serving as aides to SS officials on the battlefields and at command posts.[reference?] In August of 1940, Artur Axmann succeeded Baldur Schirach as Hitler-Jugend leader. He implemented much stricter guidelines and activities. The young Hitler-Jugend were ordered to act more like adult Nazis than before. For example, they were required to have target practice and practice terrain maneuvers. It is sad to see such a violent and cruel regime training boys to become killer soldiers without the boys' knowledge of Axmann's and Hitler's plans for them in years to come. These young children were born into a time in a country where they had no freedom to choose their future. As Heck put it:

I was born into a regime which had succeeded in turning me into a fanatic, willing to die for causes I believed not merely achievable but just—the creation of a new world order under the Nazi ideology. The tenets of this faith had never been opposed by those who influenced me as a child—my elders and educators including my priests. Since membership in the Hitler Youth was compulsory, we had no choice but to follow orders.[4] (Heck 1988, 9)

As Germany invaded Poland, Denmark, and Norway, the Hitler-Jugend also began to be trained to be the elites of their generation. The training of the future elite was carried out by a three tier system: first, the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalt (national-political educational institution, or Napola) and the Adolf Hitler Schools, second the Ordensburgen (brotherhood castles), and finally the Hohe Schulen (advanced schools). This was the ultimate form of brainwashing because a young boy was removed from the influence of the parental home at an early age, and if the father or mother refused, the SS would take that as a sign of disloyalty toward the Reich and punish the family, or possibly say, as Koch put it:

Your son is not your personal property, solely at your disposal. He is on loan to you but he is the property of the German Volk. To object to his name being put forward for an elite school is tantamount to insulting the Reich and the Fuhrer.[5] (Koch 1975, 179-185)

World War II also brought new functions for the Hitler-Jugend, namely action on the battlefields in war. Hitler and other Nazi officials decided to put older members of the youth group onto battlefields, especially after the United States entered the war against Germany in December 1941. Anti-aircraft batteries were officially manned solely by Hitler-Jugend boys, and when the Allies landed in northern France on June 6, 1944, the Hitler-Jugend tank division was sent to the Normandy front.

 I feel this is a point in history when Hitler and other Nazi Germany officials felt they were losing the stronghold of the war. If their trained military could not stop the advancement of Allied forces, why could young men and boys who were not trained as much as they were be able to stop them? This was the Nazi ideology: to fight till the end and die rather than lose to an army not of the Aryan race. It was this Nazi ideology that forced Hitler to create the Volkssturm (People's Storm), and the Werewolf project. The Volkssturm was the military strategy to defend the German homeland until the bitter end, including old men and underage boys, women and girls. The Werewolf project began training children in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and other sneak attacks on Allied forces. These had only limited success, but they resulted in American troops having to kill innocent children who had been brainwashed by a ruthless leader.

In 1942 Hitler decided to hold a conference to decide what to do with the captured Jews of the war. The decision to exterminate had been made at a small top-secret conference in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. The year was 1942, and the SS had captured millions of Polish, Russian, and Eastern Jews. With the exception of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's deputy, none of the men present at Wannsee were well known. Most were mere bureaucrats, among them an obscure SS lieutenant colonel by the name of Adolf Eichmann who recorded the agenda of the meeting. Not one written order exists which decreed death to all captured Jews, but there is no doubt after Goring's testimony at the Nuremberg tribunal that the verbal order came directly from Adolf Hitler and was transmitted to Heydrich.[6] (Heck 1988, 78)

Since World War II, historians and the general public alike have asked the question of how most of Germany, along with members of the Nazi party including the Hitler Youth, did not know of the atrocities being inflicted amongst the Jews. To answer this, I do agree that most knew of Kristallnacht, and the persecutory laws against Jews, but many did not know of the actual murdering of six million Jewish people. The Holocaust as it is known today, was more secret to the youth of Nazi Germany than most people now think that it was. As Heck put it:

Jews in particular, see World War II in the flaming letters of the word Holocaust. They find it both offensive and incredible that I lived through the rise and fall of Nazism without any awareness of the fate of the Jews.[7] (Heck 1988, 238)

It was at this late stage in the war that the fate of the Nazis was determined, and Hitler was well aware of it. On his birthday in 1945, and also his last public appearance, Hitler pinned medals on Hitler-Jugend boys outside of his bunker in Berlin. Ten days later he committed suicide. By early April 1945 the Germanarmy basically gave up, but some SS and Nazi officials encouraged the remaining Hitler-Jugend to continue defending Germany. The boys kept fighting as their leaders retreated and evacuated as fast as possible. Many Hitler Jugend perished, while others such as the Hitler-Jugend tank division surrendered to the U.S. 7th Army. [reference?]

The aftermath of the war left Germany's young generation, a youth surrounded by broken symbols and discredited ideals whose perversion made the largest part of this generation at least immune in the future to ideologies and apathetic to political radicalism (Koch 1975, 253).[8] German soldiers, including members of the Hitler-Jugend, were captured and questioned by Allied forces. Captured Hitler-Jugend were commonly forced by Allied forces to view the carnage inside liberated concentration camps up close. They were also forced to bury piles of decomposing corpses. Propaganda films created by the United States from documentary footage taken by soldiers as they liberated these camps was also shown to Hitler-Jugend members in order to show the atrocities the Nazi party had committed. The young men and women of Germany realized for the first time that they had been victims of the Nazi regime, the regime they had been willing to die for. They had given their all to Hitler, dreaming of a bright future and exulting in their role in making the dream real. Now the dream was dead. They had helped to make the massacre of six million Jewish lives possible. Alfons Heck describes his feelings of wanting to commit suicide after finding out the truth about the Holocaust:

It crossed my mind that I should have pulled the trigger the day the Americans arrived at Wittlich; at least I would have died with my innocence intact. To lose a war after the most unimaginable sacrifices was one thing, but to be shouldered with the irrefutable genocide of millions was an intolerable burden. Like most of my countrymen, I wasn't ready for that; I myself had not laid a hand on any civilian, Jew or Christian.[9] (Heck 1988, 173)

After the War (back to top)

The Nuremberg trials placed Nazi officials on trial for war crimes, including former leader of the Hitler-Jugend Schirach. Not many Germans were interested in listening to or attending the trials because they were focused on forgetting the past and building a future. Schirach was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. Upon being taken out of the court he said,

I have trained this generation to believe in Hitler and to be faithful to him. The youth movement which I built up bore his name… It is my guilt that I have trained youth for a man who became a murderer a million times over." (Hayes 1993, 78, citing... HM: give original source here) [10]

The Nuremberg Trials were only the beginning of rebuilding Germany. Germany was a war-torn country with roads demolished, shelter being scarce, schools demolished, and only having 40% of the food needed. Although the war was over, the youth generation survived by using their skills taught to them in their Hitler-Jugend classes. Both girls and boys used their knowledge of stealth tactics to raid vehicles—preferably American ones—for food and cigarettes to funnel into the black markets of the cities. They also rebuilt structures from wood they collected from fallen buildings, and built fires from the remaining wood. They were a resourceful group due to the lessons they learned while being members of the Hitler-Jugend, except they had been taught these skills for the wrong reasons without realizing it.

Education was the next big step for Germany, and schools opened again in October 1945. Because the Hitler-Jugend had stopped the teaching of normal science, math, and literature, the German youth were behind on their basic education. What they had once thought was the most important thing to learn, the Nazi Primer, was nothing more than something to fuel a fire at night while they could learn real academics once again. It was not uncommon to see sixteen and seventeen year olds in grammar school classes because they had missed out on their education. Now they had to sit next to nine year olds. Universities resumed as well, and returned to the prestige level they were once known for by all nations around the world. One American visiting professor at the University of Marburg recorded in 1946:

I have hardly ever had better students than those at Marburg. To me and my colleagues these young men and women displayed unusual intellectual earnestness, characterized by a deep understanding of the problems of the time and by a burning desire to acquire reliable knowledge and instruction and information about the methods of scientific work. It may be true that very few of these students could have been described as convinced democrats. However, I do not consider this attitude in any way as a negative factor; rather it appears to me as the manifestation of a cautious attitude suitable for any serious human being who is reluctant to jump from one ideology to the other of which he know little and which as yet he has not seen at work[11] (Koch 1975, 255, citing... give original source)

It took several years for Germany to rebuild its economy and cities, and to normalize life once again, but the question of the mindsets of the German people, especially the Hitler-Jugend, was still to be answered. The Hitler-Jugend as a group had been born into the regime, growing up with it as Hitler acted as their role model and father. All Nazi ideologies were forced upon them at such a young and critical time in their life that they could not tell what was right from wrong, not to say Nazi adults did.[hm: here you need to develop an argument with evidence, and address counterevidence. Your "they were victims too" thesis hinges on this statement. Clearly thousands of people in the anti-Nazi resistance, and 1000s of deserters from the HJ and army did realize that what they were doing was wrong. You must argue why the rest of them who kept fighting, like Heck, were victims.]From the evidence presented at Nuremberg and the mass graves the Allied forces made them dig for the dead, it is impossible for the old members of the Hitler-Jugend to deny the truth. But the feelings of guilt and regret vary among different men.

Rudolf Brunswick, a former member of the Jungsturm (literally Young Assault Group), seems to contradict himself as he tells his stories from during and after the war. He joined the Hitler-Jugend because he thought war was great [when, before conscription in 1936 or 1939?] and he would become a hero and was all caught up in commotion. During the deportation of the Jews, he believed that the Germans had to hold the Jews so the Germans would not run into any antiwar Jews who were being mistreated. He felt they would be let go right after the war and during the meantime were being treated well. Once Brunswick learned of the malnutrition and genocide, he said, "I would like to believe that the Germans would not have been able to be so brutal and harsh against the Jews if it was not for war. Germany was tied up with the war and myself and others were a product of that culture" (Brunswick 1999).[12] In answering the question "Was anti-Semitism a factor in the indifference of the German people toward the fate of the Jews?," Brunswick states:

Without a doubt, but indifference is not the same as mass murder. Not even fanatic members of the Hitler Youth would have advocated genocide[13] (Brunswick 1999)

Brunswick still was confused with Nazi ideals and who he was, so he moved to Canada four years after the war to find out who he really was after asking himself "If this is what Germans acted like, and [since] I followed them, am I this type of German?"

Conclusion (back to top)

Alfons Heck is another Hitler-Jugend survivor who after the war carried the burden of World War II with him for years. As he aged, his health detiorated, possibly due to stress from the war. He then decided to begin speaking about his experiences. Ultimately he spoke at over 150 colleges and conferences, many time alongside an Auschwitz survivor, Helen Waterford. When I first interpreted Heck's readings, I believed he regretted his activities in the youth group and felt guilt for his Nazi association for the destruction they caused in Europe and for the murdering of six million Jews. As his memoir continued, I realized a similar theme in all the Hitler-Jugend memoirs: They all admitted that the Jews were victims of the Nazis, but they claimed they were, too. . As Heck put it, "All you ever hear is the Holocaust, as if there had been only Jewish victims in World War II. Finally, there is another story" (Heck 1988, 237).[14] Heck explains that he had no choice but to enter the Hitler-Jugend and was forced to believe [again, this is the crux: how do you "force" someone to believe and continue to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary] in the propaganda the Nazis were feeding him, and learn their ideology As he grew up these were his morals rather than really knowing the difference between right and wrong, which his parents would have taught him. Heck states:

My defense of the Hitler-Jugend is that even at sixteen, few of my comrades had any inkling that they were pawns of an evil empire. Bombarded by incessant indoctrination from kindergarten on, and surrounded by adults who were either captivated themselves or lacked the suicidal courage to tell the truth, they never had the luxury of any choice. To expect a child to be that discerning was ridiculous![15] (Heck 1988, 233)

Heck believes that most Germans do not regret what happened in the past, and admits that it is very rare to find expressions of individual remorse. According to him, the loss of territory and destruction of Germany was their punishment. The Germans, after all, paid a terrible price for their infatuation with Hitler. The Germans of today have also changed in Heck's eyes. Their allegiance to Hitler died with him, and the Germans of today bear no comparison to the intoxicated masses who hailed the Führer. "The postwar generation in particular, does not deserve to be tainted with the Nazi past. Unfortunately, it will remain the dark side of its heritage for many generations."[16] (Heck 1988, 254)

I had always believed that anybody who took part in the Nazi regime in World War II was guilty, no questions asked. I have learned that the Hitler-Jugend proves my thoughts wrong, and I must agree with the former members of the youth group that they were also victims of the Nazis. In no way am I belittling the fact that the European Jews suffered incomparably more in the Holocaust and World War II, and my prayers go out to the survivors and to the families who lost loved ones. But at the same time, a whole generation of German boys and girls were indoctrinated with Nazi ideology that would associate them with the murdering of around six million Jews when all but a few knew of anything, and they had and have to carry this with them to their graves.

Could a similar situation of brainwashing kids ever take place again? Sure it could, and it does today with kids watching television and listening to music, etc. [I think of examples such as the recent civil war in Liberia, where many young teens were conscripted in the armies of various factions.] H.W. Koch explains the only way for this situation not to reoccur is education about the past and relating it to the present.[reference?] As to discrimination against a race due to ideological beliefs, it still is present. In America's history, the Indians were massacred and it was not until a few decades ago that African Americans had equal rights to whites. Discrimination will always live as long as we have groups such as Neo-Nazis, the KKK, etc.

Annotated Bibliography (not on web)

Notes (back to top)

[1] Hayes, Eileen "Children of the Swastika" (Millbrook Press, Connecticut 1993) pp.15

[2] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp.49

[3] Koch, H.W. "The Hitler Youth" (Macdonald and Janes, London 1975) pp.163

[4] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp.09

[5] Koch, H.W. "The Hitler Youth" (Macdonald and Janes, London 1975) pp. 179-185

[6] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp. 78

[7] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp 238

[8] Koch, H.W. "The Hitler Youth" (Macdonald and Janes, London 1975) pp. 253

[9] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp. 173

[10] Hayes, Eileen "Children of the Swastika" (Millbrook Press, Connecticut 1993) pp. 78

[11] Koch, H.W. "The Hitler Youth" (Macdonald and Janes, London 1975) pp. 255

[12] Brunswick, Rudolf –interview (Witness: Voices from the Holocaust, JHVC 1999)

[13] Brunswick, Rudolf –interview (Witness: Voices from the Holocaust, JHVC 1999)

[14] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp.237

[15] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp233

[16] Heck, Alfons "The Burden of Hitler's Legacy" (Renaissance House, CO 1988) pp254

paper completed June 2004; prepared for web publication on 3/28/05 by H. Marcuse
back to top, to Hist 133p04 paper index page, to Hist 133p homepage, H. Marcuse Courses page, homepage