Youth are known for their energy, excitement, and love of life. Adolf Hitler recognized these qualities, and knew that he could use them to his advantage, turning the young of Germany into powerful tools. He planned to turn Germany’s youth into an unexpected military force that he alone could control and brainwash. He could, and did, convince them to give up everything for him. Hitler said, “I begin with the young. We older ones are used up. We are rotten to the marrow. We are cowardly and sentimental… But my magnificent youngsters! Are there any finer ones in the world?
Look at these young men and boys! What material! With them, I can make a New World” (qtd. in “Hitler Youth”). The Hitler Youth group goes all the way back to the 1890’s and was then known as the Wandervogel, a male only group. Adolf Hitler saw the potential of such youth groups, and authorized the formation of a Youth League of the National Socialist Workers’ Party, the NSDAP. This new league attracted very few members at first, for it was competing against quite a few well established groups. The Hitler Youth that we know of today started in March of 1922.
A proclamation in the official Nazi newspaper called for new members, declaring, “We demand that the National Socialist Youth, and all other young Germans, irrespective of class or occupation, between fourteen and eighteen years of age… join the ranks of the fighters against the Jewish enemy, the sole originator of our present shame and suffering, enter the Youth League of the NSDAP… ” (qtd. in “Beginnings”). By 1939, membership was mandatory to all youth. Children were forced into the groups, often being torn away from parents.
If the parents refused to let their children join, the parents were then sent to prison, killed, or put in a forced labor camp. Teen boys joined the Hitlerjugend group, or the HJ for short. Teen girls joined the Bund Deutscher Madel, or BDM. By the end of 1939, 8. 7 million youth were enrolled in Hitler Youth programs (Laruridsen). The main point of the youth programs was to teach political policies, and to physically train them. The physical training played a large role, and it was the camping trips, sports, shooting practice, rowing, and other activities which brought in the youth before the membership became mandatory.
The activities were militarily organized, and the youth had uniforms, ranks, and were divided by age and gender. The BDM girls were prepared from the beginning that the way they best served Germany was by being a good wife and that they were only here to give birth to many children. The BDM girls also had to be able to run, throw a ball, complete a 2 hour hike, swim 100 meters and know how to make a bed. HJ boys were trained in marching, grenade throwing, trench digging, map reading, use of dugouts, how to get under barbed wire and pistol shooting. The HJ were also taught to kill without remorse.
According to Alexa Dvorsen, in her book “Hitler Youth: Marching Towards Madness”, one practice was to have each boy bring a favorite pet to a HJ meeting, and once they were there, they were required to kill it. In this way the boys were trained to believe their obedience to Hitler should outweigh any attachment to anyone or anything else (25). Hitler said,”A violently active, dominating, brutal youth–that is what I am after. Youth must be indifferent to pain… . I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men. ” (qtd. in “School”).
Soon, the rest of the world would know about the “brutal youth” of Germany. (“School”). As Germany was invaded in 1943 by Allied forces, members of the HJ were taken into the army at even younger ages. They were formed into the Hitler Jugend Army Division and there they played a key role during the Battle of Berlin in 1945 (Hein). The HJ fought with large amounts of courage during the fighting. Many soldiers said nothing scared them more than the Hitler youth, for they would fight with such raw fury, that even when they were encircled or outnumbered, they fought until there were no survivors.
Some pretended to surrender, holding hands above head, while secretly holding a hand grenade in their fists. When their captors were close, they pulled out the grenade pin and blew up both themselves and their captors. They fought with courage and bravery beyond their years, preferring to die rather then letting Germany down. By the end of its first month in battle, 60 percent of the HJ Division was knocked out of action, with 20 percent killed and the rest wounded and missing.
On May 8, 1945, the HJ military division surrendered to the U. S. Army, one day after Germany surrendered, and eight days after Hitler had shot and killed himself. (“Hitler’s”). After the war, Allied forces disbanded the Hitler Youth as part of the De-Nazification process. When the Allies tried to tell the youth what they had helped contribute to, by fighting for Hitler, they refused to believe it. How could a man that they had so loved, do so much evil? They were also taken to death camps and showed what Hitler had done. It was then that they saw the other side of the war.
Soldiers made them open train car doors to witness the stacks of bodies that had suffered inside. The war was over, but the reality of it had just begun to sink in. The Nazi youth groups were used as propagandists, reinforcements, and warriors. Innocent children’s lives were corrupted, and changed, all thanks to one man. They were originally formed to be a youth group, much like the Boy Scouts of modern times, but they quickly turned into soldiers. Hitler had forever changed their lives, and world’s view of children and their affect on a war.