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The Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) was an extension of Hitler’s belief that the Nazi future in Germany was its children. Hitler saw the Hitler youth as being as important to a child as school. In the early years of the Nazi government, Hitler made a speech at the Nuremberg Rally, 14 September 1935, which tells of the exact nature and purpose of the Hitler Youth. “What we look for from German youth is different from what people wanted in the past. In our eyes the German youth of the future must be slim, slender, swift as the greyhound, tough as leather and hard as krupp steel.
The Hitler youth movement was established by the Nazi party in 1926. There was the ‘Pimpfen’ for six to ten year olds; ‘Deutches Jungvolk’ for ten to fourteen year olds and ‘Hitlerjugend’ for fourteen to eighteen year olds. After this the young adults would join either the ‘Reich Labour service’ or the ‘Wehrmacht’. By 1939 around 90% of the ‘Aryan’ children belonged to Nazi youth groups.
The League of German Maidens (BDM) was started in 1930 and was the female equivalent to the Hitler youth. Like the boys the girls could join in the ‘Jung Madel’ if they were aged between 10 and 14 and ‘Bund Deutscher Madel’ for 14 to 18 year olds. After that they were in the ‘Glaube und Schonheit’ the Faith and Beauty School for 18 to 21 year olds. Talking about the youth groups, Hitler said these young people will learn nothing else but how to think and act German … and they will never be free again, not in their whole lives!’
To gain admittance to these groups they had to go under extensive medical exams.
They had to trace their lineage back as far as they could because if you had a drop of Jewish blood in you wasn’t allowed in. They also had to have a love for their country. The extensive tests stopped many children from joining the youth movement, which, at the time was one of the only groups to offer any kind of outing events. By 1933 all other youth groups had been banned. The Hitler youth groups had become the only legal option. It was a place for young people to socialize and have options of leadership. Membership was eventually made compulsory. After joining, there was a typical elaboration ceremony on Hitler’s birthday. The Hitler youth was Hitler’s way of controlling future Germany, by using them he was to create future soldiers and mothers to more soldiers that were brainwashed with the Nazi ideology.
Future soldiers for war that they would have complete control over. This purpose is linked to Hitler’s foreign policy to unite all German speaking people and to gain more living space ‘Lebensraum’, if he has a stronger army he will be able to accomplish his policies. After the First World War he needed more soldiers and couldn’t train the adults because of the treaty of Versailles that limited him to 100,000 men. There was nothing about training the youth in the treaty and was a way that Hitler could prepare for future war without breaking the treaty. He saw the potential of the youth and wanted a stronger nation in the future. The young men were to be future soldiers. Hitler thought that in order to do this he must train them from a young age. Hitler took them into his youth movement, which was more a military institution than a youth club. The Nazis incorporated military and psychology training in the Hitler youth. Hitler had complete control over every single stage in the young Germans lives. There was also a patrol service (SRD) who would check that all the members of the Hitler Youth were looking smart and that they were carrying a clean handkerchief and comb.
At the Hitler youth camps they were given tests and they were given a special dagger marked ‘blood and honour’. This was used to make the boys train harder as the special dagger was well sought after, this gave them an aim and those who didn’t reach this aim were humiliated. Hitler wanted to make their main aim in life to be a Nazi. One of the main functions of the Hitler Youth was to participate in t The medal ceremonies were very significant because it made the boys feel that they have achieved something and it pushes them to work harder he parades, pageants and public events the Nazis were so fond of. The HJ organization gave the youth the chance to find their place in life. The colourful banners, parades, uniforms, status and sense of purpose were all aspects of the organization that the youth bought into and encouraged them to join. The HJ was the youth’s way of making their voice heard and acknowledged. The Hitler Youth drum and bugle corps was an important part of the pageantry in which the units participated. Hitler wanted to make their main aim in life to be a Nazi.
The purpose of the BDM was to create perfect women that had many children and stayed in the house doing housework. They had domestic training for future mothering life. The girls were indoctrinated into thinking they had to follow the 3Ks: Kinder (Children); Kirche (Church), and Kiche (Kitchen). While the boys had to become strong fighters and prepare for war, the girls had to learn first aid and help on the land. As well as that their main aim was to reproduce. Hitler wanted to create a ‘master’ race, so he encouraged women to produce Aryan babies, so that they could be racially pure. The girls were taught how to be perfect German mothers. Hitler was able to install such national pride in his BDM girls that they become extremely enthusiastic towards the Nazi cause.
Not only did the Hitler Youth pursue physical military skills, but they developed a full psychological program to prepare German youth for war. Indoctrination was a major part of the Nazi objectives for the Hitler Youth. They also had mock funeral. The goal was to build warriors who saw war as a legitimate pursuit of a nation and death in battle as glorious.
The Hitler youth movement meetings gave speeches and readings on the superiority of the Aryan race and the evil of communism and they taught anti-semantic views. A majority of Germans had never voted for the Nazis. The plan was to build a much greater base of support for the Nazi Party and Nazi program among German youth. Hitler Youth members were taught to respect the Nazi party and live up to their creed by learning from the Nazi Primer, which was the group’s official handbook. Mein Kampf, Hitler’s bibliography, was considered their Bible. They learned of the superior race: the Nordic race. The Primer gives example after example of why one race is inferior to another.
He saw young people as the leaders of tomorrow. You could describe it as ‘cradle to the grave’ this means having control of young people right from the beginning and until the end. By introducing the Hitler Youth, Hitler could indoctrinate young people from an early age. Hitler thought it was vital to take control of the German youth movement and schools. The reason for this was because he wanted the young people to be loyal and enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi state. Also it was easier to use propaganda on young minds. He brainwashed them to think that they had to sacrifice themselves for the good of the nation. The young children would have the Nazi ideas influencing them at all times, not only whilst they were at school but also from films, music, media, friends, church and family. Even whilst they were in Nuremberg at the rallies, they would be shown films of last year’s rallies and how the older generation were enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi State
In Nazi Germany, education meant indoctrination. Hitler used the schools to reinforce Nazi ideas. The school curriculum was dominated by subjects, which served the Nazi purpose. Physical education, Biology, German and History were given special emphasis; Nazi themes were presented through every subject. Science focussed on chemical warfare and explosives, Maths dealt with social issues and artillery calculations and Geography lessons were used to show how hostile neighbours surrounded Germany. Textbooks were re-written to reflect and promote Nazi ideas. Hitler used the schools to reinforce Nazi ideas and to teach young people about such things as racial hygiene, the glories of Germanys past and the benefits of physical fitness. It was only later that teachers discerned a decline in academic performance resulting from an over-emphasis upon physical activities. Lessons began and ended with the teacher and the students raising one arm and saying “Heil Hitler.’ Teachers were made to teach their pupils that Jews, socialists and other ‘undesirables’ were the cause of all Germanys problems. It made confirmation classes an ordeal especially if the local schoolmaster was indoctrinating children with Nazi views; ‘The Jews hated Jesus Christ, so we must also hate the Jews.’ Priests who spoke sympathetically of the Jews were publicly vilified as ‘Friends of the Jews.’ They even had a racial studies class to prove that their race was superior and started from the age of six. Hitler said himself that ‘no boy or girl should leave school without complete knowledge of the necessity and meaning of blood purity.’
Hitler wanted an even more powerful government. He only trained the strongest and fittest to become German officials. He created special schools on how to be future leaders of Nazi society. They had 6 years of physical training and left at 18 to go the army or university. Pupils who were the best of physical ability went to ‘order castles’. The ones that graduated were given high positions in Nazi jobs. The whole school was merely a brutal selection process for the best. Many children died at these training camps.
Hitler used the youth to watch over the adults to see if anyone disrespected the Nazis or was against them. They were more loyal to Hitler than they was their parents, they parents dared not to talk anything bad about Hitler or his teachings. This was effective because it made it harder for any opposing parties to up rise. They beat people up in the streets for disagreeing with the Nazis. They were also trained in policing, fire fighting and traffic control.
In the Hitler youth there were many activities; most of these were physical activities. They reinforced physical strength and fitness. The Hitler Youth were taught:
* boxing and wrestling matches between the boys, as well as field combat tests, in order to prove how “manly” each boy was athletics and exercises basically any activity, which involved body contact and aggression trench digging (built strength and endurance) map reading (useful in war and taught geographical skill)
Team games were also encouraged because it gave the boys a sense of unity; one of Hitler’s aims. Hitler’s anti-intellectualism was reflected in the Hitler Youth program and its activities. The Hitler Youth program stressed physical, rather than mental superiority. Outdoor activities dominated the program and many of the activities, especially for the older boys dealt with skills which the military would find of value. Hitler from the beginning saw the Hitler Youth movement as a tool to hardening boys for their future role of soldiers. He wanted a generation of ‘victorious active, daring youth, immune to pain.’ Hitler wanted them to be ‘quick like greyhounds, tough like leather, and hard like Krupp steel.’ There was to be no ‘intellectual training for the boys of the New Order, he saw intellectual pursuits as damaging to German youth. Some of this was similar to scouting which extolled the benefits of healthy outdoor activities. Scouting almost exclusively, however, dealt with outdoor activities. The Hitler Youth not only pursued outdoor activities, but physical condition and exercises as well. They were encouraged to pick on the weaker kids within each division. The weaker boys faced beatings on almost a nightly basis. All these activities prepared them for war, serving the purpose create future strong soldiers. This helped him weed out the weaker boys and turn the youth into harder, stronger and fitter soldiers. This was his purpose of creating tough future soldiers.
Severe cross country hikes and marches even left as many as 30 boys in hospital, which shows how far the Nazis would go to create the ‘perfect’ Aryan army. At the order castles that the strongest went too, they were involved in war games that used live ammunition and boys were killed. This was to aid his purpose to pick the best of the best.
Camping and outdoor skills were stressed by the Hitler. The activities included both physical and psychological preparation for war. The Hitler Youth put a great emphasis on military skills. Some were
camping. But in addition to these activities of indirect military value, there were other skills of direct value, including firearms training, laying communications cables, and many other activities such as marching, club throwing (which would be useful later when using the hand grenade), athletics and military. The boys were even encouraged to play military style games, such as war games. The Hitler Youth leadership on August 11, 1939, entered into an agreement with Keitel under which the Hitler Jugend agreed to carry out its pre-military activities under standards that were laid down by the Wehrmacht and the Wehrmacht agreed to train 30,000 Hitler Jugend instructors each year. The Hitler Jugend placed particular emphasis on the military spirit and its training programme stressed the importance of return of the colonies, the necessity for Lebensraum and the noble destiny of German youth to die for Hitler. The program even included mock funerals for fallen heroes. In the years before the war, the Hitler Youth incorporated more military style drill in the training of its members. All boys were given firearms training, starting with small calibre rifles and then moving up to regular infantry pieces. They sent those who excelled to sharpshooter and sniper school. The services of these boy snipers were offered to the army and the Waffen-SS. The army snatched them up and placed them in reserve units. All of this military training fostered an aggressive spirit that could be realized only in actual combat. The Hitler Youth was in essence providing Germany with cannon-fodder for the war these exercise trained them for this. These activities were to serve his purpose of training future fighting machines.
They were taught to respect the Nazi party and live up to their creed by learning from the Nazi Primer, which was the group’s official handbook. Mein Kampf, Hitler’s bibliography, was considered their Bible. All Aryan children had to attend the Hitler youth at weekends and in their spare time. This meant that the Nazis had them under full control at all times. By using the educational system, Hitler youth meetings and propaganda, e.g. movies, radios posters all the things that would be involved in their everyday lives. The youth couldn’t escape the propaganda and this is why it worked so well at brainwashing them. This was a purpose of Hitler for the youth movement. Hitler had a number of ways to drill his views and ideas into the youth. They recited poems and songs every day, which they had to memorize. This is one example:
‘That is the greatest thing about him
That he is not only our leader and a great hero
But himself, upright, firm and simple
In him the roots of our world
And his soul touches the stars
And yet he remains a man like you and me.’
Every child would say “Heil Hitler’ from 50 to 150 times a day. It was a greeting that had to be said and if they didn’t they would be guilty of a punishable offence. Nazi ideology was drummed into them and they believed it was right because they had no other influences other than Hitler. This was one of Hitler’s purposes, to brainwash the future Germany. That he would have complete control over
At school, the pupils were made to believe in Hitler, the Hitler youth made sure that they had no reason or thought to oppose him. All other youth organizations were banned and the Hitler youth was made compulsory. They were banned from listening to American radio stations or non-Nazi influences that would bring them the truth. Hitler controlled the media entirely so it made it seem to the children that Hitler’s views and ways of life were right. This helped his purpose of wanting to control them entirely. He already controlled most of the media and wanted to have this power with the youth.
The youth were encouraged by Hitler to spy on their parents and gain as much info as possible, this helped Hitler gather valuable information about resistance groups. They even had to write essays at school on what their parents talked about to gather information. This served his purpose to make the youth more loyal to him than their parents.
The colourful banners, parades, uniforms, status and sense of purpose were all aspects of the organization that the youth bought into and encouraged them to join. The medal ceremonies were very significant because it made the boys feel that they have achieved something and it pushes them to work harder. They had mock funerals the goal was to build warriors who saw war as a legitimate pursuit of a nation and death in battle as glorious. They were awarded special daggers marked blood and honour when they passed certain tests. Hitler wanted to make their main aim in life to be a Nazi, these events made it look glorious to the kids and served its purpose.
The girls practiced paramilitary training, went on marches and outings, but the focus of the camp was on how to raise children and become more domestic. Young women learned the basics of domestic life and child rearing skills. They were also taught that their bodies were no longer private, but that it belonged to the national cause. As a result, there was a strong emphasis placed on physical fitness. Girls were taught at an early age that their place in society was to raise children and keep homes. He actually set up schools for young girls and older women to attend which taught them how to take care of children and keep the house in an orderly fashion. Girls had to learn first aid and help on the land. This followed Hitler’s purpose for women.
Most Young Germans were part of the Hitler youth before the war and they loved it: It was all a wonderful game. Indeed the Hitler youth used all the things that could attract young people. There were the drums, military parades, songs, rifles, slogans, uniforms… All this ceremonial gave them the sense that they were important, invincible: a small army. There was also all the sporting and ‘scouting’ activities: camping, hiking, competing… Many children acceded for the first time to real leisure activities.
It was also a way of escaping from the parents and school: it was a world of their own, whose leaders were often in conflict with the traditional authorities, teachers and parents. It was also an organization that seemed to consider youth as very important: they were given tasks; Hitler always emphasized their importance in the state. Speech after speech he repeated that:
“We older ones are used up. Yes, we are old already…We are cowardly and sentimental. . . But my magnificent youngsters? Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at these young men and boys. What material! With them I can make a new world. …” Hitler
The youth therefore felt that at last they could show who they were and help their country.
But during the war things were not quite as fun: to start with, fun activities became rarer and there were much more hard Para-military training; the young leaders were sent to war and replaced; club buildings and sport fields were destroyed by the bombs…. and with the deaths on the front, the idea of being a small ‘army’, a small ‘soldier’ became much less appealing.
In fact the young people were not indoctrinated very deep down: they were fascinated by the ceremonials, enthusiastic about the activities… but they essentially learnt not to ask questions and to obey without thinking:
No one in our class ever read “Mein Kampf”. I myself only took quotations from the book. On the whole we didn’t know much about Nazi ideology. Even anti-Semitism was brought in rather marginally at school – for example via Richard Wagner’s essay ‘The Jews in Music’ – and outside school the display copies of “Der St” made the idea questionable, if anything… Nevertheless we were politically programmed: to obey orders, to cultivate the soldierly ‘virtue’ of standing to attention and saying ‘yes,
sir’, and to stop thinking when the magic word ‘Fatherland’ was uttered and Germany’s honour and greatness were mentioned.
The result was that when a youngster started to ask himself questions, he quickly had doubts. Even better, one could get very high in Nazi education without agreeing with the ideology and never being detected for it: Ilse Kohen, a young German girl at the time, got to the point where she had been chosen to become a HJ leader, determined never to be one because she did not agree with the Nazi ideology. She had been chosen mainly because she had great skills in manual work…
Nevertheless this does not mean that HJ was unsuccessful: most of youngsters were totally subdued to Hitler, mainly because anyway they did not have the choice. And most of them became soldiers in the German army.
There were some groups of youth who ‘resisted’ indoctrination. But this resistance took varied forms and scaled a cultural difference to active political resistance. I will go through three examples of very different resistant youth groups:
This movement sprang amongst the young people of the upper middle class who sought a counter identity. They differed from traditions by the music they listened, Jazz and Swing; the way they danced; the way they dressed; their sexuality. To start with their music festivals were authorized but the Hitler youth disliked them and banned them. The movement then joined in small, informal groupings.
But this was only a cultural ‘resistance’: they were not politically against the Nazis but they disliked the strict education that was given in the HJ.
This was quite a large movement which was spread over Germany; the individual groups aroused spontaneously and differed from each other in their names, uniforms, activities… but all considered themselves part of the same movement. Indeed they joined together for trips during week-ends. These groups all had one common aim: escape from control of the Hitler Youth which they loathed. This is why they spent their week-ends and holidays hiking and camping in order to get more space, far from their parents and the HJ leaders. During the week they grouped to sing, tell stories, chat… They were very good at rewriting lyrics to use them against the Hitler Youth and the Nazis.
They all loathed the Hitler Youth and the Nazis and none of them wanted to stay passive but they differed in the type of actions they choose. They all bashed the Hitler Youth patrols when they met them but some groups went much further and did real political resistance: They joined resistance groups and handed out allied propaganda leaflets, helped to shelter runaways…
This last was a small group of students from the University of Munich. Two of them, Hans and Sophie Scholl, had been voluntarily part of the Hitler Youth and had loved it, even though their father warned them daily that the Nazis were abusing Germany. But little by little they started to have doubts: the leaders of the HJ forbade the foreign songs that Hans liked, Sophie’s Jewish friends were of course refused in the HJ… and Hans came back transformed from a party meeting in Nuremberg where he had represented his group: he had been disgusted by the hate filled speeches, the uniformity of ideas that was required…
When they were students Hans and Sophie made new friends: Alexander Schmorell, the son of a great doctor; Christi Probst, a married man with two sons; Willi Graf; and Professor Huber, one of the professors of their university. They all shared the same ideas about Nazism and Hitler. The first, Hans had the idea of printing and handing out leaflets: they hoped that it would awaken resistance amongst the population and the students. They managed to give out 6 leaflets and to paint on the walls of the
university: ‘Down with Hitler’. But Hans, Sophie and Christl were arrested on the 18 of February 1944, they were sentenced to death five days later and the sentence was carried out the same day. Up to the end they displayed an incredible courage, trying to take all the accusation on themselves so as to discharge the others, and never stopping thinking that if they had awoken revolt, then their death were of no importance. Later on Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Professor Huber were arrested too.
These examples show that even though the Hitler Youth leaded masses of young Germans to obey blindly to Hitler, all the youth were not so fanatic. Some youngsters resisted, not all as much and in the same ways, but they resisted. And some of them displayed a heroism and lack of selfishness which were quite incredible, going as far as giving their lives for liberty and democracy.
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