|This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (January 2013)|
In the 1970s, having immigrated to the United States via Canada and having lived in the US for several decades, Heck began to write candidly of his youthful military experiences in news articles and two books. Thereafter, he entered into a partnership with Jewish Holocaust survivor Helen Waterford, each presenting their differing wartime circumstances before more than 200 audiences, most notably in schools and colleges.
Heck was born in the Rhineland. He was raised by his grandparents at their farm in the crossroads wine country community of Wittlich, Germany. He entered grammar school at the age of 6 where he and his classmates were first exposed to effective Nazi indoctrination by their virulently nationalistic teacher. Four years later Heck and his classmates joined the 5 million-member Hitler Youth.
Heck was a good student and found learning easy. He was appointed leader of about 10 other boys. By then, his indoctrination and his devotion to the proud future of Hitler’s Third Reich were nearly complete. He understood that the first rule of service to a greater Germany was to follow orders without question, and he was willing to report “suspicious actions" or comments, even by friends or family, to his leader.
Flying Hitler Youth
At 14, all Deutsches Jungvolk were required to join the senior Hitler Youth branch, the Hitlerjugend. In part to avoid becoming an infantry officer, Heck applied to the elite Flying Hitler Youth (Flieger Hitlerjugend), although he was apprehensive about its year-long glider plane training. But within weeks he became obsessed with flying and landing gliders. His life course had changed. He would not study to be a priest as his grandmother had hoped. He devoted himself to the task of eventually becoming a Luftwaffe fighter pilot. He’d been taught to believe that living under Bolshevik-Jewish slavery was too horrible to contemplate. The only alternative was German victory. Capture seemed to him worse than death. He thought that only a glorious death over the battlefield stood in the way of his sharing in Germany’s inevitable triumph. His final transformation to fanaticism had begun. He described this extended period of glider training from late 1942 until early 1944 as the happiest of his life. At 16 Heck became the youngest scholar to receive a diploma from Aeronaut’s Certificate in Sailplane Flying.
Heck recalls the audience response to Hitler:
- We erupted into a frenzy of nationalistic pride that bordered on hysteria. For minutes on end, we shouted at the top of our lungs, with tears streaming down our faces: Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil! From that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler body and soul.
But the Allied invasion of France in 1944 caused his group of 180 Flying Hitler Youth, of which Heck had become the officer in charge, to be returned to the Wittlich area in order to organize the excavation of large antitank barriers on the nearby defensive Westwall. Battlefield losses raised Heck’s Hitler Youth rank to Bannführer, nominally in charge of 3,000 Hitler Youth workers in the town and its 50 surrounding villages. One of his antiaircraft crews shot down a damaged B-17 bomber trying to return to its base. Later, he gave orders in a combat engagement against advancing Americans in which participants on both sides were killed. During this period he was considered by friends and superiors to be ambitious and ruthless. At one point he gave orders to have an elderly Luxembourg priest shot if he dared return to the school that Heck had commandeered for his workers. The priest did not return. In another incident, he drew his pistol to shoot a Hitler Youth deserter but was prevented from doing so by a Wehrmacht sergeant. Heck admitted at the time, as well as afterwards, that he had become intoxicated by the power he wielded.
As the approaching Americans consolidated their gains, the 16-year-old Bannführer was ordered back to his Luftwaffe training base. Once there, with the suspension of training, flight candidates were being ordered to the front lines to face the American infantry. However, a Luftwaffe officer, likely for the purpose of preserving Heck’s life, ordered Heck to organize the retrieval of needed radar equipment near Wittlich and then to take a four-day leave in his home town. This enabled Heck to don civilian clothes before surrendering to the advancing Americans there. Unaware of his Hitler Youth rank, the U.S. soldiers used Heck as a translator until French military authorities began occupying the area. The French arrested Heck and he served 6 months hard labor before finally being released. As for his war efforts he was awarded an Iron Cross, the award that every Hitler Youth boy wanted to be awarded.
Post war and death
Heck was unable to believe that the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime had actually taken place. Despite the difficulty of traveling within occupied Germany, he made his way to Nuremberg to witness what he could of the trials of former Nazi officers and officials. He later immigrated, first to Canada, working in several British Columbia saw mills, then to the U.S. where, living in San Diego, he became a Greyhound long-distance bus driver.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Alfons Heck remained silent about his wartime activities and his involvement in the Hitler Youth, but he read hundreds of books about the Third Reich, tracing the lives of surviving Nazi leaders and maintaining an interest in West German politics. He came to feel that his generation of young Germans had been callously betrayed by brutal Nazi strategists. Of the nine and a half million German war dead, two million were teenagers, both civilians and Hitler Youth. In 1971, at the age of 43, he became disabled by heart disease. Without a productive future and increasingly frustrated by his contemporaries’ failure to speak out, Heck began attending writing classes so that he might record what it was like to be a pawn of Nazi militarism.
Heck died due to heart failure on 12 April 2005, he was 76.
Writings and public activities
In 1985 Heck published A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika (Arizona: Renaissance House, 1985), an account of his life under Nazism. He followed it up with The Burden of Hitler's Legacy (Frederick, Colorado: Renaissance House, 1988).
Heck began touring with Waterford in 1980 to talk about their experiences before, during and after the war. The aligned speakers became friends as they visited more than 150 universities over nine years, urging youths to avoid Hitler-type brainwashing. Colorado publisher Eleanor Ayer, who published Waterford's autobiography "Commitment to the Dead" in 1987, wrote Waterford and Heck's intertwined stories in her 1995 book Parallel Journeys.
In 1989, Heck appeared in the BBC Documentary The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler. In 1991 he featured in HBO's documentary Heil Hitler Confessions Of A Hitler Youth. The film won an ACE for best documentary. In 1992, Heck was awarded a NATIONAL EMMY for "outstanding historical programming".
In 1991, a HBO documentary based on his books titled "Heil Hitler! Confessions of a Hitler Youth," used archival footage and with Heck's narration and using archived footage, attempted to explain how millions of the German youth of the Third Reich followed Nazi propaganda and became some of the most extreme Hitler followers.
- Alfons Heck (1985). A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days when God Wore a Swastika. p. 23.
- "Alfons Heck, 76; Hitler Youth Leader Later Repudiated Nazism and Wrote of His Experiences". 2005.
- "Helen Waterford Obituary". Los Angeles Times., accessed May 8, 2017
- "2 Speakers Present Unique and Opposite Views of How Hitler Victimized Them". The Oklahoman., accessed May 8, 2017