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The Hitler Youth (German: Hitlerjugend (help·info), often abbreviated as HJ in German) was the youth organisation of the Nazi Party in Germany. Its origins dated back to 1922. From 1933 until 1945, it was the sole official youth organisation in Germany and was partially a paramilitary organisation; it was composed of the Hitler Youth proper for male youths aged 14 to 18, the German Youngsters in the Hitler Youth (Deutsches Jungvolk in der Hitler Jugend or "DJ", also "DJV") for younger boys aged 10 to 14, and the League of German Girls (Bund Deutsche Mädel or "BDM").
With the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, the organisation de facto ceased to exist. On 10 October 1945, it was outlawed by the Allied Control Council along with other Nazi Party organisations. Under Section 86 of the Criminal Code of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Hitler Youth is an "unconstitutional organisation" and the distribution or public use of its symbols, except for educational or research purposes, is not permitted.
In 1922 the Munich-based Nazi Party established its official youth organisation called Jugendbund der NSDAP. It was announced on 8 March 1922 in the Völkischer Beobachter, and its inaugural meeting took place on 13 May the same year. Another youth group was established in 1922 as the Jungsturm Adolf Hitler (help·info). Based in Munich, Bavaria, it served to train and recruit future members of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the main paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party at that time.
Following the abortive Beer Hall Putsch (in November 1923) the Nazi youth groups ostensibly disbanded, but many elements simply went underground, operating clandestinely in small units under assumed names. In April 1924 the Jugendbund der NSDAP was renamed Grossdeutsche Jugendbewegung (Greater German Youth Movement). On 4 July 1926 the Grossdeutsche Jugendbewegung was officially renamed Hitler Jugend Bund der deutschen Arbeiterjugend (Hitler Youth League of German Worker Youth). This event took place a year after the Nazi Party itself had been reorganised. The architect of the re-organisation was Kurt Gruber, a law student from Plauen in Saxony.
After a short power-struggle with a rival organisation—Gerhard Roßbach's Schilljugend—Gruber prevailed and his "Greater German Youth Movement" became the Nazi Party's official youth organisation. In July 1926 it was renamed Hitler-Jugend, Bund deutscher Arbeiterjugend ("Hitler Youth, League of German Worker Youth") and, for the first time, officially became an integral part of the Sturmabteilung. The name Hitler-Jugend was taken up on the suggestion of Hans Severus Ziegler.
By 1930 the Hitlerjugend had enlisted over 25,000 boys aged 14 and upwards. It also set up a junior branch, the Deutsches Jungvolk (DJ), for boys aged 10 to 14. Girls from 10 to 18 were given their own parallel organisation, the League of German Girls (BDM).
In April 1932 Chancellor Heinrich Brüning banned the Hitler Youth movement in an attempt to stop widespread political violence. But in June Brüning's successor as Chancellor, Franz von Papen, lifted the ban as a way of appeasing Hitler, the rapidly ascending political star. A further significant expansion drive started in 1933, after Baldur von Schirach was appointed by Hitler as the first Reichsjugendführer (Reich Youth Leader). All youth organizations were brought under Schirach's control.
The members of the Hitler Youth were viewed as insuring the future of Nazi Germany and were indoctrinated in Nazi ideology, including racism. The Hitler Youth appropriated many of its activities of the Boy Scout movement (which was banned in 1935), including camping and hiking. Although over time it changed in content and intention. For example, many activities closely resembled military training, with weapons training, assault course circuits and basic tactics. The aim was to instill the motivation that would enable its members as soldiers, to fight faithfully for Nazi Germany. There was great emphasis on physical fitness and hardness and military training than on academic study.
Uniform and emblems
Members summer uniform consisted of a black shorts and tan shirt with pockets, worn with a rolled black neckerchief secured with a woggle, usually tucked under the collar. Headgear originally consisted of a beret, but this was discarded by the HJ in 1934. One flag/symbol used by the HJ was the same as the DJ, a white Sieg rune on a black background, which symbolised "victory". Another flag used was a red-white-red striped flag with a black swastika in the middle, inside a white shaped diamond.
The Hitler Youth was organised into corps under adult leaders, and the general membership of the HJ consisted of boys aged fourteen to eighteen. The Hitler Youth was organised into local cells on a community level. Such cells had weekly meetings at which various Nazi doctrines were taught by adult leaders. Regional leaders typically organised rallies and field exercises in which several dozen Hitler Youth cells would participate. The largest gathering usually took place annually, at Nuremberg, where members from all over Germany would converge for the annual Nazi Party rally.
The Hitler Youth maintained training academies comparable to preparatory schools, which were designed to nurture future Nazi Party leaders. The Hitler Youth also maintained several corps designed to develop future officers for the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces). The corps offered specialised foundation training for each of the specific arms for which the member was ultimately destined. The Marine Hitler Youth (Marine-HJ), for example, served as an auxiliary to the Kriegsmarine.
Another branch of the Hitler Youth was the Deutsche Arbeiter Jugend – HJ (German Worker Youth – HY). This organisation within the Hitler Youth was a training ground for future labor leaders and technicians. Its symbol was a rising sun with a swastika.
The Hitler Youth regularly issued the Wille und Macht (Will and Power) monthly magazine. This publication was also its official organ and its editor was Baldur von Schirach. Other publications included Die Kameradschaft (Comradeship), which had a girl's version for the BDM called Mädelschaft, and a yearbook called Jungen eure Welt (Youth your World).
Another program entitled Landjahr Lager (Country Service Camp) was designed to teach specifically chosen girls of the BDM high moral character standards within a rural educational setting.
In 1923, the youth organisation of the Nazi Party had a little over 1,000 members and was limited to Munich. In 1925, when the Nazi Party had been refounded, the membership grew to over 5,000. Five years later, national membership stood at 25,000. By the end of 1932, it was at 107,956. When the Nazis came to power next year, 1933, and the membership of Hitler Youth organisations increased dramatically to 2,300,000 members by the end of that year. Much of these increases came from forcible takeovers of other youth organisations. (The sizeable Evangelische Jugend (Evangelical Youth), a Lutheran youth organisation of 600,000 members, was integrated on 18 February 1934). In 1934, a law declared the Hitler Youth to be the only legally permitted youth organisation in Germany, and stated that "all of the German youth in the Reich is organised within the Hitler Youth".
However, how active many members were remains open to speculation. For example, in the class of Hans J. Massaquoi, 100% of the Aryan pupils in his class became Pimpf. However many of his classmates joined because of their parents or teachers or to be like everybody else. After several months many of the children became inactive and almost all left after one or two years.
By December 1936, Hitler Youth membership had reached over five million. That same month, membership became mandatory for Aryans, under the Gesetz über die Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth Law). By 1938, the Hitler Youth had over 7.7 million members. This legal obligation was reaffirmed in March 1939 with the Jugenddienstpflicht (Youth Service Duty), which conscripted all German youths into the Hitler Youth—even if the parents objected. Those parents who refused to allow their children to join were told that the state would take their children away. Massaquoi claims, though, that the war did not allow the law to go very far. From then on, most of Germany's teenagers belonged to the Hitler Youth. By 1940, it had eight million members. Later war figures are difficult to calculate, since massive conscription efforts and a general call-up of boys as young as 10 years old meant that virtually every young male in Germany was, in some way, connected to the Hitler Youth. Only about 10 to 20% avoided joining.
Long before 1939, though, German youths were under growing pressure to join the Hitler Youth. Students who did not join were frequently assigned essays with titles such as "Why am I not in the Hitler Youth?" They were also the subject of frequent taunts from teachers and fellow students, and could even be refused their school-leaving certificate—which made it impossible to be admitted to university. A number of employers refused to offer apprenticeships to anyone who wasn't a member of the Hitler Youth. By 1936, the Hitler Youth had a monopoly on all youth sports facilities in Germany, effectively locking out non-members. As time went on, a number of boys chafed under the regimented nature of the organisation; some even dropped out and only rejoined when they learned they couldn't get a job or enter university without being a member.
There were a few members of the Hitler Youth who privately disagreed with Nazi ideologies. For instance, Hans Scholl, the brother of Sophie Scholl and one of the leading figures of the anti-Nazi resistance movement Weiße Rose (White Rose) was also a member of the Hitler Youth. This fact is emphasised in the film The White Rose which depicts how Scholl was able to resist Nazi Germany's ideology while being a member of the Nazi party's youth movement. The 1993 Thomas Carter film Swing Kids also focuses on this topic.
World War II
On 1 May 1940, Artur Axmann was appointed deputy to Schirach, whom he succeeded as Reichsjugendführer of the Hitler Youth on 8 August 1940. Axmann began to reform the group into an auxiliary force which could perform war duties. The Hitler Youth became active in German fire brigades and assisted with recovery efforts to German cities affected from Allied bombing. The Hitler Youth also assisted in such organisations as the Reich Postal Service, Deutsche Reichsbahn, fire services, and Reich radio service, and served among anti-aircraft defense crews.
By 1943, Nazi leaders began turning the Hitler Youth into a military reserve to replace manpower which had been depleted due to tremendous military losses. The idea for a Waffen-SS division made up of Hitler Youth members was first proposed by Axmann to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in early 1943. The plan for a combat division made up of Hitler Youth members born in 1926 was passed on to Hitler for his approval. Hitler approved the plan in February and Gottlob Berger was tasked with recruiting. Fritz Witt of SS Division Leibstandarte (LSSAH) was appointed divisional commander.
In 1944, the 12th SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend was deployed during the Battle of Normandy against the British and Canadian forces to the north of Caen. During the following months, the division earned itself a reputation for ferocity and fanaticism. When Witt was killed by allied naval gunfire, SS-Brigadeführer Kurt Meyer took over command and became the divisional commander at age 33.
As German casualties escalated with the combination of Operation Bagration and the Lvov-Sandomierz Operation in the east, and Operation Cobra in the west, members of the Hitlerjugend were recruited at ever younger ages. By 1945, the Volkssturm was commonly drafting 12-year-old Hitler Youth members into its ranks. During the Battle of Berlin, Axmann's Hitler Youth formed a major part of the last line of German defense, and were reportedly among the fiercest fighters. Although the city commander, General Helmuth Weidling, ordered Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations, in the confusion this order was never carried out. The remnants of the youth brigade took heavy casualties from the advancing Russian forces; only two survived.
Post World War II
The Hitler Youth was disbanded by Allied authorities as part of the denazification process. Some Hitler Youth members were suspected of war crimes but, because they were children, no serious efforts were made to prosecute these claims. While the Hitler Youth was never declared a criminal organisation, its adult leadership was considered tainted for corrupting the minds of young Germans. Many adult leaders of the Hitler Youth were put on trial by Allied authorities, and Baldur von Schirach was sentenced to 20 years in prison. However, he was convicted of crimes against humanity for his actions as Gauleiter of Vienna, not for his leadership of the Hitler Youth, because Artur Axmann had been serving as the functioning leader of the Hitler Youth from 1940 onward - Axmann only received a 39-month prison sentence in May 1949, but was not found guilty of war crimes.
German children born in the 1920s and 1930s became adults during the Cold War years. Since membership was compulsory after 1936, it was neither surprising nor uncommon that many senior leaders of both West and East Germany had been members of the Hitler Youth. Little effort was made to blacklist political figures who had been members, since many had little choice in the matter.
- German Youth Movement
- National Socialist German Students' League
- National Socialist Schoolchildren's League
- Opera Nazionale Balilla – Italian Fascist youth movement
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