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 constituted of the Hitlerjugend proper for male youth aged 14 to 18, the Deutsches Jungvolk (German Youth) for younger boys, and the League of German Girls.
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 German Criminal Code, the Hitler Youth is an "unconstitutional organisation" and the distribution or public use of its symbols, except for educational or research purposes, are not permitted.
In 1922 the Munich-based Nazi Party established its official youth organization 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 (or "Storm Regiment"), the adult paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party.
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 reorganized. The architect of the re-organisation was Kurt Gruber, a law student from Plauen in Saxony.
After a short power-struggle with a rival organization—Gerhard Roßbach's Schilljugend—Gruber prevailed and his "Greater German Youth Movement" became the Nazi Party's official youth organization. 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 Hitler-Jugend had enlisted over 25,000 boys aged 14 and upwards. It also set up a junior branch, the Deutsches Jungvolk, for boys aged 10 to 14. Girls from 10 to 18 were given their own parallel organisation, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), League of German Girls.
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, when Baldur von Schirach became the first Reichsjugendführer (Reich Youth Leader), pouring much time and large amounts of money into the project.
The members of the Hitler Youth were viewed as future "Aryan supermen" and were indoctrinated into racism. One aim was to instill the motivation that would enable its members as soldiers, to fight faithfully for Nazi Germany. There was more emphasis on physical and military training than on academic study. The Nationalsozialistischer Reichsbund für Leibesübungen (NSRBL), the umbrella organization promoting and coordinating sport activities in Germany during the Nazi era, had the responsibility of overseeing the physical fitness development programs provided to the German youth.
The Hitler Youth were used to break up Church youth movements, and in anti-Church indoctrination, used to spy on religious classes and Bible studies, and interfere with church attendance.
After the boy scout movement was banned through German-controlled countries, the Hitler Youth appropriated many of its activities, though changed in content and intention. For example, many activities closely resembled military training, with weapons training, assault course circuits and basic tactics. Some cruelty by the older boys toward the younger ones was tolerated and even encouraged, since it was believed this would weed out the unfit and harden the rest.
Members wore uniforms very much like that of the SA, with similar ranks and insignia.
The Hitler Youth was organized into corps under adult leaders, and the general membership comprised boys aged fourteen to eighteen. The organization was also seen as an important stepping stone to future membership of the elite Schutzstaffel (SS). Members of the Hitler Youth were particularly proud to be bestowed with the single Sig Rune (victory symbol) by the SS. The SS utilized two Sig Runes as their mark, and this gesture served to symbolically link the two groups.
The Hitler Youth was organized 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 organized 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, and only the most devoted members could expect to attend.
The Hitler Youth also maintained several corps designed to develop future officers for the Wehrmacht (Armed forces). The corps offered specialist pre-training for each of the specific arms for which the member was ultimately destined. The Marine Hitler Youth, for example, was the largest such corps and served as a water rescue auxiliary to the Kriegsmarine.
Another branch of the Hitler Youth was the Deutsche Arbeiter Jugend – HJ (German Worker Youth – HY). This organization 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.
Flags of the Hitler Youth
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The basic unit of the Hitler Youth was the Bann (unit of the whole district, consisting of 2,400 to 3,600 members, with 4 Stamm/Stämmen each of 600 members or more), the equivalent of a military regiment. Of these Banne, there were more than 300 spread throughout Germany, each of a strength of about 6,000 youths. Each unit carried a flag of almost identical design, but the individual Bann was identified by its number, displayed in black on a yellow scroll above the eagle's head. The flags measured 200 by 145 centimetres (79 in × 57 in). The displayed eagle in the center was adopted from the former Imperial State of Prussia. In its talons it grasped a white coloured sword and a black hammer. These symbols were used on the first official flags presented to the delegation of the Hitler Youth at a national rally of the NSDAP in August 1929 in Nürnberg. The sword was said to represent nationalism, whereas the hammer was a symbol of socialism. The poles used with these flags were of bamboo topped by a white metal ball and spear point finial.
The flags carried by the Hitler Youth Gefolgschaft (Escort), the equivalent of a company with a strength of 150 youths, displayed the emblem used on the Hitler Youth armband: a tribar of red over white over red, in the centre of which was a square of white standing on its point containing a black swastika. The Gefolgschafts flag measured 180 by 120 centimetres (71 in × 47 in) with the three horizontal bars each 40 centimetres (16 in) deep. In order to distinguish both the individual Gefolgschaft and the branch of Hitler Youth service to which the unit belonged, each flag displayed a small coloured identification panel in the upper left corner. The patch was in a specific colour according to the branch. For example, there was a light-blue patch, a white Unit number, and a white piping reserved for the Flieger-HJ, or Flying Hitler Youth. The flagpoles were of polished black wood and had a white metal bayonet finial.
The Deutsches Jungvolk was the junior branch of the Hitler Youth, for boys aged 10 to 14. Its flag (Jungbann) generally followed the same style as those of the Hitler Youth. The differences were its flag had an all-black field with a white eagle; the scroll above the eagle's head was in white with the unit number in black; and the sword, hammer, beak, talons, and left leg of the eagle were in silver-grey colour. The flags eventually measured 165 by 120 centimetres (65 in × 47 in) high. The flagpoles were of black polished wood topped with a white-metal spearhead-shaped finial. It displayed on both sides an eagle bearing on its breast the Hitler Youth diamond.
In contrast, the DJ Fähnlein flag, that of the name of the unit, equivalent to a troop or company, was of a very simple design. It displayed a single runic S in white on an all-black field. The Fähnlein number appeared on a white patch sewn to the cloth in the top left-hand corner. It was piped in silver and had black unit numbers. The size was 160 by 120 centimetres (63 in × 47 in). The flagpoles were of polished black wood with a white metal unsheathed bayonet blade. A Fähnlein however, was not so much the flag, but the name of the DJ unit itself, a term which had been taken over from ancient Landsknecht denominations.
Flag of the Hitler Youth (General flag)
HJ Gefolgschafts (Escort) Flag
Arbeiterjugend (HJ) pennant (pre 1933)
DJ Fähnlein (Troop) Flag
Early DJ pennant (pre 1933)
Bund deutscher Mädel (BDM)/Jungmädel (JM)- Untergau pennant
Bund deutscher Mädel (BDM)/ JM-Gruppen pennant
In 1923, the youth organization 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 organizations. (The sizable Evangelische Jugend, 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 organization 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 law. By 1938, the Hitler Youth had over 7.7 million members. This legal obligation was reaffirmed in March 1939 with the Jugenddienstpflicht, 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.
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 White Rose (Weiße 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
In 1940, Artur Axmann replaced Schirach as Reichsjugendführer and took over leadership of the Hitler Youth. 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 organizations 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. In 1943, the 12th SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend, under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Witt, was formed. The Division was a fully equipped Waffen-SS panzer division, with the majority of the enlisted cadre being drawn from Hitler Youth boys between the ages of 16 and 18. The division 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 youngest 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 organization, 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.
Despite this, several notable figures have been "exposed" by the media as former members. These include Stuttgart mayor Manfred Rommel (son of the famous general Erwin Rommel); former foreign minister of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher; Pope Benedict XVI; philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the late Prince Consort of the Netherlands Claus von Amsberg.
|This "see also" section may contain an excessive number of suggestions. Please ensure that only the most relevant suggestions are given and that they are not red links, and consider integrating suggestions into the article itself. (June 2014)|
- Adolf Hitler March of German Youth
- Academy for Youth Leadership
- Der Marsch zum Führer
- Der Pimpf
- German Youth Movement
- Glossary of Nazi Germany
- Herbert Norkus
- Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow
- Hitler Youth Knife
- Levente (organization)
- List of Nazi Party leaders and officials
- Mocidade Portuguesa
- National Socialist German Students' League
- National Socialist Schoolchildren's League
- Opera Nazionale Balilla – Italian Fascist youth movement
- Hitlerjunge Quex – novel about a Hitler Youth
- Hitlerjunge Quex – 1933 film based on the book
- Komsomol - youth organization in the Soviet Union
- "Vorwärts! Vorwärts! schmettern die hellen Fanfaren" – Hitler Youth song
- Butler, Rupert. Hitler's Young Tigers: The Chilling True Story of the Hitler Youth. London: Arrow Books, 1986. ISBN 0-09-942450-9.
- Hakim, Joy. A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-509514-6.
- Holzträger, Hans. In A Raging Inferno: Combat Units of the Hitler Youth 1944–45. Solihull, UK: Helion & Company, 2005. ISBN 1-874622-60-4.
- Könitzer, Willi Fr. The Hitler Youth as the Carrier of New Values. Berlin: Reichssportverlag, 1938.
- Massaquoi, Hans Jürgen. Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001. ISBN 978-0-06-095961-6.
- Priepke, Manfred. Die evangelische Jugend im Dritten Reich 1933–1936 (in German). Frankfurt: Norddeutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1960.
- Sandor, Cynthia. Through Innocent Eyes – The Chosen Girls of the Hitler Youth. Balboa Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4525-6308-4.
- Neville Chamberlain writes to the Hitler Youth on archive.org