- For the SS division with the nickname Hitlerjugend see; 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The Hitler Youth (German: Hitler-Jugend (help–info) , abbreviated HJ) was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. It existed from 1922 to 1945. The HJ was the second oldest paramilitary Nazi group, founded one year after its adult counterpart, the Sturmabteilung (the SA). Made up of the Hitlerjugend proper, for male youth ages 14'18; the younger boys' section Deutsches Jungvolk for ages 10'14; and the girls' section Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM).
The first NSDAP-related organization of German youth was the Jugendbund der NSDAP. Its establishment by the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP, the German Nazi Party, was announced on 8 March 1922 in the Völkischer Beobachter, and its inaugural meeting was held on 13 May the same year. In April 1924 the Jugendbund der NSDAP was renamed Grossdeutsche Jugendbewegung (Greater German Youth Movement).
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 NSDAP.
Following the abortive Beer Hall Putsch (in 1923), the Nazi youth groups were ostensibly disbanded but many elements simply went underground, operating clandestinely in small units under assumed names. Finally, 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 and admirer of Hitler from Plauen, 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.
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, the Hitler Youth was banned by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning in an attempt to stop widespread political violence. But by June the ban was lifted by his successor, Franz von Papen as a way of appeasing Hitler whose political star was ascending rapidly.
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.
Hitler Youth recruitment poster. The wording translates to: "Youth serves the leader. All ten year-olds into the Hitler Youth."
The HJ were viewed as future "Aryan supermen" and were indoctrinated in anti-Semitism. One aim was to instill the motivation that would enable HJ members, as soldiers, to fight faithfully for the Third Reich. The HJ put 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 period, had the responsibility of overseeing the physical fitness development programs provided to the German youth.
After the boy scout movement was banned through German-controlled countries, the HJ appropriated many of its activities, though changed in content and intention. For example, many HJ 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.
The HJ wore uniforms very like those of the SA, with similar ranks and insignia.
Hitlerjugend members in 1933.
The HJ was organized into corps under adult leaders, and the general membership comprised boys aged fourteen to eighteen. From 1936, membership of the HJ was compulsory for all young German men. The HJ was also seen as an important stepping stone to future membership of the elite Schutzstaffel (the SS). Members of the HJ 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 HJ was organized into local cells on a community level. Such cells had weekly meetings at which various Nazi doctrines were taught by adult HJ leaders. Regional leaders typically organized rallies and field exercises in which several dozen Hitler Youth cells would participate. The largest HJ gathering usually took place annually, at Nuremberg, where members from all over Germany would converge for the annual Nazi Party rally.
The HJ maintained training academies comparable to preparatory schools. They were designed to nurture future Nazi Party leaders, and only the most radical and devoted HJ members could expect to attend.
The HJ also maintained several corps designed to develop future officers for the Wehrmacht. The corps offered specialist pre-training for each of the specific arms for which the HJ 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 HJ 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 Kameradshaft (Comradeship), which had a girl's version for the BDM called Mädelschaft, and a yearbook called Jungen eure Welt (Youth your World).
Flags of the HJ and its branches
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 cm long by 145 cm high. 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 HJ 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 HJ Gefolgschaft (Escort), the equivalent of a company with a strength of 150 youths, displayed the emblem used on the HJ 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 cm long by 120 cm high with the three horizontal bars each 40 cm deep. In order to distinguish both the individual Gefolgschaft and the branch of HJ 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 HJ branch. For example, there was a light-blue patch, a white Unit number, and a white piping reserved for the Flieger-HJ, or Flying-HJ. The flagpoles were of polished black wood and had a white metal bayonet finial.
The Deutsches Jungvolk (DJ) was the junior branch of the HJ, for boys aged 10 to 14. DJ Jungbann flags generally followed the same style as those of the HJ. The differences were: the DJ flag had an all-black field; the DJ-eagle was the negative of the HJ-eagle (white with a black swastika); 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 cm long by 120 cm 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 HJ 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 cm long by 120 cm high. 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)
Early DJ pennant (pre 1933)
Bund deutscher Mädel (BDM)/Jungmädel (JM)- Untergau pennant
Bund deutscher Mädel (BDM)/ JM-Gruppen pennant
(Performance booklet) of a Hitler Youth / Deutsches Jungvolk
member. The symbol in the upper right, based on the Sowilo rune
, reads "For accomplishments in the DJ (Deutsches Jungvolk
)". The symbol in the lower left, based on the Tiwaz rune
, reads "For accomplishments in the HJ (Hitler Jugend
The HJ was originally Munich-based only. In 1923, the organization had a little over 1,000 members. In 1925, when the Nazi Party had been refounded, the membership grew to over 5,000. Five years later, national HJ membership stood at 25,000. By the end of 1932 (a few weeks before the Nazis came to power) it was at 107,956. At the end of 1933, the HJ had 2,300,000 members. Much of these increases came from the more or less forcible merger of other youth organizations with the HJ. (The sizable Evangelische Jugend, a Lutheran youth organisation of 600,000 members, was integrated on 18 February 1934).
As an 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, HJ membership stood at just over five million. That same month, HJ membership became mandatory for Aryans, under the Gesetz über die Hitlerjugend law. This legal obligation was re-affirmed in 1939 with the Jugenddienstpflicht and HJ membership was required even when it was opposed by the member's parents. 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 HJ. 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 HJ. Only about 10 to 20% were able to avoid 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.
In 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 draw manpower which had been depleted due to tremendous military losses. In 1943, the 12.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 were "mowed down" by the advancing Russian forces; only two survivors remained.
Post World War II
The Hitler Youth was disbanded by Allied authorities as part of the denazification process. Some HJ members were suspected of war crimes but, as they were children, no serious efforts were made to prosecute these claims. While the HJ was never declared a criminal organization, its adult leadership was considered tainted for corrupting the minds of young Germans. Many adult leaders of the HJ were put on trial by Allied authorities, and Baldur von Schirach was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was, however, convicted of crimes against humanity for his actions as Gauleiter of Vienna, not his leadership of the HJ.
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 in the HJ. Little effort was made to blacklist political figures who had been youth members of the HJ, since many had had little choice in the matter.
Despite this, several notable figures have been "exposed" by the media as former HJ Youth members. These include Stuttgart mayor Manfred Rommel (son of the famous general Erwin Rommel); former foreign minister of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher; philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the late Prince Consort of the Netherlands Claus von Amsberg.
Allegations against Pope Benedict XVI
In his 1996 autobiography Salt of the Earth, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) revealed that he was a member of Hitler Youth when he was 14 years old. The disclosure is not unexpected since during World War II, membership was mandatory for almost every teenage male in Germany. However, in a May 2009 trip to Israel, Benedict's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi told reporters that Ratzinger was never in the Hitler Youth, actually being in the Luftwaffe as an air force assistant. According to the Pope's brother, Monsignor Gregor Ratzinger, Josef was automatically placed on the Hitler Youth membership rolls on turning 14, as was required by law, but "did not attend meetings." In 1943 Ratzinger was conscripted into the Flakhelfer, teenage boys who assisted the crews of Luftwaffe antiaircraft guns; he eventually deserted and made his way to the American lines. The Ratzinger family, according to those who knew them, were very religious and hated the Nazi regime.
- ^ "First NSDAP-related organization of German youth." feldgrau.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2010.
- ^ "Axis History." axishistory.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2010.
- ^ Hakim 1995
- ^ "Hitlerjugend: An In-Depth History." axishistory.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2010.
- ^ One of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Article 156, was to hand over all German concessions in China to Japan in 1919. The camp is dated 1935.
- ^ "Wille und Macht." germaniainternational.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2010.
- ^ "Other HJ publications." germaniainternational.com. Retrieved: 1 February 2010.
- ^ Priepke 1960, pp. 187'189.
- ^ a b Massaquoi 2001
- ^ "New Pope Defied Nazis As Teen During WWII." The New York Times. Retrieved: 1 February 2010.
- ^ Butler 1986, p. 172.
- ^ Franks, Tim. "Nazi row puts spotlight on Pope's PR." news.bbc.co.uk, 12 May 2009. Retrieved; 1 February 2010.
- ^ Catholic News 2008-09-29, "Benedict did not attend Hitler Youth: Georg Ratzinger", http://www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=9254
- ^ Allen, John L. Jr, National Catholic Reporter 1999-04-16, "The Vatican's Enforcer," http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/archives/041699/041699a.htm
- ^ Associated Press 2005-04-23 "New Pope Defied Nazis As Teen During WWII," http://bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/topics/new_pope_defied_nazis.htm
- Butler, Rupert. Hitler's Young Tigers: The Chilling True Story of the Hitler Youth. London: Arrow Books, 1986. ISBN 0-090942450-9.
- 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 978-0060959616.
- Priepke, Manfred. Die evangelische Jugend im Dritten Reich 1933-1936 (in German). Frankfurt: Norddeutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1960.