Hitler Youth
Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Scholastic, New York (USA), 2005 (2005)
176 pages, including index.

Overall social, political and economic situation at the time in Germany.

Not every German family could afford a radio, but those who could gathered around, eager to hear what the new chancellor would say. Hitler was an exciting speaker. His voice captivated his listeners. He seemed to know just the right note, the right word or phrase to rouse the emotions of his audience.

"I can remember the feeling I had when he spoke", said Sasha Schwarz, who was eleven when Hitler came to power. "'At last', I said, 'here's somebody who can get us out of this mess'".

Most Germans agreed that their country, or Fatherland, was a mess. The German people suffered from widespread poverty and unemployment. In 1929, the same Great Depression that affected the United States also struck Germany and other European countries. By 1933, poverty and unemployment reached an all-time high in Germany.

Furthermore, the Germans suffered from humiliation after losing World War I. In 1919, when the Allied countries, namely Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, met to negotiate a peace treaty, the Allied leaders imposed harsh conditions on Germany. The Treaty of Versailles forced the German people to accept full responsibility for starting the war. As punishment, Germany had to relinquish its territories. The German people also had to pay an enormous sum of money, called reparations, for war damages. At the time, the reparations totaled about $32 billion.

(pp. 19-20)

But, far from the picture we tend to have these days, not every German supported the Nazis. Actually, a significant amount (perhaps even the majority) opposed them or were indifferent towards them.

Some Germans feared that Hitler would lead them to war. When Willi Welsskirch's father came home from work and read the newspaper headline, he exclaimed, "Oh my God! Now there will be a war. Hitler is the chancellor now, and that means war!"

German Jews were especially worried. It was no secret that Hitler considered them "parasites" and wanted to remove them from public life in Germany. Nine-year-old Bert Lewyn watched his father's dismay as he read the news about Hitler's appointment. "This does not bode well for Germany", warned Bert's father. "There's no way to predict what will happen to us". At the time, no one could have predicted the fate of Jews like the Lewyn family.

But millions of other Germans were simply apathetic about the news of Hitler's appointment. They found it hard to feel excited about the changes he promised. In 1933, Germany had forty different political parties, each one making promises as it struggled for power.

Tired of broken promises, these Germans simply shrugged their shoulders and went on with their lives. They doubted that a new chancellor —even one s popular as Hitler— would improve their lives. They believed that Hitler's popularity would slump as soon as he broke his promises. It was just a matter of time. And so, they did nothing.

(p. 21)

So, how did they manage to attract so many kids to their organization so quickly?

The Nazis knew what appealed to kids —uniforms, flags, bands, badges, weapons, and stories about heroes— and they offered plenty. They organized the Hitler Youth as an army, complete with regiments. A boy could rise from the simple rank of Pimpf (boy) to lead a squad, platoon, company, battalion, or even a regiment. A girl could rise from Mädel (maiden) to become a BDM [Bund Deutscher Mädel] leader.

(p. 27)

The uneasy relationship between the Nazi hierarchy and the Catholic Church. Most of the Church's organizations were harassed by the new authorities, especially once the Nazis passed the Enabling Act that gave Hitler the sole power to make laws. The Jehovah's Witnesses, together with the Jews, had the most to lose at the beginning, and were quickly rounded up for refusing to salute the Nazi flag and sent to concentration camps. The key difference between these smaller groups and the more mainstream Lutheran or Catholic churches was, of course, that they had fewer followers and, therefore, little power. A few years later, in 1941, Bishop von Galen would manage to start a campaign to lobby against the euthanasia action that would actually cause Hitler to order a halt to the program. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the killings continued secretly during the war years in spite of this order.

The Catholic Church forbade its young people to join the Hitler Youth. It offered similar group activities, but children and teenagers still flocked to the Hitler Youth, finding its marches, rallies, and meetings irresistible. "I frequently served Mass early Sunday, wearing my full uniform —including belt and dagger— beneath my altar boy robes", said Alfons Heck.

(p. 31)

The Hitler Youth enjoyed the power they had over teachers and other authority figures. Dressed in full uniform, entire Hitler Youth squads —as many as one hundred boys— showed up at classroom doors to intimidate teachers who did not espouse the Nazi worldview.

In Munich, they broke up teachers' association meetings and even smashed out the apartment windows of a Latin teacher who had given out low grades. The police were called, but the Nazi Party wouldn't allow them to arrest the Hitler Youth. All the police could do was take down their names. Never before had students felt so much power over adults and school authority. But the leader of the Hitler Youth, Baldur von Schirach, was unhappy about the unfavorable publicity, and he told the Hitler Youth to obey the law.

(p. 39)

Racial Science class. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935. Preparation for the war. Building the war machine.

Then, in January 1937, Hitler withdrew Germany's signature from the Treaty of Versailles. Later that year, the Nazis stepped up the paramilitary training of the Hitler Youth. As soon as fourteen-year-old boys moved from the Junvolk to the Hitlerjugend (HJ), they joined specialist sections, run by the Wehrmacht (German army), the Luftwaffe (air force), and the navy. In this way, Hitler built up the German military.

The most popular specialist groups were the Motor-HJ, the Flieger-HJ, and the Marine-HJ. In the Motor-HJ, boys trained on motorcycles and learned practical mechanical skills and traffic and car regulations. The Flieger-HJ was the first step to becoming a Luftwaffe pilot. Since the Germans had a shortage of powered aircraft, the boys built and piloted gliders. In the Marine-HJ, the boys learned to navigate waterways during sailing and rowing excursions on inland lakes and large rivers.

Other smaller specialist groups existed, in which boys learned how to signal in Morse code, operate antiaircraft weaponry, provide first aid and practical field medicine, perform air-raid warden duties, and handle other weapons. Girls received additional training in air-raid duties and sa auxiliary nurses.

Another special section, the HJ-Streinfendiest, or Patrol Force, acted like junior Gestapo agents, arresting children and teenagers who broke the law. They patrolled for underage smoking or drinking, offenses punishable by three weeks in prison and a fifty-reichsmarks fine. They checked ID cards to prevent underage teenagers from sneaking into restricted movies that contained dancing or kissing scenes. They made sure that young people conducted themselves in an orderly fashion in public places. They reported suspicious neighbors and even monitored church services, to ensure that the sermons met with Nazi approval.

The Hitler salute was law, and the Patrol Force reprimanded anyone who did not salute properly. During a parade in Berlin, the Hitler Youth attacked a visiting American student when he failed to salute their banner. They rushed him, knocking him to the ground.

(pp. 67-69)

There was some internal resistance in Germany too. The White Rose, for instance, distributed some leaflets against the Nazis during the war. Its members were executed.

On February 22, 1943, four days after their arrest, Hans [Scholl], Sophie [Scholl], and Christoph Probst appeared before the People's Court in Munich. The trial lasted three and a half hours. The court pronounced all three guilty. Immediately after the trial, Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst were led to the execution room in Stadelheim prison and beheaded.

The prison warden reported that the three young people bore themselves with marvelous bravery. "They were led off, the girl first", said the warden. "She went without the flicker of an eyelash. None of us understood how this could be possible. The executioner said he had never seen anyone meet his end as she did".

Just before Hans placed his head on the guillotine block, he shouted out, "Long live freedom!" The words rang throughout he huge prison. Within months, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, and Kurt Huber were also beheaded.

The Munich students weren't stirred into action, as Sophie had wished. Instead they expressed their loyalty to the Nazi government by staging a pro-Nazi demonstration in front of the university just two hours after the executions of Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

Three days later, at a special assembly, a Nazi student leader gave a speech, deriding the White Rose group for their resistance activities. Hundreds of students cheered their approval of the speech. They also gave custodian Jakob Schmied [the person who discovered the resistance] a standing ovation.

(pp. 126-127)

Entertainment factor: 8/10
Intellectual factor: 6/10