The German people were elated with the success of Hitler and the NAZIs in re-militarizing the Rhineland, uniting with Austria (the Anschluss), and then reclaiming the Sudetenland. There were, however, still many memories of World War II. There are many indications that there was no desire for war. War when it came resulted in spectacular German victories. Hitler believing the War had been won, actually scaled back war production in 1940-41. He was concerned about stressing the home front. This decision delayed critical work on weapons development (such at jet aircraft). Hitler was very concerned with maintaining German civilian consumption levels. Hitler even before the War began was concerned about the home front. He was aware that food shortages had destroyed civilian morale and that disorders at home were a factor in the Kaiser's abdication. Hitler also did not want mothers not be taken out of the home to work in factories. German women were not mobilized for War work, rather slave labor was brought in from occupied countries to work in factories and on farms. The hard-pressed British in 1939-40 completely reorganized the economy for war production which included the use of large numbers of women and youths. The German approach to a war economy was to pillage occupied countries and to transport workers to concentration camps for slave labor, often under horrendous conditions. As the War went against the NAZIs, severe rationing became necessary. And then in 1944 the War came home to the German people as the Allies finally cracked the Luftwaffe and Allied armies approached the borders of the Reich.
One of the major charges in the political campaigns before Hitler and the NAZIs seized power was that he would launch another war. There were still many terrible memories of World War I. Hitler at first pursued a moderate foreign policy while launching a vast new rearmament program. And as Hitler began to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy, the results were spectacular. The German people were elated with the success of Hitler and the NAZIs in regaining the Saarland (1935), re militarizing the Rhineland (1936), uniting with Austria--the Anschluss (1938), and finally reclaiming the Sudetenland (1938)--all without war. It is unquestionable that Hitler was enormously popular with the German people. Had he stopped with the Sudetenland, there would have been no War and Hitler would have been the most popular German statesman since Bismarck. Hitler had assured Chamberlain that he wanted no Czechs in the Reich. He was, however, actually disappointed at Munich. He felt that Chamberlain had denied him his war in 1938. He kept his plan to launch a new war from the German people whose martial spirit in early 1939 disappointed him. There are many indications that there was no desire for war among the great bulk of the German people. War when it came at first resulted in spectacular German victories and very limited casualties. This added to Hitler's popularity. Germans, even many doubters, began to believe increasingly in Hitler and his program. Hitler for his part was an extraordinarily effective politician. He did not want to be a politician, he wanted to be a great German war leader and he was determined to go down in history as the German war commander that would reshape Europe and history.
There is no way of knowing with any precision what the German people thought of the war that their Führer unleashed. There were no public opinion polls at the time. An even if they had been, we suspect that most Germans would have been very cautious about answering questions with political content. We know that Hitler was frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for war on the part of the German people in the months from the Munich Conference leading up to the invasion of Poland and the onset of War. There were many Germans who feared war, especially those of the generation that had fought World War I. There were, however, many who believe that German had grievances that needed to be rectified, especially the loss of territory and as a consequence the existence of Germans living in the new countries created by the Versailles Treaty. NAZI propaganda did its best to convince Germans that these people were being mistreated. German schools and the Hitler Youth pursued a program to prepare young people for war. The tenacity of the German soldier suggests that for many, this program was very effective. NAZI propaganda staged a fictitious Polish attack to justify the invasion. I'm not sure how many Germans were fooled by the ruse. The stunning NAZI successes in the first year of the War dazzled many Germans, even those who had feared war. Hitler was at this stage enormously popular. Again there is no way of measuring this, but the news reels of the time suggest widespread support for Hitler and his achievements. Of course measures such as slave labor and looting food supplies and manufactured goods from the conquered territories meant that the home front was not adversely affected by the War. This did not begin to change until the Red Army offensive before Moscow (December 1941) stopped the Panzers and resulted in huge losses of men and material. Attitudes toward the War must have changed in the last years of the War. The increasing intensity of the Allied bombardment and the approach of the Red Army turned the war into a war of survival.
The German approach to a war economy was to pillage occupied countries and ship food and consumer goods back to the Reich so consumption levels could be maintained. This began immediately with the conquest of Poland. And the conquest of Denmark and Norway (April 1940), Western Europe (May-June 1940) and the Balkans (April 1941) provided even more opportunities for plunder. Thus conditions in Germany did not deteriorate in the first two years of the war. Food and many consumers was still readily available. This was a policy Hitler ordered because of the impact of shortages on German morale during World War I. This photographs in Germany except for all the military uniforms do not look like a country at War. Nor were air raids at first much of a problem. Hitler believing the War had been won, actually scaled back war production in 1940-41. He was concerned about stressing the home front. This decision delayed critical work on weapons development (such at jet aircraft). Hitler was very concerned with maintaining German civilian consumption levels. Hitler even before the War began was concerned about the home front. He was aware that food shortages had destroyed civilian morale and that the collapse of the home front. Disorders at home were the principal factor in the Kaiser's abdication. The cut backs proved to be a terrible miscalculation. The NAZIs neither used Germany''s potential or efficiently used the potential of the occupied countries. When the War turned against Germany, the NAZIs found themselves fighting countries with far greater resources and industrial capacity. Hitler even ordered cut backs in military production after the victory over France. This did not begin to change until the advances in the East began before Moscow (December 1941). As German workers had to be conscripted for military service, workers for the factories were needed. Jews could have been used for the factories, but Hitler instead decided to kill them in what we now call the Holocaust. Thus the NAZIs began to conscript foreign workers to work in German factories. The NAZIs as the war dragged on, also began to conscript workers from occupied countries to camps for forced or slave labor, often under horrendous conditions. The NAZIs using this system were able to maintain production levels in the Reich. There were, however, huge declines in production levels in the occupied countries. This is why that even though the NAZIs occupied much of Europe, there were no massive increases in production levels commensurate with the pre-War industrial or agricultural production of Europe. Hitler eventually put Albert Speer in charge of war production. German industry began to be used more efficiently. Battlefield losses and the Allied strategic bombing campaign, however, gradually eroded the German ability to continue the War. A key here was petroleum.
Hitler did not want German workers to be adversely affected by the War. This was part of his effort to make sure there would be no collapse if morale on the home front. After the victories in the West, arms projects were actually cancelled. This changed dramatically after the disaster in the East (December 1941). The NAZIs began increasing the length of the work day. Goebbels reported in his diary, "Officials are now to work fifty-eight hours per week instead of fifty-six. The Ministry of the Interior immediately proposed that twenty-five marks per month be paid them as so-called 'soup money'. I regard that as wrong. Officialdom should do its duty. If it is demanded of officials that they work a few extra hours more in wartime than under normal peace conditions, they ought to look upon that as a sort of service as honor." [July 25, 1942--Goebbels, pp. 48-49.]
Hitler and the NAZIs thought that women belonged in the home taking care of the husband and the children.
This was similar to the pre-NAZI slogan--"Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (children, kitchen, church). It epitomized the NAZI attitude, except for the church element. NAZI ideology saw women as inferior to men. Thus trends like increasing educational and professional achievement were reversed by the NAZIs. The place and duties of married women was primarily to have babies and care for the home. Hitler early in the NAZI era spoke to the National Socialist Women's Organization and insisted for the German woman, her “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home." (1934) Medals were awarded mothers for child birth. Mothers who had four babies received the Cross of Honor of the German Mother. A major NAZI concern was the falling German birth rate and they did not want to do anything adversely affect the birth rate and domestic life, war being an exception. As a result, German women play a less important role in the War than the women in the Allied countries (America, Britain, and the Soviet Union). Girls and young women were mobilized through the BDM and other NAZI organizations, but The NAZI war effort did not plan for mothers to be taken out of the home to work in factories. German women were not mobilized for War work. At first it was not necessary. The initial victories were relatively easy and did not require the full mobilization of the economy. This changed with Barbarossa, especially after the Red Army offensive before Moscow (December 1941). Rather than mobilize German women, the NAZIs used foreign labor, largely POWs, and slave and other forced labor from the occupied countries to provide needed labor for the War effort. The hard-pressed British in 1939-40 completely reorganized the economy for war production which included the use of large numbers of married women. The Germans did not do this until much later in the War and never extensively mobilized married women. Unmarried women did serve as auxiliaries in the military, especially in signals and air defense services. [Williamson] These were non-combat roles except for manning anti-aircraft batteries.
German families like families all over Europe were affected by the War. One impact even before the War was the way the NAZI Party co opted German children beginning at age 10 with induction into the Hitler Youth. Ironically compared to what came later in the War, German families were some of the European families least affected at the onset of the War. Casualties were light and early victories enabled the Germans to exploit the occupied countries to finance and support the war effort. France proved to be a marvelous source of consumer goods for German civilians. And the campaigns were short, meaning that the soldiers were not separated from their families for long periods. This changed after Barbarossa (June 1941) and the Red army offensive before Moscow (December 1941). The Wehrmacht had to deploy the bulk of its force on distant battlefields. Casualties skyrocketed and leave became almost impossible to obtain. Hitler declared war on America (December 1941). This led to around-the-clock bombing (January 1943), bringing the front line to German civilians. Rationing became steadily more severe. And families became increasingly separated. It was no longer just the brothers and fathers at the front. The children in the cities had to be evacuated. And many young women were involved in war work or assisting in facilities like hospitals and other facilities often at distant locations. As the Allies liberated the occupied countries, the Germans were no longer able to supply the civilian population by exploiting occupied peoples. By the end if the War, German families were living in the ruins of demolished cities.
One of the reasons Germany was defeated in World War I is that support for the War and the imperial government collapsed on the home front. The Allies also cracked the Western Front, but the German Army could have continued the War for another year. The Rhine would have been a formidable natural barrier. It was the collapse of the home front that ended the War in November. A major reason for the collapse of the home front was the substantial decline in agricultural production. It is interesting that Hitler after the War focused on the collapse of the home front and not the battlefield defeat of the German Army on the Western Front. (This was accomplished with an American Army of only about 1 million in France. (The United States was building an army of over 4 million at the time of the German requested Armistice.) As a result, the NAZIs in World War II gave considerable attention to supplying the home front with food. This was accomplished in a variety of ways. First, the Germans looted occupied countries of food. This was done ruthlessly in the East and in a more civilized, but none the less efficient matter in the West. Little consideration was given to the civilians in the occupied countries. There was , for example, a dreadful famine in Greece. Second, the NAZIs used POWs as agricultural labor. Many Polish and Soviet POWs were essentially y killed by exposure and starvation. The French POWs were treated more correctly. Third, the HJ was used as a source of agricultural labor. This was done in a variety of ways. The children were set up in camps for this purpose. Some of the KLV camps were also used. Fourth, an effective rationing program was established. The efforts worked to supply both the military and civilians with food. Food began to become more scarce as German military defeats began to reduce the area in the East that could be pillaged. The system, however, began to collapse in late 1944 as the Allied air offensive began to destroy the German transportation network.
The NAZIs were so successful in the early years of the War that domestic rationing at first was not introduced. Hitler was at first convinced that it would affect public support of the War if a austere rationing program was to be introduced. NAZI popularity was in fact partially due to the fact that Germany under the NAZIs was relatively prosperous. This was in part due to extensive deficit spending for military production. If Hitler had not launched the War in 1939, the impact of the large and growing NAZI budget and trade deficits would have begun to affect the German economy. Once the War began, however, Hitler wanted to main domestic consumption. He felt that food and other shortages had been a major factor in destroying civilian morale during World War I which of course led to overthrow of the Kaiser and other German monarchies at the end of the War. This was a part of the reason that the Germans were so brutal in occupied countries. One of their tasks was to seize food and ship it back to Germany. I am not sure just when rationing was first introduced. Of course when the War began to go against the Germans in Russia and the Allied bombing effort began to affect domestic production, this changed and a very severe rationing program had to be introduced. The system gave extra rations for men involved in heavy industry. Lower rations were accorded to Jews and Poles in the areas annexed to Germany, but apparently not to the Rhineland Poles. The German ration coupons pictured here is called a Reichseierkarte or Government egg card (figure 1). It was issued in Strassburg during November 1944. Strassburg was a French city, but as it was in Alsace, it had been annexed to the Reich.
The food situation in German, in part because of the looting of occupied areas, was relatively good during the early years of the War. Imported items (bananas, coffee, chocolate, citrus fruit, and tobacco) were difficult to obtain), but basic foodstuffs wee readily available. Food was more available in German than Britain. The NAZIs were careful to maintain domestic food production. Men in rural areas were drafted for military service, but POWs provided the man power needed. The food situation began to seriously deteriorate when the severe 1942-43 winter did affect the food supply. Rationing authorizations were cut. Battlefield losses also affected the ability of the NAZIs to look occurred areas. This first occurred in the East. And in 1943 the American 8th Air Force joined RAF Bomber Command in the strategic bombing campaign. Food became a serious problem in 1944. Germany experienced major defeats in the East and the Allies liberated France. And in 1944 the introduction of long-range fighter escorts enable the Allies to intensively bomb both German cities as well as the transportation system. This along with the scarcity of oil meant that food, even when available, was difficult to deliver to the cities. By the time the Allies crossed the borders of the Reich (late 1944), the civilian population was in increasingly desperate condition.
NAZI authorities published an yearbook for boys. It was entitled Jungen: Eure Welt, meaning Boys: Your World. The first volume appeared in 1938 and it was published annually through 1943. There was no 1944 volume as by that time the World War had begun to affect the domestic economy. I don't think the connotation was that the world belonged to Germany, but more the world in which the boys lived, but perhaps our German readers will give a more authoritative interpretation. The sub-title was The Year Book of the German Boy, but earlier editions identified it as the yearbook of Hitler Youth boys. There was a comparable series for girls. The articles were topics which appealed to boys. There are articles on current events, politics, the war, arts and crafts, games, sports, wildlife and similar topics. Much of the book is devoted to the military, even before World War II broke out. boys preparing for military service through the Hitler Youth program. We are not sure what the press run was and if this was a book boys purchased or was more likely to be read in libraries. It was published by the NAZI Central Publishing House. The book is heavily illustrated with both photographs and illustrations.
German at the time Hitler seized power in Germany (1933 had the one of the finest, if not the finest, educational system in the world. Academic standards were very high, although many working-class children could not continue their education beyond primary school. Partly because of the high academic standards and the many anti-NAZIs and apolitical teachers, Hitler did not trust the school system. In addition, he did not value scholarship and intellectuals very highly. He though they undercut his desire to control the message delivered to young people. He wanted answers given to German youth and did not want them trained o ask questions. This is one reason he place such an emphasis on the Hitler Youth which was heavy on NAZI ideology, physical prowess, and devoid of any trace of intellectualism. After seizing power, Hitler moved to purge the educational system. The first step was to dismiss all Jews, but soon after anti-NAZIs and eventually the apolitical from German schools. Inevitably academic standards suffered as political reliability became more important than academic credentials. With the outset of the War, German schools were not at first significantly affected, except that many younger teachers were called up for military service. This only changed as the War began to go against Germany. More male teachers were called up for military service. Then as the Allied strategic bombing campaign began to have some impact, the NAZIs began evacuating children from the cities, although the program was very different than the British evacuation program. A reader sent us this blurb about his mother's secondary school. Girls went to Oberlyceums and boys to Gymnasiums. Here she learned fencing, gymnastics and was on the rowing team. The walk to and from school became a terrifying challenge as war reduced much of the city to rubble. By 1943, many schools had to go on split sessions as "Volkschule" children had to be shifted to several "big kids" schools from 8 to 12, and reduced hours for teens from 12 to 4. ... the school board felt getting kids home in daylight, and teens by dusk in winter time in a city of total darkness provided the greatest chance, and parent's relief of getting home alive. A favorite memory was of a biology field trip to learn about edible mushrooms. The teacher said some are poisonous, some are not. Nibble on a corner, if it makes you sick, it probably IS poisonous, spit it out."
Then as the situation became increasingly worse, schools were closed and unified. Many went on two shift schedules. By the end of the war the school system had ceased to exist.
We are not sure how children's play was affected by the War. We have found some information about board games that were marketed and sold in Germany. We are not sure who manufactured them. The ones we have found are about the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic and bombing Britain. We think they were produced fairly early in the War, in part because th Allies won both the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. We doubt the Germans would have produced games about losing campaigns. We know of no games about the campaign in thee East. These games are quite rare. Very few have survived the War. Given the nature of the games, they were clearly made for children. These games are unlike any thing produced in the Britain and America.
One opportunity available to German soldiers not available to many Allied soldiers was home leaves. Germany soldiers stationed in France, the Low Countries, Denmark, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Italy could board a train and be home in hours. Even in the Soviet Union, while the distances were greater, the soldiers were only about a day or so away from the Reich by train. This was not the case for the American, Canadian, and other allied servicemen. Nor was it this case for many British servicemen, unless stationed in Britain itself. We know that German soldiers were given home leaves and other furloughs. It was not possible to bring Americans home until the War had been won. The distances weer too great. We believe leaves were fairly common in the early years. Many men must have been granted leaves after the short victorious campaigns in Poland (1939), the North (Denmark and Norway--1940), the West (France and and the Lowlands-1940), and the South (Yugoslavia and and Greece--1941)). And of course many men were stationed within the Reich. We do not know the details as to how home leaves were handled in the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. The Kreigsmarine for the most part had their bases within the borders of the Reich. We do not yet have details on how common such leaves were and how they were distributed. Nor do we know the periods involved.We think home leaves were fairly common until 1943 when the War began to go against the NAZIs. From that time the military situation began go deteriorated and hard pressed units could not afford to grant leaves.
NAZI German launched World War II with the Blitzkrieg on Poland in cooperation with the Soviet Union (September 1939). Germany held the initiative in the early years of the War. After the success in Poland, the Wehrmacht swept over most of Western Europe, invading Denmark and Norway (April 1940) and Belgium, Holland and France (May 1940). Plans to invade Britain (September 1940) had to be scraped when the Luftwaffe failed to gain air supremacy. Diplomatic efforts to secure the Balkans failed, resulting in another Blitzkrieg (April 1941). German casualties in these campaigns were extremely light. This was startling in view of the horrific casualties sustained on the Western Front during World War I. The doctrine of war developed by the Wehrmacht overwhelmed poorly prepared European armies, even the French Army which had been considered the strongest in Europe. The Wehrmacht continued its string of victories with the invasion of the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). Again casualties were relatively light, but stiffened as Red Army resistance stiffened before Moscow. Zhukov's Winter Offensive (December 1941) for the first time inflicted sizeable casualties on the Wehrmacht. There after casualties mounted. The NAZIs finally surrendered only after Hitler's suicide in Berlin (May 1945). The German military is believed to have suffered about 3.5 million killed and 4.6 million wounded during the War. A substantial portion of the men killed died after being taken prisoner by the Red Army. The casualties Germany inflicted on countries it invaded were astronomical, especially in the Soviet Union, Poland, and Yugoslavia, because of the genocidal treatment of POWs and civilians. German civilians were not much affected by the War until the fighting began to go decisively against Germany in 1943. Probably about 2 million German civilians died in the War. The Reich was not occupied until the final months of the War, but civilians began to be affected when the allies began to serious escalate the strategic bombing campaign. Even so, only about 0.3 million Germans were killed by the bombing, largely as a result of effective civilian defense measures. Most of the civilian casualties occurred when German civilians were driven out of the countries they occupied and the German territory transferred to Poland.
The "Winterhilfswerk of the German People" (Winter Help Work--WHW) was founded by the NAZIs after Hitler was appointed Chancellor. It was the official NAZI-Party winter relief charity. Hitler proclaimed the WHW (September 13, 1933). In a speech he explained, "This great campaign against hunger and cold is governed by this principle: We have broken the international solidarity of the proletariat. We want to build the living national solidarity of the German people!" The Party published small booklets given to contributors explaining what the Party was accomplishing. The NAZIs issued a booklet for each of the pre-War years (1933-39), There were also specialized editions for different War campaigns, for soldiers awarded the Iron Cross, and various other purposes. The text in many of the books was taken from Hitler's speeches. There were a variety of funding approaches. There were monthly street collections. The Party also sold badges which were advertised on the radio, on posters, or in newspapers. The badges (donation pins) were made in an amazing variety, commonly devised in local areas. We note a hand sewn Danzig badge in 1934 to promote the hand work of Germans. Badges were issued for Bread Day to promote WHW donations. There were hand crafted celluloid flowers to promoting German native flowers. There were also regional badges as well as those for the whole Reich. Large numbers of Germans received assistance of various forms through WHW. There was never any public accounting of te funds collected and dispersed.
Hitler was appointed Chancellor (January 1933). He quickly moved to orchestrate a NAZI seizure of power. This was not only a political seizure of power. The NAZIs moved to seize control of professional groups, youth groups, labor unions and civic organizations as well. This included social welfare organizations. This was complicated because most German social welfare organizations were founded and run by religious groups. The Red Cross (DRK) despite its symbol was not a church organization and thus a relatively easy group for the NAZIs to take over. Jewish members were expelled. The DRK became a legally organization unit of the NAZI Party (December 1937). The German Red Cross officially came under the control of the Nazi Party under the Ministry of the Interior's Social Welfare Organization.
The Red Cross volunteers helped wounded German soldiers in the field and assisted in their treatment and recuperation. The organization through the International Red Cross (IDRC) assisted Germans held abroad as prisoners or war by the Western Allies and German civilians in the war damaged cities. The German Red Cross as it was run by the NAZIs, largely ignored the concentration camps in Germany as well as the NAZI T-4 euthanasia campaign and the Holocaust. Some Red Cross personnel even had some degree of involvement, although the organization had no systematic role in their crimes. German Red Cross officials notably escorting ICRC inspectors through the Theresienstadt concentration camp (1944).
The NAZIs surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II in Europe (May 1945). One of the first acts of The American Military Government was a special law outlawing the NAZI Party--"Law number five". This was the central Denazification decree. It meant that not only the Party, but all of its branches and units were disbanded. And since the NAZIs had turned the Red Cross into a Party organization, the German Red Cross was effectively disbanded. Thus the German Red Cross has to be refounded in the post-War era.
Hitler kept from the German people his plans for another war. It was obvious from Mein Kampf, but even after launching a massive rearmament program and reinstituting conscription, he insisted that he was not planning a war. Some Germans knew what Hitler intended, but most Germans believed what they were told. What no one understood was the extent that he would involve their children in another terrible world war. German youth from an early point of the War became involved with military service. This only expanded as the War continued as well as the age of the children involved. The Hitler Youth was organized as a conduit for Wehrmacht recruits. The Hitler Youth itself came to play a major role in the War, especially for civil defense and manning FLAK batteries. A whole SS division was organized from the HJ as a birthday present for the Führer. Labor Service (RAD) units were deployed in combat areas. Casualties resulting from the Soviet Winter offensive before Moscow (1941-42) were so massive that the Wehrmacht was forced to rush the 18-year old conscript class to the front with very little training for the Summer Offensive (1942) in the Ukraine which led to Stalingrad. Finally the NAZIs has to form the Volkstrum with youth as young as 16 years olds. Younger boys joined the services, but that was voluntary or ostensibly voluntary. We see by 1944 very young children with weapons, but we think that was training and not actual combat units.
The German World War II home front experience varied greatly depending on where civilians lived. City residents were the first to experience the adverse consequences of the War as a result of the Allied strategic bombing campaign. The British had a limited ability to bomb early in the War. As a result, the cities bombed were along the Baltic coast (coastal cities were the easiest to identify and were the closest to Britain) or cities in western Germany. The British also bombed Berlin. This was more difficult to bomb, but of obvious psychological importance. The strategic bombing campaign intensified in 1943 and then in 1944 the Allies methodically demolished German cities throughout the Reich. Another major factor was whether Germans lived in the west or east as it would determine if it would be the Western Allies or Soviets that would drive out the NAZIs and occupy the area. This was of immediate importance because of the wide-spread raping of girls and women of all ages by the Soviet soldiers. It was of longer term consequences because location would determine if Germans would find themselves in the occupation zones of the Soviets or Western Allies. We have very little regional information at this time. We do have a page on East Prussia. The rape terror was usually limited to a few days. Their future lives would be significantly impacted by which occupation zones in which they lived.
We have archived numerous images of German children during World War II. The Germans took huge numbers of photographs during the year, including many family snapshots. These images are unidentified. Thus we can only guess as to what is depicted in the photographs from what we can see. Perhaps our German readers will be able to offer some insights. Many of these images are from the years when the the German economy was still relatively unaffected by the War and consumer items like photographic film still relatively easy to obtain. We begin to see fewer snapshots by 1944 when the strategic bombing campaign and the loss of occupied territory to exploit brought the War home to the German people. Often one can not tell from the images that a war was underway. One often observable fact is that big brothers and fathers are often absent.
Much less known than the British World War II evacuation of children from urban areas is the German evacuation program evacuating children. The program was called the Kinder Land Verschickung (KLV) which operated during World War II (1939-45). The children had to go to rural areas on "holiday" but really they should be out of the cities and towns that had difficulties feeding them and were being bombed by the Allies. Both schools and the Hitler Jugend (HJ) were involved in organizing the KLV. The HJ was especially important in the KLV organization beginning in 1940. About 2.5 million children were send to 9,000 camps until end of World War II. In many cases the children were accompanied by their teachers.
Other than America, no country took to the camera and photography like the German people. As a result, there is an enormous photographic record of Germany throughout the War. Photographic film and materials seems to have been available throughout the War. This includes both soldiers at the front and civilians at home. Soldiers snapped countless photographs as they swept through one country after another. These victories enabled the Germans to ruthlessly exploit the economies of occupied countries like medieval vandals to support the NAZI war effort. German soldiers only stopped stopped taking so many photographs as the War began to go against Germany. Civilians at home continued taking photographs, although we suspect that photographic materials became somewhat less available, especially in the final year of the War. The War was mostly fought outside the borders of the Reich until the final year. Even the bombing was relatively limited, with a few notable exceptions, until 1944 and the destruction of the Luftwaffe. For many Germans their lives were not terribly affected unless they lost loved ones at the front. It was very different from the lives of people in countries they occupied. Food was available as well as consumer goods. This was because the economy was not totally geared for war until Albert Speer became Armaments Minister and began major economic changes. In addition the occupied countries were ruthlessly exploited for food and consumer goods and finally for slave labor. The occupation of France was a major support for the German economy and civilian population. Even in 1944 before the Allied armies entered the Reich, for many Germans outside the major industrial cities, life was going on as usual.
Unlike occupied countries, German civilians in 1943 had not yet felt the full brunt of the War. The exploitation of occupied areas had kept the German people fed. The disasters in the East began to force more severe rationing. The United States joined the strategic bombing campaign in 1943, beginning daylight bombing. The first American strike was Wilhelmshaven, but only with 50 bombers--a small force by World War II standards (January). The Stalingrad pocket finally surrendered (February 1943). Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in a speech at the Berlin Sportpalast, declared a 'Total War' against the Allies (February). Stalingrad was a long way away from Germany, but from that point and throughout the year, the battles began being fought closer and closer to Germany, something Gobbels' relentlessly optimistic propaganda could not hide. Hitler had hoped to maintain living standards by pillaging the East. This failed and food rations were cut, although no one was going hungry. And more men were conscripted. But compared to what the Germans were doing in occupied countries, the impact on German civilians was light. The effective German air defense system limited damage, although a few cities were devastated, most prominently Hamburg (July). Much of Germany, however, was still untouched except for families losing loved ones at the front--primarily meaning the East. Children were among the most affected. A major evacuation of children began from the cities, but it was not voluntary like the British evacuation and they were not placed in homes, but rather in group homes set up in hotels and other facilities in the countryside run by the Hitler Youth (HJ). Teachers went along, but in most cases given the HJ priorities, very little schooling took place. More bad news arrived with the German surrender in Tunisia (May), the defeat at (Kursk), and the Allied invasion of Italy and the Italians going over to the Allied side (September). The RAF began the bombing offensive on Berlin (November).
The War came home for the German people in 1944. The War had turned for the Germans in 1942, but the reverses came on distant battlefields--at Stalingrad on the Volga and in North Africa. As 1944 began the Germans still controlled France, had bottled up the Allies in Italy, and were entrenched in vast areas of the East. The Allies were only beginning to crack the Luftwaffe. Some Germans realized that the War was lost, but many Germans including high NAZI officials and military commanders did not realize how close their Führer's 1,000 year Reich was to a Wagnerian Gotterdamerung. Until 1944 it was the Germans who had inflicted death and destruction on other countries. Now NAZI barbarities would come home to roost. In many ways there was an air of normalcy in Germany at the beginning of the year. Rationing began to bite as it was no longer as easy to loot conquered countries. Then the Allies inflicted one staggering military blow after another on German armies and German cities. The arrival of the P-51 Mustang as an escort fighter both defeated the Luftwaffe and open the heartland if Germany to a rain of destruction unprecedented in warfare. The Soviets launched a series of offenses in the East that destroyed Germany's principal military formations and brought the Red Army to the Vistula. The Allies finally took Rome and 2 days latter breached the Atlantic Wall. Within a few weeks the German Army in France was dealt a staggering retreat and in full retreat. By the end of the Year the Western Allies had reached the Rhine in the Netherlands and approaching it in the Rhineland.
We have found a number of photographs which we believe show German children on the home front during World war II. We often have no information about these images. They are still interesting and perhaps readers will be able to offer some insights.
Goebbels, Joseph. ed, Louis B. Lochner, The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943 (Doubleday: New York, 1948), 566p.
Williamson, Gordon. World War II German Women’s Auxiliary Services (Osprey, 2003), 48p. This was part of the Osprey 'Men at Arms series'.
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