The Hitler Youth movement changed over time from one of many competing youth movements to a powerful state state sponsored youth movement. Hitler from the beginning conceived a youth program as esential to the NAZI program. The Hitler Youth program was guided by an early NAZI convert, Baldur von Schirach. The Hitler Youth program had four different phases, the predecessors (1923-26), the early years (1926-32) when they had to compete with other youth groups, the Government years (1933-39) when independent groups were supressed and young Germans were indoctrinated in preparation for the War. and finally the War years (1940-45) when the Hitler Youth played an important part, including the formation of combat units.
The earliest German youth group was the Wandervogel. The NAZIs incorporated imorant elelents of Wandevogel into their youth movement. Baden Powell's Scouting movement was another important influence, although Scouting was not as important in Germany as it was in many other European countries. The Hitler Youth movement developed directly from the Jugendbund der NSDAP (JdN), founded in March 1922 and the first meeting was in May. It was a male organization for boys fro 14-18 years of age. There was at first no comparable organization for girls. There were two units. The younger boys (14-16 years) were the Jungmannschaften. The older boys were the Jungsturm Adolf Hitler. The JdN was run by the SA and the first leader was Adolf Lenk. The JdN did not last long. Hitler stahed his infamous Beer Hall Putch in Munich was arrested (1923). He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to prison. The JdN was disbanded. There was still considerable interest among Germany's polticicized youth. Various local groups were established. One of these groups was the Grossdeutsche Jugendbewegung run by Lenk and Kurt Gruber. Another group was the Schilljugend which had units in Austria and Germany. The Grossdeutsche Jugendbewegung was renamed the Hitler Jugend Bund Deutscher Arbeiterjugend (1926). Hitler named Gruber the new leader, but he did not retain the position very long. Hitler replaced him with Franz von Pfeffer.
The guiding light behind the Hitler Youth in the NAZI Government which seized power in 1933 was Baldur Von Schirach, who was eventually tried at Nuremberg. He joined the NAZI Party in 1925 and was involved early on with converting students to National Socialism. This was the start of Schirach's activities, which he continued for two decades in the spirit of unbending loyalty to Hitler and to the principles of National Socialism. The Hitler Youth competed with
many other youth groups, but by 1932 had attracted about 1 million German children--about one quarter of all the children enrolled in youth groups. The NAZIs conceived early on that they would abolish independent youth groups once they seized power, Schirach
states that he thereupon arrived at a conclusion which later was to spell the doom of independent youth groups: "I realized at that time that an understanding with the leaders of the League would never be possible and devoted myself to the principle of the totality [Totalitlaet] of the Hitler Youth which in the year 1933 cost all those leagues their independent existence."
The guiding light behind the Hitler Youth in the NAZI Government which seized power in 1933 continued to be Baldur Von Schirach, who was eventually tried at Nuremberg and hanged. Schrach was the leading NAZI in destroying independent youth organizations and in building the NAZI youth movement. It was Schirach's task to perpetuate the Nazi regime through generations by inculcating NAZI principles in the minds of German youth. At Nuremberg it was suggested that the Hitler Youth and other NAZI youth programs helped to poison the mind of the German people a major step in preparing the German nation for aggressive wars. The basic law concerning the Hitler Youth, which under Schirach's tutelage became an instrument of the Nazi State, declareed:
The Hitler Youth during the War were much more directly involved in the War than Scouts in allied countries. They did many of the things Scouts did like collecting scrap metal. They did much more. The Hitler Youth conducted many training programs focused on military skills. The Hitler Youth was also a medium for indoctrinating boys and recruiting future NAZI leaders. Eventually they became much more deeply involved, seving as air raid wardens and eventually as crews on anti-aircraft gun crews. At the end of the war, the boys were the backbone of many Volksstrum (Home Guard) units.
One group of Hitler Youth that was captured in Munich was given a detailed tour of a place previously only spoke of in whispers: the Dachau concentration camp. After seeing the railway cars filled with corpses, the survivors, and the crematoriums, the boys' world collapsed. One boy said of the experience, "that night was a sleepless one. The impact of what we had seen was too great to be immediately digested. I could not help but cry." The Hitler Youth members after the NAZI surrender in May 1945 went back to being regular civilians, but for most their childhood had long since past. It was a hard adjustment for many to go from being high ranking officers in the Hitler Youth to mere schoolboys. When Alfons Heck heard that his school might reopen soon thought that "the idea of going back to school seemed preposterous. What could we learn after this?" The adult leaders of the Hitler Youth were tried at Nuremberg. The French who had experienced NAZI occupation tried some Hitler Youth members as well. Heck was in the French sector and was tried for prolonging the war. He was sentenced to 2 years restriction in his hometown, 6 months expulsion from the college (it was not open anyway)
and a month of hard labor. One job that he was required to do was to exhume the mass grave of French prisoners. He and other Nazis were required to be de-Nazified. The French showed them films from the death camps. Heck and many others could not believe that the films were real which enraged the French. It took Heck 30 years to accept a sense of guilt for the Holocaust. Neither the Americans or British tried Hitler Youth members. They simply could not comprehend the fact that the Hitler Youth members were much more fanatic NAZIs than many adults. They simply treated the youths as merely misguided children.
Baldur von Schirach was one of the key defendants at the Nuremberg Trials. He served 20 years in prison. He was released on September 30, 1966, and retired quietly to southern Germany. He published his memoirs Ich glaubte an Hitler (I believed in Hitler) and died in Kröv (August 8, 1974).
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