Hitler Youth Personal Account: Ralph Ross (Germany, 1923-41)

Figure 1.--Ralph is seen here at what looks like a Hitler Youth Camp in his HJ uniform. I'm not sure about the year, but I suspect about 1938. He died on the Eastern Front in 1941.

The effective indocritnaiton of Hitler Youth boys is often attibuted to he provincialism and lack of contact with pople from other countries. Ralph was the son of German explorer Colin Ross (who was of Scottish decent). Ralph had a lot of expeiences outide Germany. He went to school in Chicago. He wrote a book From Chicago to Chungking. He reportedly volunteered to fight against "Bolshevism" at the Eastern front and he was killed in Russia in 1941. He was only 18 years of age. Even boys that had cosmopolitan experiences could be influenced by NAZI propaganda. Unlike most Hitler Youth boys, Ralph wrote a book telling us book about himself, From Chicago to Chungking. Ralph wrote the book in 1939, because he mentioned the occupation of the Sudetenland while he was in China.


Ralph Colin Ross was the son of German explorer Colin Ross (who was of Scottish decent). Unlike most German boys, Ralph traveled widely outside Germany. Ralph was strongly infkuenced by his father who apparently was a member of the NAZI party. His father was also a highly educated, well-traveled man who had nothing in common with those criminal fanatics who got their chance to rule Germany. Colin Ross even had the courage to tell Hitler his own opinion about certain things. He was known for his independence.


Ralph was born in Germany. IWe have no further details on his childhood. He woild have been 10 years old when Hitler seized power in 1933. As his farher was a NAZI party member, presumably he joined the Hitler Youth in 1933.

Hitler Youth

I am not sure to what extent Ralph mentions the Hitler Youth in his book.


Ralph describes his adventures and travels to Florida and the American southwest. Not a hint of racism there. The book has pictures of American Indians in Florida and blacks in the South. I don't think he really was a NAZI. He writes that his father during their travels gave lectures in America and that many Americans seemed to have had a false impression of Nazi Germany. One old white-haired lady who nearly attacked him with her umbrella said that all German boys had flat feet of all that marching while she looked at his feet, but that a uniformed guard told him "that Hitler was a great man". Here he of course deals with superficial matters. What concerned thinking Americans was the suppression of free speach and racial and ethnic minorities by both street thigs and in the concentraion camps. Ralph was right that most Americans had false impressions of NAZI Germany, but the error was that most Americans failed to preceive the true evil of the NAZIs. We wonder just what his farher said in his lectures.


Ralph does not dwell much on clothes and costumes. However, in the chapter about his visit to Japan he writes that he was wearing his HJ uniform and that the people admired him. He also says that he won't have thought of wearing a NAZI uniform in the United States.

Racial Attitudes

Ralph never mentioned Jews or expressed an opinion of them in his book. Of course a book with any favotable comments could not have been published in NAZI Germany. (Information about NAZI publishing is available on HBC.) We are inclined to believe that his family's views here may have differef fropm the NAZIs, which is why he avoids the topic. Ralph was a keen amateur photgrapher. Note the camera he is holding here (figure 1). There are some fascinating photographs from his travels, including images from China and Japan wgich were fighting a war at the time. In Japan he photographed Boy Scouts which at the time were banned in Germany. (I don't know if the text touched on that topic.) There are many pjotographs of a wide variety of racial types from many different countries. A HBC reader reports, "The photographs are actually quite sympathetic towards the subjects. Not al tall NAZI-propagandistic." The captions for photographs showing people off different races shoe no hint of racism. "A Hopi Indian. His forbears are living in America from time immemorial." "An American farmer. His forebears were Europeans." "A Negro. His forebears came from Africa." Og course no Jews were pictured. I'm not sure how the text touches ion the issue of racial diversity.

NAZI Perspective

While the NAZI racial view point is not expressed in the book, other NAZI attitudes do show up--especially militarism. This is especially poignet as NAZI militarism was to cost Ralph his life ar a very early age. There are several examples in the book, although we are not sure about the text itself. A caption of a Chimese photograph explains that the Natioanlistsd are curing Chinese students of an historic aversion to being soldiers. Japanese school girls are show paractiing the martial arts which Ralph explains is mandatory. He has a photograph captioned "Young Japan in uniform". The boys pictured are Japanese Boy Scouts, although Ralph does not point this out--presumably becaise the NAZIs had banned Scouting. The Dutch reader who has provided the information on Ralph's book writes, "I find it interesting that Ralph Ross choose the picture of the Japanese Boy Scouts for his book. He does not mention that they are Scouts. The caption reads, 'Young Japan in uniform" as if it were just any uniform. Whether he was very naive, not knowing anything about the worldwide Baden Powell Scouting movement, (which I don't believe), or that he sympathized with it, and tried in his own way to give a tolerant impression, can only be conjectured. After all, he himself was still a young boy when he visited those countries and World War II with all its horrors had not began."


Raplph was primarily schoold in Germany. He went to high school in Chicago and lived with his parents a few years in the United States. He liked the schools in America, because the kids had choices about the courses that they could take. He certainly was not used to that, having been educated at a gymnasium in Germany with strict rules and no exceptions as to their courses. The NAZIs changed a great deal in Germany, but left the basic structure of the eduavtional in tact. There were, however, many other changes in the NAZI education system.

National Labor Service

German boys when they finished secondary school at age 18 would serve in the National Labor Service (RAD). Apparently Ralph went right into the Wehrmacht rather than serving in the RAD. This rather suggests that he was enthusiastic about the War.

World War II

Ralph volunteered to fight against "Bolshevism" on the Eastern front. At least that is what the book says. As it was published in NAZI Germany, this requires some substantiation which we do not have. Presumably volunteering would indicate that he believed the dangers of Bolshevism justified the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. What he thought of the racial jutification of the War and German genocidal actions in Russia, I do not know. He was killed in Russia early in the campaign. As he was killed in the summer of 1941, he presumably must have been in the Wehrmacht before the actaul invasion. According to author George Bailey, "Their son Ralph had been killed in a freak accident on the Eastern front in 1942. He was sunning himself on a raft in the middle of a Russian lake with two comrades. A solitary cloud was in the sky, directly overhead. The cloud discharged a bolt of lightning that killed Ralph on the spot and left his comrades untouched."

Ralph died in 1941 according to his own father who wrote the preface to his son's book From Chicago to Chungking not in 1942 that Bailey mentions in his book Germans. Colin Ross writes this in the afterword about his son's death: "Ralph's death was as unusual as his life. He never got a scratch during the actions on the battle field, he endured all hardships very well. His patrol got its first day of rest and for only one day all danger seemed to have been absent. It was a warm day. The sun sent its beams from a clear sky, but next to it was a black cloud. His patrol went swimming in the lake that was located nearby. Ralph, good swimmer, who had been swimming in all 7 oceans of the world, had advanced ahead of the others into the center of the lake when the black cloud opened and a flash of lightning struck down, hitting Ralph. He died instantly".


This account by Ralph is of interest as it shows how people could be influenced by the NAZIs. Even boys that had traveled and had cosmopolitan parents could be influenced by NAZI propaganda. He had travelled with his father all over the world. That's why it is hard to understand that the Ross family fell under the spell of the NAZIs. It has to be remembered that Germany was not the only country affected by racism in the 1930s. Racist attitudes including anti-semitism were prevalent throughout Europe and America. One can also make a strong case for the evils of Bolshevism in the 1930s. We suspect that Ralph did not fully understand the genocidal nature of NAZI racial policies as many German boys did not. Many other boys were just caught up in the War and as members of the German military had no choice other than to fight. Even boys who were not NAZI enthusiasts felt the need to defend Germany as the War turned against their country.


A Dutch HBC reader was quit moved by this account and how the NAZI affected this family and boy. The impact of the of the NAZIs and other such movements and peoples ecation to them is a continuing puzzle. He writes, "I keep wondering about the Ross family. I am finding it difficult to get them off my mind."


George Bailey The Germans (N.Y. World Publ. Times-Mirror, 1972).

Ralph Ross, From Chicago to Chungking (1943). This book is a very fascinating account of his travels through the United States as a young German and NAZI as he describes himself.

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Created: August 10, 2002
Last updates: August 17, 2002