A child of Hitler

By ALFONS HECK  |  January 30, 2008

Certainly there were dramatic religious overtones to Hitler’s appearance at the Party Congress. Elevated on the gigantic granite platform at our head, floodlit and isolated, he looked like the high priest in some gigantic cathedral. This picture of the Party Congress ― of the majesty and power of Hitler and his Germany ― is familiar to anyone who has seen Triumph of the Will. But what I also remember is the emotional celebration of national unity, and the very personal sense of commitment that we young people felt.

The Hitler Youth’s ability to stimulate and organize the young was not unprecedented. More than four million adolescents belonged to various youth groups at the time when Hitler came to power: the churches organized them, as did other political parties. (One of the largest and most active groups, in fact, was the Communist Youth Auxiliary, many of whose members fought the Hitler Youth in pitched street battles before 1933.) Within six months of Hitler’s ascension to power, though, the Nazi Party was the only legal one, and the Hitler Youth began to absorb or subsume other organizations. In December of 1936, a statute declared that “the entire German youth within Reich territory is organized in the Hitler Youth.”

The Hitler Youth, both in the junior Jungvolk and in the Hitler Jugend, was organized along the lines of the Wehrmacht, in squads, platoons, companies, and so forth. The activities of the prewar Jungvolk resembled those of the Boy Scouts, though with much more emphasis on discipline and indoctrination. We had two rallies a week, usually on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and often a parade on Sunday. I belonged to the Fanfarenzug, the bugle corps, for most of my four years in the Jungvolk: we preceded our units in the parades, and had more elaborate uniforms and not as much drill.

After the parades we would be shown movies or newsreels, nearly all of them drenched in Nazi ideology. Team sports were always emphasized, and there seemed to be some sports festival every month. In the summer, we often went on camping trips, but even these were interspersed with marching drills and war games. During the winter, the most common trips were those to ski camps.

Much of the fun ended as soon as the war began. The Jungvolk was then called upon to deliver call-up notices and monthly ration cards, to help collect material for the war effort, and (much later) to work in search operations after air raids. In 1940, the older Hitler Youth members switched to paramilitary training ― precision drills, small-arms handling, sharpshooting, navigation. And from 1939 on, every boy and girl above the age of 15 had to do compulsory land service each summer, helping with the harvest.

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