The Hitler Youth: How Pervasive Was It and How Committed Were Its Members?
The horrors of the Second World War – especially the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their Eastern European (and French) collaborators – will most likely never be forgotten; taken as a collective, they constitute the most gruesome catalogue of crimes in modern human history. With that in mind, the following paper will look at how it came to be that so many of Germany’s best and brightest young people could become swept up in the machinations of a hate-filled and awesomely destructive regime. In particular, the ensuing pages will look at the Hitler Youth and argue that it was a state-driven organization - well-integrated with more hardened governmental elements - that grew to gargantuan proportions by the dawn of the War, effectively sucking in an entire generation of German youth. Every bit as importantly, it will be put forward that the members of the Hitler Youth were frequently very highly committed to the objectives of the Nazi government because of the deliberate integration of the Hitler Youth with the SS, the SA, and – most disturbing of all - the frightfully brutal SS-Totenkopfverbände (the “Death Head’s” formations that acted as Nazi concentration camp guards). Likewise, devotion to the cause was invigorated by the unhappiness among many German youth with the shortcomings and weaknesses of post-War Germany; in a similar vein, as it pertains to things such as the Nazi regime’s rabid anti-Semitism, many young people in Germany at the time were well-prepared to accept such teachings inasmuch as German society as a whole was strongly (if somewhat surreptitiously) anti-Semitic. Finally, if pre-existing disenchantment and naivete were not enough to make young Germans useful pawns for the Nazis, the Hitler Youth impressively raised the commitment level of its membership through an intensive indoctrination program that was surely among the most sophisticated seen up to that time. In the end, while clearly not every German youth accepted the mad ravings of the Nazis, far too many did – and even those who resisted found themselves with little recourse but to be a part of its machinery.
As much as some might wish to deny it, there is strong evidence that the Hitler Youth (the Hitlerjugend or HJ) was well-integrated within the Nazi apparatus. For one thing, it was sometimes said within Nazi Party circles during the midst of the Second World War that the HJ actually walked in lock-step with Himmler’s SS (Schutzstaffel). As if this involvement was not troubling enough, it appears as though the Hitler Youth was intimately associated with both the SA (Sturmabteilung) and the SS – though the SS influence and relationship did grow stronger over the course of the 1930s. In any case, the SA did begin training HJ members (under Hitlerjugend auspices) at the age of 17, thereby preparing them for military roles in the war just ahead (Rempel, 19-20). Suffice it to say, any retroactive claims that the HJ operated at arm’s length from the SS (and the earlier SA) are simply inaccurate. Additionally, any notion that the Hitler Youth were not well-apprised of the SS’s destructive activities must also be discounted; while they may not have known all of the Sturmabteilung’s goings-on, they surely knew enough to appreciate the dark nature of Hitler’s “Protective Squadron”.
To the extent German youth fell under Hitler’s spell in the 1930s, the SS’s attitude towards the HJ – especially after 1934 – must be considered a vital piece of the puzzle. Simply put, the Sturmabteilung began to pay especial attention to the HJ in the middle-1930s and beyond, with SS senior officials being warmly encouraged to take an interest – or at least feign an interest – in Hitlerjugend activities; at about the same time, SS head, Heinrich Himmler, began to make it a point of appearing before the HJ: in late 1936, he actually told assembled members of the SS-Gruppenfuhrer that he...
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