The Hitler Youth (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: The Hitler Youth

Q1: Read the introduction and source 9. Describe and explain the growth of the Hitler Youth between 1932 and 1939.

A1: In 1933 Hitler took power in Germany. At the time the Hitler Youth had 107,000 members. By the end of the year membership had risen to 2.3 million. By 1936 it had reached 5.4 million and by 1939 8.7 million.

Q2: Why did Adolf Hitler believe it was important for the Nazi Party to have a large youth organization. It will help you to read sources 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, before answering this question.

A2: Adolf Hitler made it clear in several speeches that it was important for German young people to be "schooled in Nazi ideology" (source 2). In a speech he made in September, 1935, he argued that "the German boy of the future must be slender and supple, swift as greyhounds, tough as leather and hard as Krupp steel". (source 5) These is a reference to the need to build up a strong armed forces. However, he was just as interested in creating supporters of his fascist ideology: "We have undertaken to give the German people an education that begins already in youth and will never come to an end."

Hitler admitted in an interview with Herman Rauschning that the older generation in Germany had been badly affected by the defeat in the First World War. Germany therefore had to create young people that were not "cowardly and sentimental" that do not have the "dull recollection of serfdom and servility". They will need to fight to achieve Hitler's "new order" and so must be "indifferent to pain". (source 3)

The poster (source 6) and oath (source 7) both place a great deal of emphasis on loyalty to Hitler: "I swear to devote all my energies, all my strength, to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life, so help me God."

Q3: Study sources 4, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16 and then describe the activities of the Hitler Youth.

A3: The sources indicate that Hitler Youth activities included: military parades (sources 4, 8, 11, 15 and 16); cross-country marches (source 10); singing Nazi songs (sources 10 and 13); lectures on German history (source 13).

Q4: Hans Scholl (source 12) and Erich Dressler (source 13) both joined the Hitler Youth against the wishes of their parents. (i) Explain why they did not want them to join this movement. (ii) Did the two men change their mind about Hitler?

A4: (i) The fathers of Hans Scholl and Erich Dressler were both hostile to the policies of Adolf Hitler. Elisabeth Scholl suggests that they rejected their father's opinions because he was a member of an older generation that did not "understand" what Hitler was trying to do. (source 12) Erich Dressler held similar views about his father and therefore did not tell him that he was joining as "I knew my father would do all he could to stop me". (source 13)

(ii) In 1942 Hans Scholl formed the anti-Hitler resistance group, White Rose group. He was executed in February, 1943. Erich Dressler remained a loyal supporter of Hitler.

Q5: Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband carried out a survey into the reasons why Germans supported Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. They discovered that Hitler received the most support from those who went to school in the 1930s. Why do you think that young people were Hitler's strongest supporters? It will help you to read sources 14 and 17 before answering this question.

A5: The authors of the survey (source 17) point out that the Nazi government was able to brainwash young people " through schools and the Hitler Youth". Older people had experience of what life was like before Hitler took control. They can therefore compare different political systems. Young people living in Germany had only known what it was like to live in a fascist state.

Erwin Hammel (source 14) points out that the Hitler government controlled the information they received: "We didn't get to know Germany from another point of view.... This made the propaganda that we were exposed to seem very plausible. We heard and saw nothing else... We didn't have the opportunity to hear about the world abroad. There were no foreign newspapers, and so on."

Q6: Hitler Youth groups visited Britain in the 1930s. Study sources 18, 19 and 20 and explain why the Hitler Youth visited Worthing in March 1936.

A6: The Nazi government encouraged school exchange visits. In 1935 a party of Worthing High School for Boys went to Germany with their production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The following year 15 members of the Hitler Youth visited the school. (source 18) According to the historian, Freddie Fest (source 20), the boys collected "information, documents and photographs during their tours that might prove invaluable when the time came for Nazi forces to carry out an invasion of that country".

Q7: Why did some schoolteachers object to the existence of the Hitler Youth? Why did they only complain in private such as the letter written in December, 1938.

A7: The schoolteacher (source 21) claims that members of the Hitler Youth spy on their teachers. If these boys thought that the teachers were not pro-Nazi, they would report them to the authorities and they would be sacked.

Q8: Find evidence that members of the Hitler Youth fought during the Second World War.

A8: Source 22 shows three members of the Hitler Youth captured while fighting the Allies in 1945. The author of source 23 claims that underage Hitler Youth troops fought in Berlin in 1945. This is illustrated in the last photograph ever taken of Hitler (source 24). It shows Hitler meeting members of the Hitler Youth who were trying to protect him in April, 1945.