Classroom Activity on German League of Girls

In 1930 the Bund Deutscher Mädel (German League of Girls) was formed as the female branch of the Hitler Youth movement. It was set up under the direction of Hitler Youth leader, Baldur von Schirach. There were two general age groups: the Jungmädel, from ten to fourteen years of age, and older girls from fifteen to twenty-one years of age.

All girls in the BDM were constantly reminded that the great task of their schooling was to prepare them to be "carriers of the... Nazi world view". Members were required to pass certain physical tests. They had to run 60 metres in twelve seconds, to jump more than 2.5 metres, throw a ball over a distance of 20 metres, swim 100 metres and complete a two hours route march. Other physical requirements included somersaulting and tightrope walking.

The duties demanded of the German League of Girls (BDM) were regular attendance at club premises and camps run by the Nazi Party. All girls in the BDM were told to dedicate themselves to comradeship, service and physical fitness for motherhood. Members of the BDM had to take the oath: "I promise always to do my duty in the Hitler Youth, in love and loyalty to the Führer." Other mottos she was taught included: "Führer, let's have your orders, we are following you!", "Remember that you are a German!" and "One Reich, one people, one Führer!".

Primary Sources

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 1) Poster, League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth (c. 1936)


(Source 2) Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (1971)

The Bund Deutscher Mädel (German League of Girls) was the female counterpart of the Hitler Youth. Up to the age of fourteen girls were known as Young Girls (Jungmädel) and from seventeen to twenty-one they formed a special voluntary organization called Faith and Beauty (Glaube und Schonheit). The duties demanded of Jungmädel were regular attendance at club premises and sports meetings, participation in journeys and camp life...

They were trained in Spartan severity, taught to do without cosmetics, to dress in the simplest manner, to display no individual vanity, to sleep on hard beds, and to forgo all culinary delicacies; the ideal image of those broad-hipped figures, unencumbered by corsets, was one of radiant blondeness, crowned by hair arranged in a bun or braided into a coronet of plaits. As a negative counter-image Nazi propaganda projected the combative, man-hating suffragettes of other countries...

The ideal German League of Girls type exemplified early nineteenth-century notions of what constituted the essence of maidenhood. Girls who infringed the code by perming their hair instead of wearing plaits or the 'Grechen' wreath of braids had it ceremoniously shaved off as punishment.

(Source 3) Christa Wolf, Patterns of Childhood (1976)

In the Jungmädel camp, the leader or her deputies inspect the dormitory, the chests of drawers, the washrooms, every morning. One time the hairbrush of a squad leader was publicly displayed because it was full of long hairs. That was no way for a hair-brush to look if it belonged to a Jungmädel leader, the camp leader said in the evening roll call." From that moment on Christa "hid her hair-brush in the soap compartment of her trunk, because she couldn't manage to pick every last hair from her brush... because she didn't want the camp leader, of all people, to dislike her.

(Source 4) Martha Dodd, My Years in Germany (1939)

Young girls from the age of ten onward were taken into organizations where they were taught only two things: to take care of their bodies so they could bear as many children as the state needed and to be loyal to National Socialism. Though the Nazis have been forced to recognize, through the lack of men, that not all women can get married. Huge marriage loans are floated every year whereby the contracting parties can borrow substantial sums from the government to be repaid slowly or to be cancelled entirely upon the birth of enough children. Birth control information is frowned on and practically forbidden.

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 5) A group of German League of Girls with Adolf Hitler (c. 1934)


(Source 6) Renate Finckh, In Conversation with Heike Mundzeck (1982)

At home no one really had time for me... at the BDM I finally found an emotional home, a safe refuge, and shortly thereafter also a space in which I was valued... I was filled with pride and joy that someone needed me for a higher purpose.... We Hitler girls belonged together, we formed an elite within the German Volk community.

(Source 7) Elsbeth Emmerich, Flying a Flag for Hitler (1991)

In High School, I became a member of the Jungmädel (Young Girls). We were all given the entry forms in class to fill in there and then, and told to take it home for our parents' signature.... I enjoyed being in the Jungmädel. We had to attend classes after school and learn about Adolf Hitler and his achievements. We did community work, singing to soldiers in hospitals and making little presents for them like bookmarks, or poems written out neatly. We also went on hikes and collected leaves and herbs for the war effort...

We even went away to camp. I thought this might be exciting, but it wasn't like I imagined, even though it was right in the country in some lovely woodland. I was shouted at within minutes of arriving, for not picking up a bit of eggshell I'd dropped. We had to get up early each morning, standing to attention in the freezing cold and singing whilst the flag was being hoisted. Then someone stole my purse. My holiday was mainly doing what other people told you to all the time, like standing to attention and raising our arms for the Sieg Heil.

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 8) Ilse Hirsch, member of the BDM, who was later trained as an assassin (c. 1934)

(Source 9) Ilse Koehn, Mischling, Second Degree: My Childhood in Nazi Germany (1977)

While still in Hermsdorf I had wanted to join the Jungmädel, as the ten-to-fourteen-year-old girls of the Hitler Youth were called, because of Inge and Waltraud. They had told me how much fun they had, singing and playing all kinds of games. When I mentioned it to father, he had looked at me as if I were a ghost, then yelled, "Join an organization of those pigs?" Then father calmed himself and he sat down beside me. "Listen," he said, "it may be true that all they do is sing and play games. But their very songs and games are designed to teach you the Nazi philosophy. And you know that we do not believe in it. Young people are impressionable and the Nazis use their enthusiasm for their own ends. There are things that you are too young to understand. When the time comes, you and I will have a long talk."

(Source 10) Marianne Gärtner, The Naked Years: Growing up in Nazi Germany (1987)

One day, fittingly enough on Hitler's birthday, my age group was called up and I took the oath: "I promise always to do my duty in the Hitler Youth, in love and loyalty to the Führer." Service in the Hitler Youth, we were told, was an honourable service to the German people. I was, however, not thinking of the Führer, nor of serving the German people, when I raised my right hand, but of the attractive prospect of participating in games, sports, hiking, singing, camping and other exciting activities away from school and the home. A uniform, a badge, an oath, a salute. There seemed to be nothing to it. Not really. Thus, unquestioningly, and as smoothly as one day slips into another, I acquired membership, and forthwith attended meetings, joined ball games and competitions, and took part in weekend hikes; and I thought that whether we were sitting in a circle around a camp fire or just rambling through the countryside and singing old German folk songs...

There were now lectures on national socialism, stories about modern heroes and about Hitler, the political fighter, while extracts from Mein Kampf were used to expound the new racial doctrines. And there was nothing equivocal about the mother-role the Führer expected German women to play.

At one meeting, while addressing us on the desirability of large, healthy families, the team leader raised her voice:

"There is no greater honour for a German woman than to bear children for the Führer and for the Fatherland! The Führer has ruled that no family will be complete without at least four children, and that every year, on his mother's birthday, all mothers with more than four children will be awarded the Mutterkreuz. (Decoration similar in design to the Iron Cross (came in bronze, silver or gold, depending on number of children).

Make-up and smoking emerged as cardinal sins.

"A German woman does not use make-up! Only Negroes and savages paint themselves! A German woman does not smoke! She has a duty to her people to keep fit and healthy! Any questions?"

"Why isn't the Führer married and a father himself?" The question was out before I had time to check myself. It was an innocent question, devoid of any pert insinuation that the Führer ought to practise what he preached. Silence filled the whitewashed room, but the team leader offered neither answer nor reproved the question. She strafed me with a murderous look, then called for attention.

"Now, I want you all to learn the Horst Wessel Lied by next Wednesday. All three verses. And don't forget the rally on Saturday! Make sure your blouses are clean, your shoes polished, your cheeks rosy and your voices bright! Hell Hitler! Dismissed!"

(Source 11) Isle McKee, Tomorrow the World (1960)

We were told from a very early age to prepare for motherhood, as the mother in the eyes of our beloved leader and the National Socialist Government was the most important person in the nation. We were Germany's hope in the future, and it was our duty to breed and rear the new generation of sons and daughter. These lessons soon bore fruit in the shape of quite a few illegitimate small sons and daughters for the Reich, brought forth by teenage members of the League of German Maidens. The girls felt they had done their duty and seemed remarkably unconcerned about the scandal.

(Source 12) Cate Haste, Nazi Women (2001)

For Nazis, the key to the future of the Thousand Year Reich was the allegiance of youth. Hitler professed particular concern for children. He made a point of being filmed with them - at the Berghof, where he played the role of "Uncle Adolf" to the offspring of other leaders, looking unusually at ease as he chatted to them and cuddled them on his knee. It is a chilling picture. With children - and dogs - Hitler appeared relaxed. Other, more formal, photo-opportunities show him surrounded by uniformed young girls and boys, laughing as they look up adoringly at him. It was another aspect of stage-management of the leader cult...

Girls joined the Jungmädel from age ten to thirteen, and the BDM from fourteen to eighteen. Posters of fresh-faced, smiling young girls in uniform with swastikas in the background proclaimed "All Ten-Year-Olds To Us" or, more menacingly - because this was the intention - "All Ten-Year-Olds Belong To Us!" Young people were schooled in loyalty to the Volk, which excluded all other loyalties, including to the family.


Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 13) German Girls' League poster published in Nuremberg (1938)

(Source 14) Effie Engel, interviewed by the authors of What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

We were constantly getting enlistment orders in school for the BDM. You were supposed to report and join up... In our area we had a lot of workers, left-wing oriented workers, there were many students in my class who said that they preferred sports and that they would never join up. In the end, almost half the class refused to join. So my class succeeded in this. But that hardly was possible for the classes after us, as they were put under a lot of pressure to join.

(Source 15) Hildegard Koch, interviewed by Louis Hagen in 1951.

I was the Sports Group Organiser in our Section. I was the best at sports, especially at athletics and swimming. I got the Reich Sports Badge and the Swimming Certificate and came out first in both of them and got a lot of praise from our Leader. Altogether she was pretty pleased with me. When we had any street collections my box was always full first and I worked on the other girls to buck up so that our group always made a good impression wherever we went. In the summer we went to the great ReichYouth meeting. Thousands of boys and girls marched in close formation past the Reich Youth Leader, Baldur von Schirach...

At this parade I was right-hand Flugelmann, as always. The Gau Leader herself had picked me from amongst hundreds of girls. I was half a head taller than the tallest of them and had wonderful long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. I had to step out in front of the others and the Gau Leader pointed to me and said: "That is what a Germanic girl should look like; we need young people like that."

(Source 16) Jutta Rüdiger, speech (24th November, 1937)

The Hitler Youth is today the largest youth organization in the world, and the BDM is the largest girls’ organization. One can understand this only by realizing that our starting point is Adolf Hitler.

Boys are trained to be political soldiers, girls to be strong and brave women who will be the comrades of these political soldiers, and who will later, as wives and mothers, live out and form our National Socialist worldview in their families. They will then raise a new and proud generation.

The foundations of our educational work with girls are worldview and cultural education, athletic training, and social service. It is not enough to provide athletic skills and training in home economics. They should know why they are being trained, and what goals they are to strive for.

Athletic training should not only serve their health, but also be a school that trains the girls in discipline and mastery of their bodies....

We also expect that, consistent with the wishes of the Reich Youth Leader, each BDM girl will receive training in home economics. That does not mean that we make the cooking pot the goal of education for girls. The politically aware girl knows that any work, whether in a factory or in the home, is of equal value.

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 17) BDM poster, "Build youth hostels and homes" (1938)

(Source 18) Helga Schmidt, interviewed by the authors of What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

We were at first wild with enthusiasm about the Nazi regime. There was, of course, the Hitler Youth, which my father was against. Therefore, even though the school exerted a bit of pressure on us to join, I was among those who were not in the League of German Girls (BDM). And it was not pleasant for the older child to have to stand on the sidelines, because that is not one's inclination...

What I considered negative was the street collections, which were held for one reason or another nearly every week. Collections were held for this and that - and in a rather pushy way. And house wardens were assigned to go around from house to house with lists for collections... The notion was that, whoever doesn't donate is the enemy.

(Source 19) Ruth Mendel, interviewed by the authors of What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany (2005)

They (the posters) had these cute little girls with these blond pigtails and a couple of freckles on their noses and that was the ideal German girl. And they had these cute boys for the Hitler Youth. They were plastered all over.

(Source 20) Melita Maschmann, Account Rendered: A Dossier on My Former Self (1964)

Part of the misery about which the adults complained daily was unemployment. One could have no conception of what it mean for four, five or even six million people to have no work. Berlin had four million inhabitants…Imagine all the families living in Berlin having scarcely enough dry bread to satisfy their hunger.... I believed the National Socialists when they promised to do away with unemployment… I believed them when they said they would reunite the German nation, which had split into more than forty political parties, and overcome the consequences of the dictated peace of Versailles.

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 21) BDM poster, "Every ten-year-old to us" (1938)

(Source 22) Marianne Schweitzer, The New Yorker (29th May, 2013)

Melita Maschmann was quick, articulate, and gregarious - a joiner. She was bored at home with her conventional and conservative parents, and joining the Nazis was a way for her to rebel against them. I came from a more progressive, artistic family, and I was more of a loner, a listener and observer. We were both idealistic Weltverbesserer who wanted to make the world better, except that she wanted to improve the German Nazi world while I wanted to improve all of mankind. Gradually, these discussions erupted into serious conflict. Melita joined the B.D.M., the Hitler youth organization for girls, and became what I call a hundred-and-fifty-per-cent Nazi. I was horrified. She persuaded me to attend meetings where Hitler would speak; her intent was to have me convert. I told her in no uncertain terms that he sounded like a hysterical fanatic and that I couldn’t understand how an educated, highly intelligent person like her could possibly be impressed by him. She told me that I was not able to appreciate his greatness because I had Jewish blood.

(Source 23) Gertrud Draber attended an elite bridal school at Schwanenwerder and was interviewed about her experiences in 2001.

Young girls from the age of ten onward were taken into organizations where they were taught only two things: to take care of their bodies so they could bear as many children as the state needed and to be loyal to National Socialism. Though the Nazis have been forced to recognize, through the lack of men, that not all women can get married. Huge marriage loans are floated every year whereby the contracting parties can borrow substantial sums from the government to be repaid slowly or to be cancelled entirely upon the birth of enough children. Birth control information is frowned on and practically forbidden.

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
(Source 24) “Youth Serves the Führer. All 10-year-olds into the Hitler Youth.” (1940)

(Source 25) Susanne von der Borch, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

I only managed to get to the end of the school year with the help of my classmates. I was a very bad pupil. I was only good at sport, biology and sketching, I was very bad at all the rest... And the school didn't dare do anything so I had my freedom and didn't go to school if I didn't want to... We were told we are the master race... The world presented to us was filled only with beautiful people, master race people, full of sport and health. And, well, I was proud about that, and inspired by it. I would call this a grand seduction of youth.

This was my world. It fitted my personality because I had always been very sporty and I liked being with my friends... I always wanted to get out of the house. So this was the best excuse for me. I couldn't be at home, because there was always something happening... riding, or skating, or summer camp. I was never at home.

(Source 26) Hedwig Ertl, interviewed by Cate Haste, for her book, Nazi Women (2001)

As a young person, you were taken seriously. You did things which were important... Your dependence on your parents was reduced, because all the time it was your work for the Hitler Youth that came first, and your parents came second... All the time you were kept busy and interested, and you really believed you had to change the world.

(Source 27) Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Students Against Tyranny (1952)

We heard much oratory about the fatherland, comradeship, unity of the Volk, and love of country... We loved it, though we couldn't say why. After all, up to now we hadn't talked very much about it. But now these things were being written across the sky in flaming letters. And Hitler - so we heard on all sides - Hitler would help this fatherland to achieve greatness, fortune, and prosperity. He would see to it that everyone had work and bread. He would not rest until every German was independent, free, and happy in his fatherland. We found this good, and we were willing to do all we could to contribute to the common effort. But there was something else that drew us with mysterious power and swept us along: the closed ranks of marching youth with banners waving, eyes fixed straight ahead, keeping time to drumbeat and song. Was not this sense of fellowship overpowering? It is not surprising that all of us, Hans and Sophie and the others, joined the Hitler Youth.

We entered into it with body and soul, and we could not understand why our father did not approve, why he was not happy and proud. On the contrary, he was quite displeased with us; at times he would say, "Don't believe them - they are wolves and deceivers, and they are misusing the German people shamefully." Sometimes he would compare Hitler to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who with his flute led the children to destruction. But Father's words were spoken to the wind, and his attempts to restrain us were of no avail against our youthful enthusiasm.

We went on trips with our comrades in the Hitler Youth and took long hikes through our new land, the Swabian Jura. No matter how long and strenuous a march we made, we were too enthusiastic to admit that we were tired. After all, it was splendid suddenly to find common interests and allegiances with young people whom we might otherwise not have gotten to know at all. We attended evening gatherings in our various homes, listened to readings, sang, played games, or worked at handcrafts. They told us that we must dedicate our lives to a great cause. We were taken seriously - taken seriously in a remarkable way - and that aroused our enthusiasm. We felt we belonged to a large, well-organized body that honored and embraced everyone, from the ten-year-old to the grown man. We sensed that there was a role for us in a historic process, in a movement that was transforming the masses into a Volk. We believed that whatever bored us or gave us a feeling of distaste would disappear of itself. One night, as we lay under the wide starry sky after a long cycling tour, a friend - a fifteen-year-old girl - said quite suddenly and out of the blue, "Everything would be fine, but this thing about the Jews is something I just can't swallow." The troop leader assured us that Hitler knew what he was doing and that for the sake of the greater good we would have to accept certain difficult and incomprehensible things. But the girl was not satisfied with this answer. Others took her side, and suddenly the attitudes in our varying home backgrounds were reflected in the conversation. We spent a restless night in that tent, but afterwards we were just too tired, and the next day was inexpressibly splendid and filled with new experiences. The conversation of the night before was for the moment forgotten. In our groups there developed a sense of belonging that carried us safely through the difficulties and loneliness of adolescence, or at least gave us that illusion.

Questions for Students

Question 1: Read the introduction and source 2 and explain how the German League of Girls (BDM) was organised.

Question 2: Study sources 1, 5, 8, 13, 17, 21 and 24. Describe the uniform of the BDM.

Question 3: Use information from the sources to describe the kind of things that the members of the BDM did at meetings.

Question 4: Read sources 6, 9, 18, 26 and 27 and explain why the BDM caused conflict between parents and children.

Question 5. Girls in the BDM did a great deal of hiking and camping. Read sources 3, 7 and 25 and then explain if all the girls enjoyed these outdoor activities.

Question 6: Sources 10 and 27 show that some girls were willing to question what BDM leaders told them. What questions did these girls raise and how were they dealt with?

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.