Balder von Schirach

Balder von Schirach : Nazi Germany

Baldur von Schirach, the eldest of four children, was born in Berlin on 9th March, 1907. his father, Carl Bailer-Norris von Schirach, was an army officer who resigned in 1908 to become a theatre director in Weimar and then in Vienna. His mother, Emma Tillou, had been born in the United States and had two signers of the Declaration of Independence among her ancestors. His great-grandfather was a Union Army officer who lost his leg at Bull Run.

According to Ian Kershaw, the author of Hitler 1889-1936 (1998): "Baldur von Schirach... came from a highly cultured bourgeois family, based in Weimar - Germany's literary capital - where his father had been a highly regarded director of the Court Theatre... he spoke excellent English; his American mother, with imperfect command of the language of her adopted country, had spoken only English to him in his childhood, so that at the age of six he spoke, so he later said, not a word of German."

After the First World War, his father lost his job and his brother committed suicide, despairing at the block on his officer's career as a consequence of the Versailles Treaty. His biographer, Louis L. Snyder, has commented: "Baldur von Schirach grew up in a milieu of music, theater, and literature and early showed talent for poetry. A romantic and sentimental lad, somewhat plump in physique, he longed for adventure. He joined the Young German League at the age of ten and took much joy in its hikes, camp life, and singing sessions."

Von Schirach later admitted that he developed anti-Semite views at seventeen after reading a book called The International Jew by Henry Ford. He later recalled: "We saw in Henry Ford the representative of success, also the exponent of a progressive social policy. In the poverty-stricken and wretched Germany of the time, youth looked toward America, and apart from the great benefactor, Herbert Hoover, it was Henry Ford who to us represented America."

Von Schirach was also inspired by The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century by Houston Stewart Chamberlain. He was especially impressed by the following passage: "Certain anthropologists would fain teach us that all races are equally gifted; we point to history and answer: that is a lie! The races of mankind are markedly different in the nature and also in the extent of their gifts, and the Germanic races belong to the most highly gifted group, the group usually termed Aryan... Physically and mentally the Aryans are pre-eminent among all peoples; for that reason they are by right ... the lords of the world."

In 1924 Von Schirach went to Munich where he studied art history and Germanic folk-lore. He heard Adolf Hitler speak in March 1925. He purchased Mein Kampf which he claimed he read in a single evening. In May, aged eighteen, he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and served in the Sturm Abteilung unit. He became known as the party's poet laureate. In one poem he described Hitler as "Germany's greatest son" and "a genius grazing the stars". In another he claimed "in him rest the roots of our world".

Hitler appreciated Von Schirach's poetry and referred to him as "a true follower and a dependable lad" and advised him to move to Munich. In 1929 Hitler appointed Von Schirach as head of the National Socialist Students' Union and gave him the task of bringing the entire university system under Nazi control. Satisfied with his work Hitler promoted him to the post of Reich youth leader of the Nazi Party, a post in which he proved himself to be a master organizer. The following year he directed a massive youth demonstration in Potsdam, at which more than 100,000 youngsters marched past the Führer for seven hours.

Von Schirach married Henriette Hoffman, the daughter of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's official photographer, in Munich on 31st March 1932. Hitler and Ernst Roehm both acted as best men. Over the next ten years Henriette gave birth to four children: Angelika Benedicta, Klaus, Robert, and Richard.

On 1st June, 1933 Baldur von Schirach was made leader of the Hitler Youth. His main objective was to re-educate German youth in the spirit of National Socialism. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Von Schirach would permit no opposition to his plans. As early as February 1933 he had led a surprise raid of fifty boys on the office of the rival Central Committee of Youth Organizations and confiscated its records." Von Schirach wrote prayers that praised Hitler and had to be read by members of the various Nazi youth organizations before they had their meals.

Cate Haste, the author of Nazi Women (2001) has argued: "The leadership immediately set about organizing youth into a coherent body of loyal supporters. Under Baldur von Schirach, himself only twenty-five at the time, the organization was to net all young people from ages ten to eighteen to be schooled in Nazi ideology and trained to be the future valuable members of the Reich. From the start, the Nazis pitched their appeal as the party of youth, building a New Germany.... Hitler intended to inspire youth with a mission, appealing to their idealism and hope."

At the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, described as the Rally of Youth, Adolf Hitler told Germany's young people: "Regardless of what we create and do, we shall pass away, but in Germany you will live on. And I know it cannot be otherwise for you are the flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, and your young minds are filled with the same will that dominates us... And when the great columns of our movement march through Germany today, I know that you will join these columns. And we know that Germany is before us, within us and behind us."

Herman Rauschning claimed Hitler told him: "In my great educative work I am beginning with the young. We older ones are used up. Yes, we are old already. We are rotten to the marrow. We have no unrestrained instincts left. We are cowardly and sentimental. We are bearing the burden of a humiliating past, and have in our blood the dull recollection of serfdom and servility. But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at these young men and boys! What material! With them I can make a new world.... My teaching is hard. Weakness has to be knocked out of them. In my Ordensburgen a youth will grow up before which the world will shrink back. A violently active dominating, intrepid, brutal youth - that is what I am after. Youth must be all those things. It must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness or tenderness in it. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey. Strong and handsome must my young men be. I will have them fully trained in all physical exercises. I intend to have an athletic youth - that is the first and the chief thing. In this way I shall eradicate the thousands of years of human domestication. Then I shall have in front of me the pure and noble natural material. With that I can create the new order."

In 1936 Hitler banned all youth organizations other than the Hitler Youth and decreed that all German boys aged 15 and 18. He called on Baldur von Schirach "to project National Socialism through German youth into enternity." Von Schirach carried out a massive drive by von Schirach to recruit all ten-year-olds. For boys aged between 10 and 14 years Von Schirach set up the Jungvolk. The boys had to learn semaphore, arms drill, and take part in two-day cross-country hikes. They also had to learn Nazi dogma and once they passed the necessary tests they were given a special dagger marked "Blood and Honour". The main objective of the organization was to provide Adolf Hitler with loyal supporters. Reluctant parents could be imprisoned; before then, they might be threatened with losing their jobs.

By 1938 there were 8,000 full-time leaders of the Hitler Youth. There were also 720,000 part-time leaders, often schoolteachers, who had been trained in National Socialist principles. One teacher, who was hostile to Hitler, wrote to a friend: "In the schools it is not the teacher, but the pupils, who exercise authority. Party functionaries train their children to be spies and agent provocateurs. The youth organizations, particularly the Hitler Youth, have been accorded powers of control which enable every boy and girl to exercise authority backed up by threats. Children have been deliberately taken away from parents who refused to acknowledge their belief in National Socialism. The refusal of parents to 'allow their children to join the youth organization' is regarded as an adequate reason for taking the children away."

Pictures of Baldur von Schirach were second only to Hitler's in displays throughout Germany and were used more widely than those of either Hermann Goering or Rudolf Hess. However, this gave him powerful enemies and they started a campaign of vilification against him. According to his biographer: "Jokes about his effeminate behaviour, especially concerning his preference for a 'girlish' bedroom in white, became a national pastime. He was ridiculed as a transplanted Berliner in Bavarian leather breeches."

Bernhard Rust, the Education Minister, complained: "There is, indeed, twofold evidence to show that something was wrong with education. In the first place, the high level of popular enlightenment had failed to protect the German people against the poisonous effects of Marxist teaching and other false doctrines... The attainment of high intellectual standards will certainly continue to be urged upon the young people; but they will be taught at the same time that their achievements must be of benefit to the national community to which they belong. As a consequence of the demand thus clearly formulated by the Nuremberg Laws, Jewish teachers and Jewish pupils have had to quit German schools, and schools of their own have been provided by and for them as far as possible. In this way, the natural race instincts of German boys and girls are preserved; and the young people are made aware of their duty to maintain their racial purity and to bequeath it to succeeding generations." Baldur von Schirach responded to this by producing his book, Revolution in Education (1938).

In 1940 Von Schirach joined the German Army and won the Iron Cross in France. In July 1941 Hitler appointed him as the Gauleiter of Vienna. Over the next few years Von Schirach was responsible for moving Jews to Poland. On 25th July, 1942, Von Schirach made a speech defending the deportation of thousands of Jews to the ghettoes of the east as "a contribution to European culture".

Von Schirach was captured by Allied troops at the end of the Second World War. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial Schirach that he did not know about the extermination camps. He also provided evidence that he had protested to Martin Bormann about the inhumane treatment of the Jews. Along with Albert Speer Von Schirach denounced Adolf Hitler before the tribunal. He was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to 20 years in Spandau Prison.

On 20 July 1949, whilst Von Schirach was imprisoned, Henriette von Schirach filed for divorce. The divorce was granted a year later in July 1950. She continued to campaign for his release but he remained in prison until September 1966.

Baldur von Schirach died in Kröv on 8th August, 1974.

Primary Sources

(1) In 1936 Baldur von Schirach wrote a poem about Adolf Hitler.

That is the greatest thing about him,

That he is not only our leader and a great hero,

But himself, upright, firm and simple,

In him the roots of our world.

And his soul touches the stars

And yet he remains a man like you and me.

(2) Baldur von Schirach wrote a prayer that had to be said by members of the Hitler Youth before meals.

Führer, my Führer given me by God,

Protect and preserve my life for long.

You rescued Germany from its deepest need.

I thank you for my daily bread.

Stay for a long time with me, leave me not.

Führer, my Führer, my faith, my light

Hail my Führer.

(3) 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.

The boys' Hitler Youth movement was set up in 1926 and the League of German Girls - the BDM (Bund Deutscher Madel) - established in 1932. As soon as the Nazis came to power, they set about eliminating all other rival youth organizations, just as they Nazified the rest of German life. Within a short time, the Catholic Youth organization was the only group left with a rival claim to young people's loyalty. All existing religious political and other youth groups were taken over, disbanded or banned. In one year the Hitler Youth movement, including girls, had climbed from a membership of 108,000 to more than three and a half million.

The leadership immediately set about organizing youth into a coherent body of loyal supporters. Under Baldur von Schirach, himself only twenty-five at the time, the organization was to net all young people from ages ten to eighteen to be schooled in Nazi ideology and trained to be the future valuable members of the Reich. From the start, the Nazis pitched their appeal as the party of youth, building a New Germany. The leadership was fairly young itself, compared with the elderly, whiskery leaders of the Weimar Republic. Hitler was only forty-three in 1933, and his associates were even younger - Heinrich Himmler was thirty-two, Joseph Goebbels thirty-five and Hermann Goring forty. Hitler intended to inspire youth with a mission, appealing to their idealism and hope."