“I believe the children are our future.” Okay, that was the one and only Whitney Houston but in this case, Hitler shared the same view point. In fact, I think most of us do. The only difference is, when Hitler had this idea, it was much more dangerous. He envisioned molding children into perfect, well-groomed cogs in the Nazi machinery. As a result, the Hitler Youth was formed to create a long-lasting love for racial purity and Hitler himself.
One of the most difficult things to grapple with in Holocaust studies is the role of the Nazis and to what extent they were aware of the wrongness of their actions. While it serves no purpose to demonize Nazis, it also serves little function to say they did what they did because they didn’t know any better. However, how can we possibly come to grips with the indoctrination of young minds? Did they know better?
If I was a young kid growing up in Germany, I probably would have joined the Hitler Youth. They did camping trips, played sports, learned cool new survival skills and my friends and I would get an extra holiday to celebrate the fuehrer’s birthday. The genius of it all was that it was appealing. Indoctrination was an underlying activity and not the sparkle.
The first Hitler Youth was formed in 1926 but disbanded and recreated itself in a few different clubs after Hitler’s imprisonment for the Beer Hall Putsch. However, in 1929 when Baldur Von Sirach was put in charge of Reich Youth, the movement was revived and other youth groups of the same nature were made illegal. Propaganda to entice children into the Hitler Youth was constant which showed in the statistics. For example, in 1935, 60% of German youth were a part of the Hitler Youth. In 1939, 90% were. By 1939, Hitler Youth was also made mandatory for those over 17 years old and by 1941 it was for those over ten. Needless to say, to refuse membership made you more than just an outsider and as a kid (at least in my opinion), one’s ability to see the immorality is compromised, particularly when authority figures are telling you what is right and wrong.
Ok so what did you do? How did they get you? There was both a boys and girls branch (League of German Girls) of The Hitler Youth. While the boys learned cool survival skills and took part in athletic competitions, the Nazis were grooming them with core values. For example, team sports took sacrifice for an overall goal. Toys would have Nazi logos. Camping taught you how to survive in war. Even the basic model of the Hitler Youth was set up like the military.
The girls were also taking part in activities that instilled core Nazi beliefs for females. They were taught all about mother hood and bearing children for the Reich. They took part in sports like gymnastics that were competitive and team-oriented but would supposedly not compromise their ability to bear children. In other words, these lessons were instilled in relatable and enticing ways.
And of course there were rallies. Seas of people would gather in one place, the children all in matching uniforms just like the soldiers, ready to praise the Reich. As a kid, wouldn’t this make you feel important? The power of mob mentality can never be underestimated.
So what’s the message here? I don’t really know, it’s too big I think. One thing I take from it is that we need to teach children to question authority. I often hear about how kids have no respect these days or they don’t listen and that’s valid. I get it (really I do!). However, I don’t think that’s all bad. Let’s be honest, as adults we aren’t perfect and a lot of corruption runs through the veins of society. Wouldn’t it be great if we groomed our future generations not to follow blindly? To question morality? I think so.