Compiled by A.M. de Quesada
In order for a regime to survive time, there must be support for it in future generations. Hitler was well aware of this and planned for it. The Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth) was Hitler’s tool to ensure that the younger generation would be totally loyal to the Nazi regime and that they would be willing to fight in the upcoming war. Hitler called them “the guarantee of the future.” He saw the Hitler Youth as being untainted by the Weimar Republic and believed that they were the only organization that he could trust without reservation. Seeing this trust, it is not surprising that he gave important responsibilities to the Hitler Youth during the war years. Neither are the final sacrifices in the last hours of the Reich.
The Hitler Youth, like most of the party organizations, was formed on a military model. The members wore uniforms similar to the SA. Hitler wanted them to be “quick like greyhounds, tough like leather, and hard like Krupp steel.” In the years before the war, the Hitler Youth incorporated more military style drill in the training of its members. All boys were given firearms training, starting with small caliber rifles and then moving up to regular infantry pieces. They sent those who excelled to sharpshooter and sniper school. The services of these boy snipers were offered to the army and the Waffen-SS. The army snatched them up and placed them in reserve units. All of this military training fostered an aggressive spirit that could be realized only in actual combat. The Hitler Youth was in essence providing Germany with cannon-fodder for the war.
All military services in the world have different branches or specialties within. The Hitler Youth was no exception. In order to maintain the interest of the boys, as well as to provide needed military skills, the Hitler Youth created many special formations.
One of the largest of these special formations was the Flieger-HJ or Flying Hitler Youth. Members were distinguished by wearing Luftwaffe-blue uniforms. The purpose of the Flying Hitler Youth was to learn the basics of flying. Members spent their first two years building model gliders. They would also be taught the theory of flight. The closest they would get to a real glider was when they manned the catapult that launched an older boy in glider training. After completing the model phase, they graduated to real gliders. They would attempt to earn A, B, and finally C levels of glider certifications. The Luftwaffe supported close relationships between its personnel and those of the Flieger-HJ. This is not surprising since the Luftwaffe wanted eventually to train them as pilots for their fighters and bombers. Sometimes they would actually take up members for flights in bombers or fighters (two seaters, of course). Members who showed promise were made a future Fahnrich, or officer cadet in the Luftwaffe. This was to ensure that when the boys became old enough for military service, no other branch could take them.
Hitler Youth members who were not interested in flying could join the Motor-HJ. When a boy reached 16, the age at which a driver’s license could be obtained, he could petition for entrance. Members had to log their driving hours like a pilot. Eighty hours a year were required for continued membership. They also had to have 105 hours of mechanic experience as well. These boys were also being groomed for their own special place in the military. A memorandum from the Reichsjugendfuhrung stated, “It is self-evident that members of the Motor-HJ will later serve in the motorized units of the Wehrmact.” Members were especially drawn to units of the SS since all SS units were fully motorized.
Other special formations included the Marine-HJ, who trained with the navy. The highlight of the naval training was a cruise on the navy’s training ship Horst Wessel. There were smaller units for future medics, a cavalry unit that was mainly for rural boys, and the Flakhelfer, a unit of anti-aircraft helpers. The older boys in the anti-aircraft units actually manned the guns. Younger boys manned the searchlights and were assigned as messengers.
In 1943, the SS decided to create a special division of the Waffen-SS comprised of Hitler Youth. This division was eventually called the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. Fifty Wehrmacht officers who had been Hitler Youth leaders were transferred to the Hitlerjugend division.
Promising Hitler Youth members received orders to NCO school. In the Summer of 1943, 10,000 boys reported for basic training. Many of these boys had not yet turned 17. They were treated exactly like other soldiers with one exception; the Hitlerjugend Division received a sweet ration in lieu of the usual cigarette ration other soldiers got. The division first went into battle in June 1944 against the Canadians during the Normandy campaign. They managed to destroy 28 tanks while losing only 6 of their own. The ferocity of this division was said to be “seldom equalled and never excelled during the whole campaign.” Despite the fact that the division fought well, it paid a heavy price. After only one month the division lost 20% of its men. Forty percent were wounded and 50% of its armored vehicles were lost. By September 1944, the division was in retreat, with only 600 men left. All of its tanks were gone and there was no ammunition left for artillery support. Field Marshal von Rundstedt said, “It is a pity that this faithful youth is sacrificed in a hopeless situation.”
Hitler Youth units were heavily involved in building the defenses in Germany. In the Summer of 1944, a Flieger-HJ unit was deployed to Eastern Germany to assist in the construction of anti-tank traps. These traps were mostly big ditches. One boy assigned to the digging said that he hoped to get home soon because, “my mother will give me a mighty good thrashing. She will never believe me when I tell her that they sent us to dig trenches.” The Westwall, the German’s name for the Siegfried Line, was entirely rebuilt in 1944 by Hitler Youth. By this time, the draft had taken many of the older leaders of the Hitler Youth. Younger boys were promoted faster and faster. On the Westwall, a 16 year old boy could be a Gefolgschaftsf?hrer in command of 800 boys. The Unterbannf?hrer in charge of the Westwall was 17 years old and in charge of over 2,800 boys. Soon, the Westwall was completed, the boys were sent home, and the Allies over-ran the Siegfried Line. The Allies were now in Germany proper. The hour of the Hitler Youth’s final sacrifice was at hand.
In October 1944, all males aged 16 to 60 were required to join the Volkssturm, or Home Guard. The recruits were usually either very young or old enough to be veterans of the First World War. These units were often trained and commanded by high ranking Hitler Youth members. One such leader who was 17 at the time remarked about his troops, “I stood in front of a platoon of the Volkssturm. Of the 45 men, only 10 were Hitler Youth members; the others were in their 40’s and 50’s. Herr Wolff, whose son had fallen as a sergeant in the Waffen-SS, was 65. I eyed them with some apprehension: undisciplined, over-aged, unfit civilians wearing black-red armbands with the inscription Deutsche Wehrmacht. I felt very self-conscious as their leader. Some were the fathers of my schoolfriends.”
The Hitler Youth members were the backbone of the Volkssturm since they had been receiving military training for ten years. The most effective weapon they used was the Panzerfaust, a type of simple but effective anti-tank bazooka that even an 11 year old could fire. Their training was such that Reichsjugendf?hrer Axmann stated in a memorandum that, “from the Hitler Youth has emerged a movement of young tank busters. There is only victory or annihilation.” Hitler Youth units would regularly ambush American infantry units. If they were cornered, they would fight to the last child. An American Lieutenant-Colonel said of an artillery unit whose oldest member was 12, “rather than surrender, the boys fought until killed.” In April 1945, 5,000 Hitler Youths were detailed to defend the Havel River in Berlin. Their mission was to hold the bridgehead until Wenck’s army could relieve them. Unfortunately, Wenck’s army existed only in Hitler’s mind. After 5 days of fighting there were only 500 boys who were physically capable of fighting. Children were being thrown into the cauldron all over Germany to fight in a war that was good as lost.
One group of Hitler Youth that was captured in Munich was given a detailed tour of a place only spoke of in whispers: Dachau. After seeing the railway cars filled with corpses, the survivors, and the crematoriums, the boys’ world collapsed. One boy said of the experience, “that night was a sleepless one. The impact of what we had seen was too great to be immediately digested. I could not help but cry.”
The war being over, the members of the Hitler Youth were back to being regular civilians. It was a hard adjustment for many to go from being high ranking officers in the Hitler Youth to schoolboys. When Alfons Heck heard that his school might reopen soon thought that “the idea of going back to school seemed preposterous. What could we learn after this?” While the adult leaders of the Hitler Youth were on trial in Nuremberg, some Hitler Youth members were on trial as well. Heck was in the French sector and was tried for prolonging the war. He was sentenced to 2 years restriction in his hometown, 6 months expulsion from the college (it was not open anyway) and a month of hard labor. One job that he was required to do was to exhume the mass grave of French prisoners. He and other Nazis were required to be de-Nazified. The French showed them films from the death camps. Heck and many others could not believe that the films were real which enraged the French. It took Heck 30 years to accept a sense of guilt for the Holocaust. I have been unable to find any account of the Americans or the British trying the members of the Hitler Youth. I believe that they simply could not comprehend the fact that the Hitler Youth members were much more fanatic Nazis than most. They probably treated the youths as misguided children.
During the post-war years, Alfons Heck realized that he, was an especially tainted citizen of the most despised nation on the face of the Earth. . . .”I developed a harsh resentment toward our elders, especially our educators . . . they had delivered us, their children, into the cruel power of a new God.” That “god” had nearly destroyed an entire generation of German children.
Heck, A. 1985. A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika. Frederick, CO: Renaissance House.
Koch, H. W. 1975. The Hitler Youth. New York: Stein and Day.
____________. 1985. “Young People: For or Against the Nazis?”. History Today 35, (October): 15-21.
Peukert, D. J. K. 1987. Inside Nazi Germany. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Rempel, G. 1975. Hitler’s Children: The Hitler Youth and the SS. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.