THEY were just children. Some were as young as 12 and looked pathetic standing there in full-sized uniforms and wearing helmets that were far too large.
Some held grimly on to rifles they barely knew how to shoot, while others just stood trembling with fear and crying. The threatening sound of Russian artillery could be heard clearly as the Soviet Army grew closer that morning of March 20, 1945.
For this was Berlin in the final, defiant weeks of the Second World War, before the Nazi regime that Hitler boasted would last for 1,000 years would be smashed.
And lined up that morning were some of the city’s last-ditch defenders – mere boys of the Hitler Youth, most of whom would soon die under Russian gunfire.
That morning, amid the chaos and the rubble, they would also come face to face with the man who gave them their very name. But it was difficult to believe the haggard figure, forcing a smile and shaking their hands, was the same person whose dynamic portrait had long dominated their lives.
Some looked puzzled, even horrified, as the Führer – his coat collar turned up and one arm shaking as a result of Parkinson’s disease – worked his way down the line of these doomed children. He mumbled words of encouragement before they were taken to help hold the city’s Pichelsdorf Bridge over the River Havel.
Most would perish that day. It was also the last time Hitler would be photographed before he committed suicide in his Berlin bunker.
The story of the Hitler Youth, known in German as Hitler-Jugend, is that of a calculated campaign to capture young German minds and indoctrinate them with Nazi principles.
It was the logical extension of Hitler’s belief that Germany’s future lay, not just in its militarism but in its children. He made it clear what he expected German children to be like: “The weak must be chiselled away,” he said, “I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as soft as leather and as hard as Krupp’s steel.”
Life in the Hitler Youth was run on strict regimental lines as part of Hitler’s requirement that children play their part in securing a final victory for Germany.
School lessons, apart from the basic curriculum, also revolved around aircraft identification, collecting scrap, attending parades and holding inspections, as well as doing messenger and light anti-aircraft duties.
In parental eyes, these young soldiers were still children. But to Hitler they were a substitute for older anti-aircraft personnel who had been sent to the front to make up for the terrible losses at Stalingrad. “It can truly be said the Hitler Youth proportionally took as many casualties from fighter bomber attacks as any other army division,” says Gehlen.
"I begin with the young. We older ones are used up. We are rotten to the marrow. 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 any finer ones in the world? Look at these young men and boys! What material! With them, I can make a new world. This is the heroic stage of youth. Out of it will come the creative man, the man-god."
"When an opponent declares, 'I will not come over to your side,' I say calmly, 'Your child belongs to us already. What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community' ."
"...Knowledge would spoil my young people. I prefer that they learn only what they pick up by following their own play instinct. But they must learn self-control. I will have them master the fear of death through the most difficult trials. That is the heroic stage of youth. Out of it will grow the stage of the free man, a human being who is the measure and center of the world."
"The German youth must be slender and supple, fast as a greyhound, tough as leather, and hard as Krupp steel. He must learn to do without, to endure criticism and injustice, to be reliable, discreet, decent, and loyal."
The Hitler Youth movement was formed in 1926, from young members of the early Nazi party. By 1930 it enlisted more than 25,000 boys aged 14 and upwards and established a junior branch, the Jungvolk. Girls from 10 to 18 were also recruited. The title for the young women varied, including the League Of German Girls and the League Of German Maidens.
Hitler Youth were organized into local groups that held weekly meetings that included political indoctrination. Here, a troop leader reads to his fellow Hitler Youth during a social evening. 1937.
In 1932, the year before Hitler came to power, these youthful Nazi organisations were banned. But after Hitler became Chancellor they were reinstated and the influential Baldur von Schirach became leader.
From the start, the Hitler Youth were regarded as “Aryan Supermen” of the future and indoctrinated into the beliefs of racial superiority and anti-Semitism. Another aim was to instil motivation that would direct Hitler Youth members to fight faithfully for the Third Reich.
As soon as Hitler became Chancellor, the Boy Scout movement was banned throughout Germany.
However, the Hitler Youth adopted many of its activities, while changing its basic content and outlook. Boys who received strict military training were allowed to handle weapons from an early age, compete in assault courses and study strategy.
For those in the female wing of the Hitler Youth the emphasis was more on child bearing. Martha Dodd, writing in My Years In Germany, said: “Young girls from the age of 10 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.
“Huge marriage loans were floated whereby contracting parties could borrow substantial sums from the government to be repaid slowly, or to be cancelled upon the birth of enough children. Birth control information was frowned upon and practically forbidden.”
As the Second World War progressed and heavy casualties meant the conflict was turning against Germany, Nazi leaders began drawing on the Hitler Youth as a reserve to replace men who had fallen in battle.
In 1943 a Hitler Youth Panzer division was formed, with a majority of young soldiers being between the ages of 16 and 18. The division fought against British and Canadian forces during the Battle of Normandy. By 1945, 12-year-olds were common in army ranks.
Despite their age, some members of the Hitler Youth were even suspected of war crimes. But because they were only children no effort was made to prosecute them by the Allies. Although the Hitler Youth was never declared a criminal organisation, its adult leadership was considered tainted for corrupting the minds of the young. As a result, many adult leaders of the Hitler Youth, including the overall organiser Baldur von Schirach, were put on trial.
In the post-war years, various senior political and commercial leaders across Germany admitted they had served in the Hitler Youth – in 2005 it was reported that even the Pope had, as 14-year-old Joseph Ratzinger. But few people were blacklisted as they had simply had no choice in the matter.
Members of the Hitler Youth swore to continue to fight on against the Allies approaching Germany from all sides. They called themselves, "Werewolves."
Joseph Goebbels had created the Werewolves, a desperate gamble to continue the war through guerilla warfare. It would rely on German youth that had been reared in Nazi doctrine. These young guerilla fighters, some younger than twelve, would hold out and strike at the Allies behind the lines. Author Michael Kater states "in order to inure HJ adolescents to inhuman acts, to make them complicit in the crimes of the Third Reich, and to bond them to their murderous reputation, its leaders ordered them to commit atrocities." Escaped concentration inmates were hunted and killed, Allied soldiers were sniped at, and wire was strung across roads in order to decapitate soldiers driving down German roads. Kater claims: "Werewolves, by the more narrow and technically correct definition, were small suicide commandos of boys and sometimes even girls who were dropped behind enemy lines on what was already foreign-occupied German soil, to reverse the conquest…." Werewolf commandos of the HJ were organized and trained by the SS. The most successful Werewolf attack was the assassination of the anti-nazi lord mayor of Aachen, Franz Oppenhoff. An SS man, two HJ boys, and a BDM girl parachuted into Aachen, entered the mayor's home, and shot him to death in March 1945. All were killed on their way back to Germany after stepping on land mines.
Many other young HJ members were parachuted behind enemy lines, either Russian or American, to wreak havoc. Two Hitler Youths were captured by the Americans near Brunswick, and were executed on 1 June 1945. They were sixteen and seventeen years old. The Werewolf program was ultimately a failure and never really got off the ground, due to lack of weaponry and coordination, but not because of lack of will on the part of the HJ. Many of the most fanatical HJ members were regrouping towards Berlin for the final battle.
As the Allies approached Berlin, SS squads, including young HJ members, were rounding up every available man and boy that could fight. Anyone who failed to show up for training or report for duty was considered a traitor and was hanged or shot on the spot. Karl Damm's Hitler Youth battalion was sent to the front lines to dig trenches thirty miles east of Berlin. He stood guard duty one night and heard rifle fire. The next day he counted fifty Russian tanks drive past his unit's position. He later found his comrades dead in one of their freshly dug trenches, all shot down by the Russians. Still, the youth continued to fight.
At the Havel River in Berlin, five thousand Hitler Youth were ordered to defend the Pichelsdorf Bridge so a relief army could arrive from the south. The relief army never came, as the Russians had destroyed it. The HJ held the bridge for two days and nights against Russian tanks until 4,500 of them lay dead or wounded. One of these wounded boys, carried into a hospital was told by a doctor, "You dummy! Look at what this has gotten you!" The boy straightened up, spit in the doctor's face, and said, "Long live the Fuhrer!" Such was their fanaticism, even at the end.
"In the presence of this blood banner which represents our Führer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God."
"I promise to do my duty in love and loyalty to the Führer and our flag."
"Adolf Hitler, you are our great Führer. Thy name makes the enemy tremble. Thy Third Reich comes, thy will alone is law upon the earth. Let us hear daily thy voice and order us by thy leadership, for we will obey to the end and even with our lives. We praise thee! Hail Hitler!"
"Führer, my Führer, give me by God. Protect and preserve my life for long. You saved Germany in time of need. I thank you for my daily bread. Be with me for a long time, do not leave me, Führer, my Führer, my faith, my light, Hail to my Führer!"
"Live Faithfully, Fight Bravely, and Die Laughing!"
"We were born to die for Germany!"
"You are nothing–your Volk is everything!"
The girls' organizations included campfire romanticism, summer camps, folklorism, tradition, and sports. They were very popular - more popular than the Hitler Jugend, with its rigorous paramilitary training. The programs often were very interesting, and allowed the girls freedoms and activities previously unavailable to them German society, such as traveling without their parents, camping, hiking, and playing sports. Girls had to be able to run 60 metres in 14 seconds, throw a ball 12 metres, complete a 2 hour march, swim 100 metres and know how to make a bed. Some of this drew criticism from Nazi party leaders, such as Heinrich Himmler, who felt that these activities were not befitting girls. Said Himmler in a speech at Bad Toelz: "When I see these girls marching around with their nicely packed backpacks - it's enough to make me sick."
The task of our Girls League is to raise our girls as torch bearers of the national-socialist world. We need girls who are at harmony between their bodies, souls, and spirits. And we need girls who, through healthy bodies and balanced minds, embody the beauty of divine creation. We want to raise girls who believe in Germany and our leader, and who will pass these beliefs on to their future children.
"Be Faithful, Be Pure, Be German!"
1. Relatedness - having relationships with others, care, respect, knowledge2. Transcendence - creativity, develop a loving and interesting life3. Rootedness - a feeling of belonging4. Sense of Identity - seeing oneself both as a unique person and part of a social group5. A frame of orientation - understanding the world and our place in it
On the other hand, despite the millions who cheered on their armies' advance, there is evidence that young German soldiers, even in the SS, were horrified by what they saw and what they were ordered to do. And indeed, in the Wehrmacht, it is unlikely that every recruit fought with enthusiasm for the Nazi goals the way he had been instructed beforehand in the Hitler Youth. Especially in the later years of mounting defeat, many soldiers fought desperately, once they were at the front, because in the face of disaster all around them, they became afraid for their lives; they just wanted to get out and survive. "We have to meet again, I just cannot imagine that I will have to die so soon," wrote a desperate ex-HJ leader to his girlfriend from the Hungarian front. That did not necessarily make their fight more humane or their responsibility less grave. Still, even in view of the enthusiasm of all their dyed-in-the-wool Nazi comrades, a number of factors warn us not to engage in quick generalizations regarding trigger-happy post- HJ youths. One is that a horror of being sent to the eastern front evidently caused an increase in suicides among young soldiers after 1941. Second, Himmler and his staff, in a progressively uncoordinated Nazi administration, experienced ever greater difficulties in the recruitment of Hitler Youth candidates for service in the Waffen-SS, a service that was becoming less popular as the war dragged on. Third, in order to embed National Socialist dogma more deeply in the Wehrmacht at the fronts, special Nazi indoctrination officers had to be employed-mirror images of the Red Army political commissars.
APRIL 1945. PICHELSDORF BRIDGE: 5000 Hitler Youth Boys Fought Russians For Days