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Baldur Benedikt von Schirach

Baldur Benedikt von Schirach
Baldur Benedikt von Schirach: Hitlerjugend Leader

Baldur Benedikt von Schirach (May 9, 1907 - August 8, 1974) was a Nazi youth leader later convicted of being a war criminal. Schirach was the head of the Hitler-Jugend (HJ, Hitler Youth) and Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter ("Reich Governor") of Vienna.


Schirach was born in Weimar, the final of four children of theatre director Rittmeister Carl Benno von Schirach (1873 - 1948) and his American wife Emma Middleton Lynah Tillou (1872 - 1944). Through his mother, Schirach claimed descent from two signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence. English was in fact the first language which he learned at home and he was not able to speak German until the age of five. He had two sisters, Viktoria and Rosalind von Schirach, and a brother Karl Benedict von Schirach who committed suicide in 1919 aged 19.

On March 31, 1932 von Schirach married 19-year-old Henriette Hoffmann (called Henny). She was the daughter of Heinrich Hoffmann from Munich who was the personal photographer and a close friend to Hitler. Through this relationship von Schirach was part of Hitler's inner circle. The young couple were appreciated guests at Hitler's "Berghof". Henriette von Schirach gave birth to four children: Angelika Benedikta von Schirach (born 1933), Klaus von Schirach, Robert von Schirach and Richard von Schirach (born 1942).

Schirach joined a Wehrjugendgruppe (military cadet group) at the age of ten and became a member of the NSDAP in 1925. He was soon transferred to Munich and in 1929 became leader of the Nationalsozialistischen Deutschen Studentenbund (NSDStB, National Socialist German Students' League). In 1931 he was a Reichsjugendführer (youth leader) in the NSDAP and in 1933 he was made head of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) and given an SA rank of Gruppenführer. He was made a state secretary in 1936.

In 1940 he organized the evacuation of 5 million children from cities threatened by Allied bombing. Later that year, he joined the army and volunteered for service in France, where he was awarded the Iron Cross before being recalled. Schirach lost control of the Hitler Youth to Artur Axmann, and was appointed Governor ("Gauleiter" or "Reichsstatthalter") of the Reichsgau Vienna, a post in which he remained until the end of the war. Over the next few years Schirach was responsible for moving Jews from Vienna to concentration camps in Poland. During his tenure 185,000 Jews were deported from Vienna to Poland, and in a speech on 15 September 1942 he mentioned their deportation as a "contribution to European culture." Later during the war von Schirach pleaded for a moderate treatment of the eastern European peoples and criticized the conditions in which Jews were being deported. He fell into disfavor in 1943, but remained at his post.

Schirach surrendered in 1945 and was one of the officials put on trial at Nuremberg. At the trial Schirach was one of only two men to denounce Hitler (the other was Albert Speer). He said 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. Also, it was revealed by Schirach at Nuremberg that the roots of his antisemitism could be found in the readings of Henry Ford's The International Jew. He was found guilty on October 1, 1946, of "crimes against humanity" for his deportation of the Viennese Jews. He was sentenced and served twenty years as a prisoner in Spandau Prison.

On July 20, 1949 his wife Henriette (February 3, 1913 - January 27, 1992) divorced him while he was in prison.

He was released on September 30, 1966, and retired quietly to southern Germany. He published his memoirs, Ich glaubte an Hitler ("I believed in Hitler"), in 1974 and died in Kröv-an-der-Mosel.

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