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The Hitler Youth (German: Hitler-Jugend, abbreviated HJ) was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party that existed from 1922 to 1945. The Hitler Youth was the second oldest paramilitary Nazi group, founded one year after the Sturmabteilung (SA) Stormtroopers.
The Hitler Youth was founded in 1922 as the Jungsturm Adolf Hitler. The group was based in Munich, Bavaria, and served as a recruiting ground for new Stormtroopers of the SA. The group was disbanded in 1923 following the abortive Beer Hall Putsch but was re-established in 1926, a year after the Nazi Party had been reorganized.
The second Hitler Youth began in 1926 with an emphasis on national youth recruitment into the Nazi Party. Kurt Gruber, a law student and admirer of Hitler from Plauen, Saxony, home to many blue-collar workers, initiated the reconstruction of the League. In April 1932 the Hitler Youth (as part of the SA) was banned by Chancellor Heinrich BrÜning to stop the widespread political violence. But by June the ban was already lifted by his successor Franz von Papen as a way to appease Hitler, whom he wanted to support his government. Then in 1933, Baldur von Schirach served as the first ReichsjugendfÜhrer (Reich Youth Leader) and devoted a great deal of time, finances, and manpower into the expansion of the Hitler Youth. By 1930, the group had over 25,000 members with the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) (League of German Girls, for girls aged from fourteen to eighteen). The Deutsches Jungvolk was another Hitler Youth group, intended for still younger children, both boys and girls.
The Hitler Youth had the basic motivation of training future "Aryan supermen" and future soldiers who would fight for the Third Reich faithfully. Physical and military training took precedence over academic and scientific education in Hitler Youth organizations. Youths in HJ camps learned to use weapons, built up their physical strength, learned war strategies, and were indoctrinated in anti-Semitism. After outlawing the Boy Scouts in all the lands Germany controlled, the Hitler Youth appropriated many of the Scouts' activities, though changed in content and intention. A limited amount of cruelty of the older boys toward the younger was tolerated and even encouraged, since it was believed this would weed out the unfit and harden the rest.
Members of the Hitler Youth wore paramilitary uniforms very similar to those of the Sturmabteilung, or SA, and the ranks and insignia of the Hitler Youth were similar to the ranks and insignia of the Sturmabteilung. Many of the boys' activities resembled soldier training, including throwing grenade-like objects, crawling under barbed wire, learning to jump off high platforms into the sea, and climbing over tall obstacles.
The Hitler Youth was organized into corps under adult leaders, and the general membership comprised boys aged fourteen to eighteen. After 1938, the Hitler Youth was a compulsory organization, mandatory for all young German men. The group was also seen as a recruiting ground for several Nazi Party paramilitary groups, with the Schutzstaffel (the SS) taking the most interest in the Hitler Youth. Members of the HJ were particularly proud to be bestowed with the single Sig Rune (victory symbol) by the SS. The SS utilized two Sig Runes as their mark, and this gesture served to symbolically link the two groups.
The Hitler Youth was organized into local cells on a community level. Such cells had weekly meetings at which various Nazi doctrines were taught by adult Hitler Youth leaders. Regional Hitler Youth leaders typically organized rallies and field exercises in which several dozen Hitler Youth cells would participate. The largest Hitler Youth gathering usually occurred once a year at Nuremberg, where Hitler Youth members from all over Germany would converge for the annual Nazi Party rally.
The Hitler Youth also maintained training academies comparable to preparatory schools. Such academies were considered breeding grounds for future Nazi Party leaders, and only the most radical and devoted Hitler Youth members could expect to attend.
Several corps of the Hitler Youth also existed to train members who wished to become officers in the Wehrmacht. Such groups were usually devoted strictly to officer training in the particular field to which a Hitler Youth hoped to become an officer. The Marine Hitler Youth was the largest such corps and served as a water rescue auxiliary to the Kriegsmarine.
The flags of the Hitler Youth
The basic unit of the Hitler Youth was the Bann, the equivalent of a military regiment. Of these Banne, there were more than 300 spread throughout Germany, each of a strength of about 6000 youths. Each unit carried a flag of almost identical design, but the individual Bann was identified by its number, displayed in black on a yellow scroll above the eagle's head. The flags measured 200 cm long by 145 cm high. The displayed eagle in the center was adopted from the former Imperial State of Prussia. In its talons it grasped a white coloured sword and a black hammer. These symbols were used on the first official flags presented to the HJ at a national rally of the NSDAP in August 1929 in NÜrnberg. The sword was said to represent nationalism, whereas the hammer was a symbol of socialism. The poles used with these flags were of bamboo topped by a white metal ball and spear point finial.
The flags carried by the HJ Gefolgschaft, the equivalent of a company with a strength of 150 youths, displayed the emblem used on the HJ armband: a tribar of red over white over red, in the centre of which was a square of white standing on its point containing a black swastika. The Gefolgschafts flag measured 180 cm long by 120 cm high with the three horizontal bars each 40 cm deep. In order to distinguish both the individual Gefolgschaft and the branch of HJ service to which the unit belonged, each flag displayed a small coloured identification panel in the upper left corner. The patch was in a specific colour according to the HJ branch. For example, there was a light-blue patch, a white Unit number, and a white piping reserved for the Flieger-HJ, or Flying-HJ. The flagpoles were of polished black wood and had a white metal bayonet finial.
The flags for the Deutsches Jungvolk (DJ)
Boys aged 10 to 14 years became members of the Deutsches Jungvolk (DJ). The Jungbann flags of this suborganization of the HJ were generally in the same design as that of the Hitler Youth. However, there were a number of differences: The Jungbannfahne had an all-black field. The eagle was the "negative" of the HJ-eagle: white with a black swastika. The scroll above the eagle's head was in white with the Bann number in black. The sword and the hammer as well as the beak, the talons, and the left leg of the eagle were in silver-grey colour. The flags eventually measured 165 cm long by 120 cm high. The flagpoles were of black polished wood topped with a white metal, spear head-shaped finial. It displayed on both sides an eagle bearing on its breast the HJ diamond.
The flag carried by the DJ Fähnlein was of a very simple design. It displayed a single runic S in white on an all-black field. The Fähnlein number appeared on a white patch sewn to the cloth in the top left-hand corner. It was piped in silver and had black unit numbers. The size was 160 cm long by 120 cm high. The flagpoles were of polished black wood with a white metal unsheathed bayonet blade.
The original membership of the Hitler Youth was confined to Munich, and in 1923, the organization had a little over one thousand members. In 1925, when the Nazi Party had been refounded, the membership grew to over 5,000. Five years later, the national Hitler Youth membership was at 25,000, at the end of 1932 (a few weeks before the Nazis came to power) it was at 107,956, and at the end of 1933, the Hitler Youth held a membership of 2,300,000. This increase largely came from the members of several other youth organizations that were more or less forcefully merged with the HJ. (The sizable Evangelische Jugend, the Evangelical youth organisation of 600,000 members, was integrated on February 18, 1934).
In December of 1936, Hitler Youth membership stood at just over five million. That same month, membership in the Hitler Youth became obligatory and was required by law (Gesetz Über die Hitlerjugend). This obligation was affirmed in 1939 with the Jugenddienstpflicht. Membership could be enforced even against the will of the parents. From that point, most of Germany's teenagers were incorporated into the Hitler Youth, and, by 1940, the total membership reached eight million. Later war figures are difficult to calculate, since massive conscription efforts and a general call-up of boys as young as ten years old meant that virtually every young male in Germany was, in some way, connected to the Hitler Youth.
Many German children of this generation were born in the 1920s and '30s and, as such, became the adult generation of Germany during the years of the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s. It was not uncommon, therefore, that many senior leaders of both West and East Germany had held membership in the Hitler Youth. Since the organization was compulsory after 1936, there was little effort to blacklist political figures who had once been members of the Hitler Youth, since it was considered that they had no choice in the matter.
Although the Hitler Youth was compulsory, and many of its members had no choice but to participate as members, several notable figures have drawn attention in the media as former Hitler Youth members. Such persons include Stuttgart mayor Manfred Rommel, former foreign minister of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher, philosopher Jurgen Habermas, and the late Prince Consort of the Netherlands Claus von Amsberg. The April 2005 media frenzy involving then-14-year old Joseph Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth drew angry responses from the German government, which felt that Pope Benedict XVI's Second World War activities had little bearing on his religious convictions or his ability to lead the Roman Chatholic Church.
Hans Scholl, one of the leading figures of the anti-Nazi resistance movement White Rose (Weiße Rose), was also a member of the Hitler Youth. This fact is emphasised in the film The White Rose which speaks of how Scholl was able to resist Nazi Germany ideals while still serving in a Nazi organization. The Thomas Carter film Swing Kids also focuses on this topic
Hitler Youth in World War II
In 1940, Artur Axmann replaced Schirach as ReichsjugendfÜhrer and took over leadership of the Hitler Youth. Axmann began to reform the group into an auxiliary force which could perform war duties. The Hitler Youth became active in German fire brigades and assisted with recovery efforts to German cities affected from Allied bombing. The Hitler Youth also assisted in such organisations as the Reich Postal Service, Reichsbahn, fire services, and Reich radio service, and served among anti-aircraft defense crews.
By 1943, Nazi leaders began turning the Hitler Youth into a military reserve to draw manpower which had been depleted due to tremendous military losses. In 1943, the 12.SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend, under the command of SS-BrigadefÜhrer Fritz Witt, was formed. The Division was a fully equipped Waffen-SS panzer division, with the majority of the enlisted cadre being drawn from Hitler Youth boys between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The division was deployed during the Battle of Normandy against the British and Canadian forces to the north of Caen. During the following months, the division earned itself a reputation for ferocity and fanaticism. When Witt was killed by allied naval gunfire, SS-BrigadefÜhrer Kurt Meyer took over command and became the youngest divisional commander at age 33.
As German casualties mounted with the combination of Operation Bagration and the Lvov-Sandomierz Operation in the east, and Operation Cobra in the west, members of the Hitlerjugend were recruited at ever younger ages. By 1945, the Volkssturm was commonly drafting Hitler Youth members into its ranks as young as 12 years old. During the Battle of Berlin, Axmann's Hitler Youth formed a major part of the last line of German defense, and were reportedly among the fiercest German soldiers. Although city commander General Helmuth Weidling ordered Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations, in the confusion, this was never carried out.
Post World War II
The Hitler Youth was disbanded by Allied authorities as an integral part of the Nazi Party. Some members of the Hitler Youth were accused of war crimes; however, as the organization was staffed with children, no serious efforts were made to prosecute these claims. While the entire Hitler Youth was never declared a criminal organization, the Hitler Youth adult leadership corps was deemed to have committed crimes against peace in corrupting the young minds of Germany. Many top Hitlerjugend leaders were put on trial by Allied authorities, with Baldur von Schirach sentenced to twenty years in prison. Schirach was convicted on crimes against Humanity for his actions as Gauleiter of Vienna, not his leadership of the Hitler Youth.
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