The Hitler Youth
Perhaps the first attempt at organization of the Hitler-Jugend in 1922 had less destructive goals, but the group became a paramilitary organization of the Nazi organization pretty quickly. The basic group was for males 14 to 18, and a younger male group for ages between 10 and 14 was called Deutsches Jungvolk, and a girls group called the League of German Girls was set up for girls 10 to 18.
An attempt to disband in 1923 just pushed the organization underground for awhile to be restructured in 1926 by Kurt Gruber, a law student and admirer of Hitler. There were 25,000 boys 14 years of age and up in the Hitler-Jugend (H-J) division, with two parallel groups for younger boys and all girls.
Again, a ban by Chancellor Heinrich Bruning in 1932 tried to stop the violence of the H-J, but his successor Franz von Papen lifted the ban to appease Hitler, who was coming into favor with the German people at this time. Baldur von Schirach became the first Reich Youth leader.
The universal Boy Scout program had been banned in all German-controlled countries. The H-J was organized into community cells with weekly meetings, organized rallies and exercises. The members wore uniforms like the German army with ranks and insignias, and were considered a stepping stone to the military. They participated in the annual Nazi party rally in Nuremberg. Individual cells were formed to specialize in preparation for the wehrmacht (armed forces) and especially the Marines.
The youth were sent to training academies similar to prep schools to be nurtured and trained into future leaders of Germany. They were trained to be Aryan supermen, skilled in both anti-Semitism and anti-church propagandas. The H-J training emphasized physical and military over academic training.
The H-J were used throughout the 1930s to break up church youth groups and to infiltrate and spy on religious classes and studies and encouraged to interfere. They were trained with assault weapons and older boy’s cruelty to the younger ones was tolerated to weed out the unfit.
Several Youth group magazines and publications were put out including Wille und Macht (Will and Power), Die Kameradschaft (Comradeship) and a yearbook Jungen eure Welt (Youth your world). They had a special country service camp for selected girls to learn high moral characteristics.
The flag of the H-J and the armband worn were variations of the Wehrmacht with red, white and black colors and swastikas. The H-J grew rapidly from 1000 members in 1923 to 107,000 just before the Nazis took over power in Germany. Then the increase was staggering, some of it due to the mandatory merging of all other youth organizations. In 1933 there were 2,300,000 members in the H-J, and just before the start of World War II it had grown to 8 million.
With the start of World War II, Artur Axmann replaced Shirach and reformed the H-J into auxiliary forces for purposes of war. They were immediately used in German fire brigades, recovery and clean up efforts after bombings and part of the Reich postal and radio services. They were advanced to anti-aircraft defense quickly. By 1943, Nazi leaders were using the N-J as military reserves and replacements for heavy losses of men.
The 12th SS-Panzer-Division Hitlerjugend was established under the command of SS-Brigadefuhrer Fritz Witt for boys ages 16 to 18. They fought in the Battle of Normandy against the British and Canadian forces and received recognition for their ferocity and fanaticism. When Witt was killed, he was replaced by the youngest division commander ever in the German ranks, 33 year old Kurt Meyer.
By the last year of the war, 12 year olds were being drafted to take part in the Battle of Berlin. Axmann refused to draft the girls, against orders. These 12 year olds were part of the last line of defense in the war, and were some of the fiercest. Axmann’s order to disband the Hitler youth combat formations was never carried out and when Soviet forces swept the city before the Germans surrendered, only two youthful members survived.
After the war ended, and before the Trial at Nuremberg began for war crimes, many of the H-J members were suspected of war crimes but as children were not prosecuted. The adults however, were responsible for corrupting minors along with other crimes. Schirach received 20 years imprisonment for all his crimes. Axmann was only found guilty of being a major offender, and sentenced to 3 years, after which he became a successful businessman and died in Berlin in 1996. Meyer was sentenced to life imprisonment, but filed for clemency and released in 1954.