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 Grainne  Feick  
German  160B  
Spring  2013  
The  Hitler  Youth:  the  “Other”  Victims  of  the  Nazi  Regime  

                       Throughout   history,   we   find   examples   where   children   have   been   unwitting  

accomplices   to   the   atrocities   of   cruel   regimes.   The   Nazi   Party,   the   German   fascist  

political  party  led  by  authoritarian  leader  Adolf  Hitler  from  1920-­‐1945,  was  especially  

notorious  for  its  indoctrination  of  German  youth  in  order  to  serve  the  ultimate  goals  

of   their   regime.   The   Nazis   had   extremely   ambitious   objectives,   including   the   firm  

belief  that  it  was  crucial  to  preserve  the  Aryan  race  by  protecting  it  from  what  they  

deemed   “undesirables.”   Hitler   knew   that   his   success   rested   in   large   part   on  

inculcating   his   German   Nationalist   principles   and   anti-­‐Semitism   into   the   minds   of   the  

youngest  of  German  citizens.  He  said  in  his  speech  at  the  Reichsparteitag  in  1935,  “He  

alone,   who   owns   the   youth,   gains   the   future.”   The   fact   that   the   Hitler   Youth   played  

such  a  crucial  role  in  Hitler’s  grand  scheme  for  Nazi  Germany  indicates  a  disturbing  

manipulation   of   children’s   brains,   brains   that   were   not   yet   fully   developed,   were  

incredibly   susceptible   to   brainwashing,   and   were   easily   co-­‐opted   by   a   powerful  

authority  figure.  By  examining  the  specific  stories  and  personal  accounts  of  members  

of  the  Hiltler-­‐Jugend  (HJ)—the  Hitler  Youth,  and  in  the  girl’s  case,  the  Bund  Deutscher  

Mädel  (BDM)—League  of  German  Girls,  and  their  range  of  experiences  as  adults,  this  

paper   will   seek   to   answer   the   question,   “What   were   the   effects   on   these   children,  

especially   after   history   proved   the   Nazi   regime   to   be   one   of   the   most   cruel   and  

heinous  regimes  in  the  history  of  the  modern  world?”  My  paper  argues  that  in  many  

ways   the   children   of   the   Hitler   Youth   were   as   much   victims   as   all   the   other   victims   of  

the  Nazi  regime.  

                       It   is   disturbing   to   examine   the   methods   for   indoctrination,   and   the   total  

infiltration   of   these   children’s   lives   as   they   moved   from   family   life   to   Nazi   life.  

Children  entered  the  Hitler  Youth  on  April  20th  (Hitler’s  birthday)  of  the  year  of  their  

tenth   birthday.   They   were   immediately   taught   the   importance   of   identifying  

themselves  as  a  superior  race—“We  viewed  rows  of  pictures  showing  the  heads  and  

bodies   of   men   and   women   who   were   supposedly   representatives   of   various   racial  

groups.   We   soon   learned   that   the   blond,   tall,   slender,   and   straight   figures   were   the  

Nordic,  Aryan  types  that  we  were  all  supposed  to  be.  The  dark,  small,  thick,  and  bent  

bodies,  on  the  other  hand,  belonged  to  undesirable…and  less  worthy  races.  We  should  

look  down  on  them  as  inferior  beings”(Pine).  

   Some   parents   were   unsettled   and   even   outraged   at   the   thought   of   their  

children  joining  the  Hitler  Youth,  because  they  didn’t  want  such  interference  in  their  

children’s   lives.   But,   by   1939,   when   membership   became   mandatory,   parents   no  

longer  had  a  choice;  the  German  state  was  prescribed  as  the  foremost  authority,  and  

priority,  in  their  children’s  lives.  In  a  number  of  cases,  children  even  turned  in  their  

own  parents  for  expressing  skepticism  towards  Nazi  ideology.  

 Schools  worked  in  tandem  with  the  HJ  to  foster  full  allegiance  to  the  German  

“cause.”  In  her  study,  “Propaganda  and  Children  in  the  Hitler  Years,”  Mills  states:  “No  

single   target   of   nazification   took   higher   priority   than   Germany's   young.   Racism   was  

taught   in   public   schools   as   a   scientific   fact   (Mills).   A   typical   math   problem   asserted:  

“The  Jews  are  aliens  in  Germany.”  Then  asked,  [If]  “there  were  66,060,000  inhabitants  

in   the   German   Reich,   of   whom   499,682   were   Jews….What   is   the   per   cent   of  

aliens?”(Mills).   Some   concepts   may   have   been   beyond   what   children   could  
comprehend,  but  the  anti-­‐Semitic  images  were  simple,  constant,  and  powerful  enough  

to  deeply  penetrate  their  psyches.    

                       In   a   well-­‐known   psychological   experiment,   participants   were   instructed   to  

inflict  human  subjects  with  ever  increasingly  strong  electric  shocks.  Despite  the  fact  

that   the   subjects   screamed   out   in   pain,   the   participants   followed   the   command   of  

those  in  charge,  who  instructed  them  to  keep  pushing  the  “buttons.”  The  point  of  the  

experiment   was   to   prove   that   people   defer   to   authority   figures,   even   when   their  

instincts  might  be  in  conflict  with  what  they  are  being  told  to  do(Milgram  Study).  In  

the   case   of   the   HJ,   children   were   co-­‐opted   by   powerful   authority   figures   at   such   an  

early  age  that  they  did  not  even  have  a  chance  to  develop  their  own  instincts.  

                       Alfons   Heck   was   a   fanatical   member   of   the   HJ.   He   succumbed   completely   to   the  

charismatic  Hitler  and  the  Nazi  propaganda.  He  says,  "We  children  never  had  a  chance  

unless   our   parents   were   brave   enough   to   resist   the   Nazi   tide.   Few   adults  

were…Perhaps  I  would  not  have  been  such  a  firm  follower  if  I  had  been  raised  by  my  

parents.   My   father   hated   the   Nazis   with   a   passion…but   our   farm   was   200   miles   away,  

so  I  didn’t   see   my   parents   often”(Ayer).   His   education   was   entirely   directed   by   Nazi  

doctrine  and  propaganda.  In  his  memoir,  Heck  admits  “It  took  several  years  of  painful  

re-­‐education,  years  to  accept,  reluctantly,  our  slaughter  of  millions  of  innocent  people,  

whom  we  had  decreed  to  be  ‘subhuman’”(Heck).  

                  Irma   Grese   was     “a   fanatical   member   of   the   HJ   organization   for   females,   the  

BDM”(Kater).   At   eighteen,   in   1942,   she   was   “persuaded   to   enter   the   SS   Female  

Helpers’   training   base   at   the   women’s   concentration   camp,   Ravensbrück,   [where]  

Nazi  style  discipline  was  learned  by  watching  and  practicing  cruelty  on  inmates,  and  
engaging   in   promiscuous   sex   with   male   SS   guards”(Kater).   Such   “discipline”   was  

intended   to   strip   the   young   female   SS   recruits   of   all   humanitarian   ethics.   Irma   moved  

to   Aushchwitz,   where   she   was   known   for   her   Aryan   beauty   and   the   relentless   torture  

she  inflicted  upon  inmates.  She  was  eventually  captured  by  British  soldiers  and  tried  

at   Bergen-­‐Belsen.   Many   were   shocked   that   “such   a   lovely   woman   would   be   capable   of  

such   evil…Grese   was   convicted   of   war   crimes,   and   hanged   at   Hamelin   prison   in  

December  of  1945.  Together  with  two  other  condemned  SS  women  she  had  stayed  up  

the  night  before,  laughing  and  singing  non-­‐stop  the  well  known  Nazi  hymns”(Kater).  

The   following   day,   when   her   execution   took   place,   Grese’s   face   showed   no   signs   of  

regret,   and   she   told   the   hangman   to   kill   her   quickly.   She   was   twenty-­‐two   years   old.  

Although   there   can   be   no   justification   for   her   culpability   in   the   crimes   that   she  

committed,   the   fact   that   all   German   youth   were   exposed   to   unrelenting   Nazi  

propaganda,   and   extreme   forms   of   hatred,   and   few   were   impervious   to   the   effects,  

begs   the   question   as   to   whether   or   not   Grese   would   have   committed   such   crimes   had  

she   not   been   a   victim   of   probable   brainwashing   beginning   at   a   very   early   age.   Her  

seeming  lack  of  remorse  or  regret  in  her  last  hours  is  a  telling  example  of  the  effect  

that  successful  Nazification  had  on  her  psyche.    

                       I  was  fortunate  to  be  able  to  conduct  an  interview  with  Heijo  von  Morgen,  who  

was  a  member  of  the  HJ  as  a  child,  and  still  lives  in  his  family’s  castle  in  Bodenburg,  

Germany.   After   his   father   died   in   a   racecar   accident,   when   Heijo   was   a   young   boy,  

Heijo’s  mother  remarried.  Her  new  husband’s  brother  was  Gottfried  von  Cramm,  the  

best   tennis   player   in   Germany   at   the   time.   Gottfried   was   friends   with   the   King   of  

Sweden,   and   socialized   with   various   English   diplomats   while   staying   with   the   king,  
which  the  Nazi’s  did  not  approve  of.  They  jailed  Gottfried,  allegedly  for  a  homosexual  

relationship  he  had  with  a  Jewish  actor.  Important  people  from  around  the  world  sent  

angry  letters  to  Hitler,  which  indicates  the  influence  that  Heijo’s  family  had,  and  was  

probably  the  reason  why  Hitler  released  Gottfried  early,  or  at  all-­‐-­‐because  gays  were  

ruthlessly  persecuted  in  Nazi  Germany.  The  Nazis,  nevertheless,  considered  Gottfried  

an   asset   and   a   sports   role   model   for   the   HJ,   and   (after   Hitler   imprisoned   Gottfried)  

Hitler   made   numerous   attempts   to   persuade   Gottfried   to   be   the   face   of   Nazi  

propaganda,   but   Gottfried   refused   to   join   their   party.   Heijo   said,   he   knew   from   his  

Uncle’s  experiences,  that  Hitler  was  a  bad  man.    

Heijo  recalls  the  Nazis  keeping  a  very  close  eye  on  his  family.  In  discussing  his  

involvement   in   the   HJ,   Heijo   said   that   it   was   not   voluntary,   and   that   Nazis   knocked   on  

his   door   when   he   turned   ten,   and   wrote   down   his   name.   He   said   that   most  

propaganda  geared  towards  children  wasn’t  necessarily  used  to  get  children  to  join-­‐-­‐

that   was   mandatory,   but   propaganda   was   a   way   of   brainwashing   them   to   support  

Hitler.  Heijo  said,  “I  had  to  come  to  the  Hitler-­‐Jugend  and  obey  by  the  rules  of  Hitler,  

you  were  forced  to  Hitler.  If  you  didn’t  go  there,  (to  HJ  meetings)  the  Nazis  came  and  

fetched  you,  you  couldn’t  say  no.  I  had  to  pretend  I  loved  Hitler,  or  I  would  get  beaten,  

so   I   had   to   live   a   lie.   In   all   of   the   Hitler   Youth,   I   would   say   that   80%   of   my   peers   were  

for  Hitler.  In  our  meetings,  which  we  had  2-­‐3  times  a  week,  we  sang  songs  for  Hitler,  

we   played   games   in   the   woods,   and   we   fought   against   each   other-­‐-­‐that’s   what   the  

youth   did   in   this   time   during   the   Hitler   youth   groups.”   During   his   time   with   the   HJ,  

Heijo   lived   in   Berlin.   After   it   was   bombed   by   Allied   forces,   his   family   fled   to   their  

castle  in  Bodenburg,  where  Heijo  currently  resides.  He  said,  “After  my  family  moved  
to  Bodenburg  due  to  bombings,  one  of  the  leaders  there,  shortly  before  the  war  ended,  

came   to   me   and   asked   if   I   could   come   to   his   Hitler   Youth   meetings,   but   my   mother  

covered  for  me  and  said  ‘my  child  is  ill  and  couldn’t  come,’  so  this  was  the  end  of  the  

Nazi  time  for  me.”      

When  asked  if  there  were  any  memories  from  the  Nazi  regime  that  stay  in  his  

head   as   particularly   shocking,   Heijo   said,   “I   remember   being   on   the   street   in   Berlin  

with  my  mother  when  I  was  5  or  6  years  old.  I  remember  the  black  dressed  Jews  in  

the  streets  with  a  yellow  star  on  their  arms,  and  they  were  being  violently  beaten.  So  I  

saw   those   things,   as   well   as   police   crashing   windows   of   Jewish   shops.   From   that  

moment   I   knew   exactly   that   there   was   something   wrong.   When   a   5   year   old   knows  

there   is   something   wrong   with   Nazis,   then   others   must   have   known.   People   may   lie  

and   pretend   they   did   not   know,   but   they   did.”   I   asked   Heijo   whether   or   not   his  

teachers  tried  to  influence  him,  to  which  he  answered,  “My  teachers  were  all  hardcore  

Nazis   who   were   very   old   and   idle,   because   all   the   young   and   strong   teachers   were  

needed   for   war.   My   teachers   spoke   fantastic   things   about   Hitler,   we   had   to   sing   songs  

against  the  Jews  everyday,  as  well  as  Hitler  songs.  We  were  rewarded  for  singing  the  

anti-­‐Jew  songs  well,  and  we  read  ‘The  Poisonous  Mushroom’  in  school.  After  the  war  

ended,   it   was   a   hard   time   to   be   there   [at   school]   if   you   were   a   Hitler   fan.   The   teachers  

did  not  discuss  it  any  further,  and  we  carried  on  as  if  nothing  had  happened.  I  was  fine  

with  not  addressing  it  any  further.”  Heijo  also  remembers,  “I  was  very  happy  [when  

the   war   ended],   I   embraced   the   Americans   when   they   came   to   our   little   town.   They  

brought   us   gum   and   candy   and   board   games   and   I   remember   how   good   the   chocolate  

was   that   they   brought   me.   I   really   liked   the   Americans….my   Hitler   Youth   group   peers  
didn’t  like  to  speak  about  it-­‐-­‐  [the  end  of  the  war  and  Hitler’s  defeat],  and  we  never  

did.   Everyone   went   back   to   normal   life   and   denied   everything-­‐-­‐you   couldn’t   speak  

with  people.”  

 The   last   thing   I   discussed   with   Heijo   was   his   impression   of   the   propaganda  

films   that   emerged   during   the   time.   I   talked   in   particular   about   “Erbkrank,”   and   the  

“Eternal   Jew,”   both   of   which   Heijo   was   familiar   with.   He   said,   “I   saw   them   when   I   was  

young,  and  they  were  awful.  Nazis  just  used  it  to  put  all  of  the  blame  on  others.  I  didn’t  

watch  the  full  videos  during  the  war,  just  excerpts  on  television,  but  after  the  war,  I  

saw   the   whole   films   and   they   were   terrible   things.   For   us   children   in   the   Hitler   Youth  

it   was   a   burden,   and   we   didn’t   talk   about   it   (propaganda   films).   It   was   not   a   social  

group   to   make   friends.   We   just   did   what   we   were   told   to   do,   and   nothing   more.”  

Looking   back   on   his   experience,   Heijo   expressed   that   he   has   no   regrets,   because   he  

does  not  think  the  regime  influenced  him  or  brainwashed  him  as  it  did  for  many  of  his  

HJ   peers.   Heijo’s   experience   corroborates   Heck’s   claim   that   only   those   with   savvy  

families   were   able   to   resist   Nazi   indoctrination.   Heijo’s   prominent   family,   with   their  

international   connections   and   growing   anti-­‐Nazi   sentiments,   provided   a   barrier   for  

him,   so   that   the   propaganda   did   not   penetrate   his   world.   Heijo’s   account,   however,  

generally   confirms   the   success   of   the   Nazi   propaganda   machine,   since   around   80%   of  

his   peers   were   ardently   pro-­‐Hitler.   Heijo’s   recollections   of   the   powerful  

indoctrination   that   occurred   in   German   schools,   also   confirms   the   extent   to   which  

Hitler  commandeered  the  entire  population  of  German  children.    

There   is   a   dearth   of   personal   accounts   from   former   members   of   the   HJ   and  

BDM.  As  Heijo  said,  it  seems  that  many  just  wanted  to  forget  and  move  on.  Whether  or  
not  that  was  really  possible  is  hard  to  know.  Cynthia  Sandor  tells  the  story  of  finding  

her   mother’s   diary   and   being   shocked   to   read   that   she   was   a   member   of   the   BDM.  

Once  confronted,  however,  her  mother,  on  her  deathbed,  speaks  almost  fondly  of  her  

experiences.  The  book  is  disappointing  in  its  lack  of  revelations  and  serves  mainly  as  a  

vehicle   for   rationalizing   the   past   and   vouching   for   her   mother’s   character.   She   says,  

“Today,  you  will  realize  that  children,  such  as  my  mother  of  the  Hitler  Youth,  lived  this  

part   of   their   lives   through   their   own   innocence.   They   were   not   aware   of   the   atrocities  

that   were   secretly   held   around   them…   The   full   extent   of   the   Nazi   ideology   did   not  

permeate   my   mother’s   being.   Instead,   she   extrapolated   the   good   from   a   horrific  

period   in   human   history   and   continually   strived   to   become   a   better   human   being,  

wife,   and   mother”(Sandor).   But   why   did   her   mother   plan   never   to   tell   her   own  

daughter   about   her   experiences?   Why   did   she   act   as   if   that   part   of   her   childhood  

never  happened?  

                       Childhood   is   generally   accepted   as   a   construct   in   which   innocence   is   prolonged  

and  where  children  are  sheltered  from  the  grim  realities  of  life.  That  however,  is  the  

opposite   of   what   happened   to   the   German   children   conscripted   by   the   Nazis.  

Childhood   ended   at   the   age   of   ten.   From   retired   Pope   Benedict   XVI,   to   Alfons   Heck,  

former   members   of   the   Hitler   Youth   have   had   to   live   with   the   stigma   attached   to  

having  once  been  associated  with  one  of  the  most  heinous  political  regimes  in  modern  

history.   Even   a   prominent   official   at   the   Vatican   once   tried   to   deny   any   association  

between   Benedict   and   the   HJ.     One   former   HJ   member,   Henry   Metelmann,   wrote,   “I  

can’t  say  sorry”(Metelmann).  He  does  however  acknowledge  a  “collective”  barbarism  

that  he  was  unwittingly  sucked  into.  It  is  interesting  that,  when  released,  after  serving  
in   prison   as   a   POW,   he   became   a   dedicated   Communist   and   peace   activist—a   180   °  

turn   from   all   that   Nazism   represented   (BBC).   Another   former   HJ,   Manfred   Rommel,  

has   said,   “They   surgically   removed   not   only   God   but   also   virtues   like   loving   one’s  

neighbor,   or   love   of   truth,   and   placed   loyalty   to   the   Fatherland-­‐equated   with   the  

Führer-­‐at   the   center   of   their   ethic.   Of   course   it   was   a   false   ethic.”(Knopp).   Wolfgang  

Borchert   laments   of   his   experience,   “Our   depth   is   an   abyss…our   youth   is   without  

youth…We   are   the   generation   without   happiness…expelled   from   the   orbit   of  

childhood…without  a  past,  without  recognition”(Rempel).  

                       In  most  of  the  accounts  of  children’s  experiences  after  the  HJ,  there  is  despair,  

disillusion,   denial,   guilt   and   shame.   Most   were   not   as   impervious   as   Heijo   managed   to  

be.    As  this  paper  reveals,  these  vulnerable  children,  who  had  represented  the  future  

for   the   Nazi   regime,   suffered   in   their   own   ways   and   were   the   “other”   victims   of   a  

brutal   regime.   Nothing   can   diminish   the   horrors   suffered   by   the   Jews   and   other  

groups   who   were   persecuted   and   killed   by   the   Nazis,   but   much   less   has   been   said  

about  the  horrors  of  the  ruthless  Nazi  brainwashing  and  conscription  of  the  children  

of  Germany.  Heck  said  of  Hitler’s  Youth,  “Tragically  now,  we  are  the  other  part  of  the  

Holocaust,  the  generation  burdened  with  the  enormity  of  Auschwitz.  For  we  became  

the   enthusiastic   victims   of   our   Führer”(Heck).   It   is   a   natural   instinct   for   children   to  

want   to   please   those   in   charge,   and   to   want   to   feel   important.   “Never   before   in  

German   history   had   the   young   been   so   courted-­‐and   never   so   abused”(Pine).   Hitler  

manipulated   and   abused   the   innocence   and   vulnerability   of   millions   of   youth,   who  

somehow   had   to   readjust   their   ideas   of   good   and   evil   after   Germany’s   defeat.   For   lack  

of  much  firsthand  evidence,  it  is  difficult  to  assess  the  full  impact  that  the  HJ  and  DBM  
had  on  a  generation  of  German  children,  but  what  does  exist,  shows  that  many  were  

affected   psychologically.   Millions   of   young   minds   had   to   transition   suddenly   after  

1945,  from  being  fully  engaged  with  the  idea  that  they  were  important  players  in  an  

illustrious  grand  scheme  for  German  greatness,  to  somehow  understanding  that  they  

had  been  tools  of  the  most  evil  and  destructive  regime  in  modern  history.  Again,  in  the  

words   of   Heck,   “I   never   once   thought   of   myself   as   anything   but   a   decent,   honorable  

young   German,   blessed   with   a   glorious   future.   Suddenly   I   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”(Heck).  

How   does   one   reconcile   this   assault   on   their   formative   years?   And   by   those  

whom   they   so   resolutely   believed   in?   One   of   the   most   startling   revelations   in   my  

interview  with  Heijo  was  when  he  said  no  one  talked  about  “it”  when  the  war  ended.  

Given  the  fervor  of  his  teachers  and  the  majority  of  his  peers,  how  was  it  possible  to  

go  from  such  all-­‐encompassing  “passion”  to  sudden,  complete  silence?  How  numbing  

and  confusing  for  the  German  young  people.  It  seems  that  many  did  attempt,  however,  

to  erase  that  part  of  their  youth.  As  Peter  Leighton-­‐Langer  wrote  of  former  members  

of   the   HJ:   ‘The   attitude   to   that   period   of   their   lives   ranges   from   deep   shame   to  

resentment   against   those   who   misled   them   for   so   long.   Whichever   way   it   is,   however,  

they   do   not   want   to   be   reminded   of   it…People   who   have   had   no   experience   of   all   this,  

tend  to  say  ‘talk  about  it  and  get  rid  of  it’.  But  it  isn’t  like  that.  You  can  talk  about  it  till  

the  cows  come  home  but  scars  break  open  and  bleed  again.  You  can  never  get  rid  of  

it”(Lewis).   Manfred   Schroeder,   one   former   Hitler   Youth   said,   “At   night   when   I   have  
trouble  falling  asleep,  instead  of  counting  sheep,  I  think  of  the  final  days  of  the  Führer,  

and  it  gives  me  such  peace  of  mind  that  I  fall  asleep”(Bartoletti).  

Works  Cited:  
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23. Hiemer, Ernst. The Poisonous Mushroom. London: Friends of Europe, 1938. Print.