Friday, January 28, 2022

HISTORY: The Hitler Youth and the Indoctrination of Children in 1930s Germany

Source: Thought Co

Published: August 07, 2019

By: Robert Wilde

Education came under heavy control in Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler believed the youth of Germany could be totally indoctrinated to support the Volk—a nation made up of the most superior of the human races—and the Reich, and the system would never face an internal challenge to Hitler's power again. This mass brainwashing was to be achieved in two ways: the transformation of the school curriculum, and the creation of bodies like the Hitler Youth.

The Nazi Curriculum

The Reich Ministry of Education, Culture and Science took control of the education system in 1934, and while it didn’t change the structure it inherited, it did major surgery on the staff. Jews were sacked en mass (and by 1938 Jewish children were barred from schools), teachers with rival political views were sidelined, and women were encouraged to start producing children rather than teach them. Of those who remained, anyone who didn’t seem dedicated enough to the Nazi cause was retrained in Nazi ideas. This process was aided by the creation of the National Socialist Teachers League, with affiliation basically required in order to retain a job, as evidenced by a 97% membership rate in 1937. Grades suffered.


Once the teaching staff was organized, so was what they taught. There were two main thrusts of the new teaching: To prepare the population to better fight and breed, physical education was given much more time in schools. To better prepare children to support the state, Nazi ideology was given to them in the form of an exaggerated German history and literature, outright lies in science, and German language and culture to form the Volk. Hitler's "Mein Kampf" was heavily studied, and children gave Nazi salutes to their teachers as a show of allegiance. Boys of notional ability, but more importantly the right racial makeup, could be earmarked for future leadership roles by being sent to specially created elite schools. Some schools that selected pupils based solely on racial criteria ended up with students too intellectually limited for the program or rule.

The Hitler Youth

The most infamous of these programs was Hitler Youth. The "Hitler Jugend" had been created long before the Nazis had taken power, but had seen only a tiny membership. Once the Nazis began to coordinate children’s passage, its membership rose dramatically to include millions. By 1939, membership was compulsory for all children of the right age.

There were, in fact, several organizations under this umbrella: The German Young People, which covered boys aged 10–14, and the Hitler Youth itself from 14–18. Girls were taken into the League of Young Girls from 10–14, and the League of German Girls from 14–18. There was also the "Little Fellows" for children aged 6–10. Even those children wore uniforms and swastika armbands.


The treatment of boys and girls was quite different: While both sexes were drilled in Nazi ideology and physical fitness, the boys would perform military tasks like rifle training, while the girls would be groomed for a domestic life or nursing soldiers and surviving air raids. Some people loved the organization and found opportunities they would not have had elsewhere because of their wealth and class, enjoying camping, outdoor activities and socializing. Others were alienated by the increasingly military side of a body designed solely to prepare children for unbending obedience.

Hitler’s anti-intellectualism was partly balanced by the number of leading Nazis with a university education. Nonetheless, those going on to undergraduate work more than halved and the quality of graduates fell. However, the Nazis were forced into backtracking when the economy improved and workers were in demand. When it became apparent women with technical skills would be valuable, the numbers of women in higher education, having fallen, rose sharply.

The Hitler Youth is one of the most evocative Nazi organizations, visibly and effectively representing a regime that wanted to remake the whole of German society into a brutal, cold, quasi-medieval new world—and it was willing to start by brainwashing children. Given how the young are viewed in society and the general desire to protect, seeing ranks of uniformed children saluting remains chilling. That the children had to fight, in the failing stages of the war, is one of the many tragedies of the Nazi regime.

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