The First World War was so devastating that the Allied leaders forced Germany to sign the Treaty of Versailles. It imposed punishing, harsh conditions on Germany to ensure that it would never again rise to another position where it could wage war on Europe and the rest of the world. Germany had to take full responsibility for the war, pay reparations of $32 billion in war damages, as well as surrender all its territories.
Post-war Germany was humiliated, depressed, angry and weak. After the war, the Weimar Republic, a parliamentary democracy, ruled Germany. The Nazi rise to power ended the Republic when Adolf Hitler took over as chancellor on January 30, 1933 and installed the Nazi state, aka the Third Reich.
The Third Reich
Hitler's first move as the new Chancellor was to coordinate individuals and institutions with Nazi goals. This meant that every element in German culture, economy, law, religion and education was now under Nazi control. He also defied the Treaty of Versailles by refusing to pay the war debt.
In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler proposed that the Aryan race is the "master race," the most pure and intelligent race in humanity. He also planned to eradicate the Jews, whom he considered a pestilence to the world, and to take back the territories lost in WWI.
Many Germans agreed and supported the newNazi control. But Hitler knew that there must be no room for dissenters in his new world. He must start with the children and brainwash their minds to his goals and those of the Nazi party. The Fuhrer won the hearts and minds of the German children to the National Socialist (Nazi) Party with his thought-control organization, Hitler Youth.
Hitler believed that the future of Nazi Germany rested with the children, and he expressed his expectations as follows: "The weak must be chiseled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel."
The Hitler Youth was intended for children from 10 to 18 years old, and by 1939, participation was compulsory. The sexes had separate organizations. The boys prepared themselves for military service and the organization for the girls prepared them for motherhood.
When they were 10 years old, the boys joined the Deutsches Jungvolk (German Young People) and transferred to the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) after three years. Here they learned military athletics which included marching, bayonet drill, grenade throwing, trench digging, map reading, gas defense, crawling under barbed wire and shooting.
The girls joined the Jungmadelbund (League of Young Girls) at age 10, and at 14 years of age they transferred to the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls). They were required to run 60 meters in 14 seconds, throw a ball 12 meters, swim 100 meters, complete a 2 hour hike or march and make beds the Nazi way.
Nazi German Education
A portrait of Hitler in every classroom reminded both teachers and students of their leader and the Nazi goals of German nationhood. The regular school teachers complained that the children were so tired from their evening workouts at the Hitler Youth meetings that they could hardly stay awake during classes. The role played by Nazi schools was to indoctrinate and use Nazi propaganda in every possible way to prepare the students for their special future as the Nazi German rulers of the world.
Any teachers of questionable loyalty to the Nazi party were fired, and 97 percent of the teachers joined the Nazi Teachers' Association. As further deterrent for teachers to stray from the Nazi policy, the children were encouraged to inform the authorities if a teacher failed to toe the line. Children were also expected to report their parents to the authorities if they made any comments or remarks against the Nazi Party or its officers.
Nazi Party propaganda revised the subjects of history and biology to meet its own world view. History teachers taught that the German defeat in 1918 was due to the work of Jewish and Marxist spies who worked within the system to weaken it. The Treaty of Versailles and the following financial depression was the work of Jewish saboteurs. The revitalization of the German nation had now begun and would reach its glorious climax under Hitler.
Biology became "Racial Instruction" which started in the first grade, and Hitler decreed that "no boy or girl should leave school without complete knowledge of the necessity and meaning of blood purity." They learned about genetic diseases and other problems of heredity. The older students learned that they must select the right mate for marrying and reproducing children so that German Aryan racial purity would never be compromised.
Lowered Education Standards
The Nazi Party motto regarding education stated: "The supreme task of the schools is the education of youth for the service of Volk and State in the National Socialist spirit." The teachers taught Nazi propaganda and the students recited it verbatim. If there were errors, the students were punished until they could recite the material correctly. There was no allowance for discussion and certainly not disagreement. This is the essence of thought control or brainwashing.
The school system became substandard almost immediately. German students knew only what they had memorized. They did not have the mental tools for original thought. Even the German scientists, who worked in rocket development at Penemunde, complained that their new assistants and workers were ignorant in science and could not perform the most basic mathematical calculations.
The Third Reich started in 1933 and ended in the spring of 1945, leaving behind a fanatic force of disillusioned young fighting Nazis. The membership of the Hitler Youth saw the failure and end of the German ideal with Hitler's suicide and the invasion of Russia and the Allies into the Fatherland as the war finally ended.
Boys aged 10 to 14 tried to defend Berlin but were forced to a tearful surrender by the invading Americans. Most of them had no idea about the crimes against humanity committed by the Nazi officials and refused to believe it until the conquering forces actually showed them the concentration camps , the bodies, and the crematories. They were shocked to believe that they had served a mass murderer and contributed to the deaths of millions of people.
The international courts determined that the Hitler Youth children and teenagers of the Third Reich had been pawns of the Nazi government. The youngsters had been betrayed, deserted and sacrificed by the Nazi Party and would not be tried by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. However the Allies wanted them to learn from their experiences. German civilian courts held "de-Nazification" trials to identify the most fanatic of the Hitler Youth membership. They were banned from public office and some went to prison and were sentenced to hard labor.
Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Scholastic Nonfiction; 2005
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer; Simon and Schuster, 1960
The 12-year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany, 1933-1945 by Richard Grunberger; New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.