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The Hitler Youth (named Hitlerjugend in German, 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 refounded 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. 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 two new groups, the League of German Girls (BDM) and the Deutsches Jungvolk , founded on the same principles as the Hitler Youth.
The Hitler Youth had the basic motivation of training future "Aryan supermen" and future soldiers who would serve 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.
Members of the Hitler Youth wore paramiltiary uniforms very similar to the Nazi Party, and the organization used a system of Nazi ranks similar to the ranks and insignia of the Sturmabteilung.
The Hitler Youth was organized into an adult leadership corps, and the general membership comprised of boys ages 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.
The Hitler Youth was organized into local cells on a community level. Such cells had weekly meetings where various Nazi doctrine was taught by adult Hitler Youth leaders. Regional Hitler Youth leaders typically organized rallies and Hitler Youth field exercises to which several dozen Hitler Youth cells would participate. The largest Hitler Youth gathering usually occurred once a year at Nuremburg, 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 original membership of the Hitler Youth was confined to Munich and, in 1923, the organization had just over one thousand members. In 1925, when the Nazi Party had been refounded, this membership number grew to over 5,000. Five years later the national Hitler Youth membership was at 25,000 and, when the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Hitler Youth held a membership of two and quarter million.
In December of 1936 membership of the Hitler Youth stood at just over 5 million. That same month, the Hitler Youth became obligatory and membership 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 of the "Hitler Youth 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 1938, there was little effort to "black list" political figures who had once been members of the Hitler Youth since it was considered that they had had no choice in the matter.
Notable people who were members of the Hitler Youth include Stuttgart mayor Manfred Rommel, former foreign minister of Germany Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and the then 14 year old Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). Hans Scholl, one of the leading figures of the Anti-Nazi resistance movement White Rose (Weiße Rose), also became a member of the Hitler Youth.
Hitler Youth in World War II
In 1940, Arthur Axmann took over leadership of the Hitler Youth and 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 from Allied bombing. The Hitler Youth also assisted in such organizations as the Reich Postal Service, state railway, 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, with the 12th SS Division Hitler Jugend, under Kurt Meyer, formed entirely from Hitler Youth boys between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. As the Allies invaded Germany, the Wehrmacht recruited members of the HJ at ever younger ages, and by 1945, the Volkssturm was commonly drafting Hitler Youth members into its ranks as young as ten years old.
During the Battle of Berlin, the Hitler Youth formed a major part of the German defense forces and showed fanaticism.
Post World War II
After the close of 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 HJ leaders were put on trial by Allied authorities, with Baldur von Schirach sentenced to twenty years in prison.
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