The youth organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei−NSDAP) was founded in Munich in 1922 and included only boys. It was given the name Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) in 1926, when a parallel organization for girls (Schwesterschaften) was established, which was known from 1930 as the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel–BDM). By the end of 1932 the Hitler Youth had no more than 108,000 members, but when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the organization's growth potential and functions were decisively altered. Other youth organizations were prohibited, dissolved or taken over, and membership in the Hitler Youth rose to 2.3 million in 1933 and steadily increased in the following years: 3.6 million in 1934, 3.9 million in 1935, 5.4 million in 1936, 5.8 million in 1937, 7.0 million in 1938, and 8.7 million in 1939. From 1934 the Hitler Youth was the principal means by which the Nazi Party exerted its influence on German youth and was more important in this respect than the school system, which was not as fully controlled by the party. Its status in the Third Reich was emphasized in 1933 by the appointment of its leader, Baldur von Schirach, to the post of Youth Leader of the German Reich (Jugendführer des Deutsche Reiches), then by a law of 1936, which stipulated that the Hitler Youth, aside from parents and school, was the sole legitimate institution for rearing children, and finally by a law of 1939 introducing youth duty, which in effect made membership in the Hitler Youth mandatory for young men. Mobilization during World War II added further pressure to expand membership. In spite of these factors the Third Reich never managed to enroll all German boys in the Hitler Youth.
The task of the Hitler Youth was to politically indoctrinate and physically harden young people. Physical training played a paramount role, and the lure of camping trips, terrain sports, shooting practice, rowing, glider flying, and other activities was effective for recruitment. Its tasks were militarily organized, using uniforms, rank, and a division by age and geographical area. Ten-to thirteen-year-old boys were organized in the German Young People (Deutsche Jungvolk), while the Hitler Youth itself comprised boys and young men from fourteen to eighteen. Correspondingly, girls from ten to thirteen were enrolled in the Young Girls (Jungmädel), and girls and young women from fourteen to twenty-one in the League of German Girls. The organizations for both genders were organized hierarchically into regions at the top (Obergebiete and Obergau), counting up to approximately 750,000 members, which were successively subdivided down to the smallest units (Kameradschaft and Jungmädelschaft) with little more than ten members.
The Hitler Youth, like other of the Nazi Party's subordinate organizations, was amply represented at the annual Nuremberg Party Rallies, where thousands of young people had the opportunity to personally experience, even at a distance, the presence of the party leader. The leader cult was at the core of the Hitler Youth's training program, and Hitler himself considered it the foundation of his "Thousand Year Reign." He wrote in Mein Kampf: "A violently active, dominating, brutal youth–that is what I am after. Youth must be indifferent to pain… . I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men."
World War II brought new tasks to the Hitler Youth, both to the organization in general and to its specialized units, which had already captured youthful interest in flying, driving, sailing, gathering intelligence, patrolling, music,
and other activities. In 1940 Arthur Axmann was appointed Reich Youth Leader (Reichsjugendführer) and put in charge of committing youth to the war effort. The first assignments consisted in collecting blankets and clothes for soldiers and bones and paper for war production. As part of the mobilization for total war in the spring of 1943 combat units of Hitler Youth members, some of them no more than sixteen years of age, were formed. These units were sent into battle from the summer of 1944, often with huge losses due to inadequate training and experience. They surrendered to American forces in May 1945 along with the other German units.
Koch, H. W. 1975. The Hitler Youth: Origins and Development, 1922−45. New York: Stein and Day.
JOHN T. LAURIDSEN