Hitler Jugend and the Catholic Youth
The period under the rule of the Third Reich embellished many organizations which lured the common people of Nazi Germany to become a part of Hitlers family. Included within this regime were men and women, both young and old alike. Many conflicts trickled out into the society and caused great ordeals. In the process of attempting to assimilate the people of Germany into the Nazi life, the youth of the time came forward. Two organizations in particular had come head to head in the youth movement, both with exceptional forces which stood behind them. These two youth organizations are the Hitler Jugend and the Catholic Youth. Behind them stood the command of the Nazi regime and the Catholic Church (Walker viii) . In light of the two opposing youth movements, smaller establishments had formed prior to the domination of the two largest, most powerful youth organizations, the Hitler Youth versus the Catholic Youth. Rebellion against society was the precursor to the formation of these youth groups.
The beginning of the youth movement dates back from 1896 (Walker 5). In the 1920s, the German youth were involved in about two thousand groups and different organizations. The youth movement was a rejection of the Weimar government, which was one of the reasons why they were so easily supportive of the Nazi regime. They were also disenchanted with the older generation and their new sets of values: work and money (Majamaa & Morris). One of the first groups to form was the Wandervogel, which was a group of grammar school students from Steglitz Grammar School in Berlin. This group went on hikes and excursions into the wilderness to learn survival, with the purpose of developing a unique individual based on group experiences from nature and comrades. According to Walkers borrowed terminology from Max Weber and Ernest Troeltsch, the youth in the Wandervogel phase were called "sects". The main idea of a sect is not to transform a larger society, but rather tries forming its own quixotic society (4). Sporting events and competitions were formed in order to keep the interests of the members. The Wandervogel were noted for their love of the land, not the new, modern conveniences of the cities ( Majamaa & Morris). Hiking and skiing were chosen over activities such as watching a movie or going to a dance.
The Wandervogel sought nothing else other than to develop a one-of-a-kind individuals who belonged to a special group that pledged brotherhood out in nature. This youth movement gave meaning to the lives of many young people, incorporating large capacities for loyalty and idealism which is seen in the number of members who gave up their lives in battle; one fourth of the total members (Walker 4).
The formation of the Wandervogel led to the branching off of other similar groups such as the Altwandervogel and the Jungwandervogel. The variety within these groups ranged from groups consisting of only boys, groups that admitted the membership of girls, and some organizations were formed for only girls. Some of the underlying causes which were advocated by some group or another spanned from alcohol abstinence to nudism. The common ground for all organizations, though, was the leadership which entitled a member of slightly older age to oversee the events (Walker 6). The members of the group ranged in age from twelve to nineteen years old. The size of the groups ranged anywhere from seven to twenty members. The small numbers were monitored in order to ensure close attachments and camaraderie among its members.
According to John Massingill, "In order for a regime to survive time, there must be support for it in future generations. Hitler was well aware of this and planned for it." The Hitler Youth were considered the future of the Nazi party and Hitlers tool to make certain that the younger generation would remain loyal to the Nazi regime. Hitler counted on the youth of Germany for the ends he had in mind (Shirer 252). Hitlers dream of a thousand year Reich could only be accomplished through the youth, which were deemed the most important aspect of Germany's future as a powerful nation. "The future of the German nation depends on its youth, and the German youth shall have to be prepared for its future duties" (online).
The rebellion and quest for independence were what lured the German youth to the Nazi regime. These youth were enterprising, full of life, and had an inclination to love their homeland and seek their position in life. Following Hitlers recognition of these vulnerabilities, he made the decision to incorporate them into his plan for the advancement of National Socialist German Worker's Party. Adolf Hitler, in reference to the German youth, said "they are growing up at a great turning point and the evils brought about by inertia and indifference of their fathers Some day the German youth will either be the builder of a new folkish state, or they will be the last witness of total collapse, the end of the bourgeois world" (Hitler 406). Hitler's active interest in the youth became the leading misfortune and motivation of the German youth movement (Majamaa & Morris).
The Hitler Youth was formed in the same manner that other party organizations were, in a military fashion. This Nazi organization focused on physical training and education, disciplining and indoctrination of all German youth. The Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth- HJ), in its early stages, was merely an S.A. for young adolescents. They even wore uniforms similar to the SA. Hitler wanted them to be "quick like greyhounds, tough like leather, and hard like Krupp steel" (Massingill 1). The members of the HJ were thoroughly educated about the Nazi party through use of the Nazi Primer, which was the official handbook of the Hitler Youth. Mein Kampf, Hitlers bibliography, was considered their Bible (Majamaa & Morris 3). The HJ was the youths way of making their voice heard and acknowledged. The HJ organization gave the youth the chance to find their place in life. The colorful banners, parades, uniforms, status and sense of purpose were all aspects of the organization that the youth bought into and encouraged them to join. Enrollment into the Hitler Jugend became mandatory March of 1939. Once membership became mandatory, parents were warned that the kids would be taken away and sent to other homes or orphanages. Parents, who kept their children out of the HJ and were found guilty, had to serve severe prison sentences (4). The HJ also consisted of the Jungvolk for younger members and the BDM, or Bund Deutscher Madel, for the girls. The HJ was successful in part because of the powers behind them, but also because it was an organization in which the youth led each other. The youth were promoted to positions of leadership that enhanced their sense of independence.
It would be assumed that nothing would get in the way of the advancement of the Hitler Youth movement, but there were obstacles. The nazis were not able to lure all of Germanys youth into their regime. Since it was permissible for the youth of the time to quit school at the age of fourteen, opportunities arose for the formation of resistance youth groups. Such groups included the Edleweiss Pirates and the Swing Kids, many other German based scout troops such as Jungvolk, and the biggest, the Katholischer Jungmannerverband (JMV), or the Catholic Youth. The Edelweiss Pirates were a group of boys with a deep hatred for the Hitler Youth. Street brawls were a sign that the two groups had met. The pirates took every opportunity possible to attack the HJ, and loved their independence which was hindered by the HJ (Majamaa & Morris 6).
The Swing Kids were avid supporters of jazz music and swing dancing both of which were prohibited. They were from the middle class, had money, were in style and could be found in nightclubs.
The one group that was able to hold out the longest against the claims of the Hitler Youth was the JMV (Katholischer Jungmannerverband). This was possible because of the strong commitment of Pope Pius XI to the Catholic Youth Organizations. Hitler, nominally a Catholic, attacked both Christian churches in Mein Kampf for their failure to recognize the "racial problem" (Shirer 234). However, on July 20, 1933, the Nazi government concluded a concordant with the Vatican in which it guaranteed the freedom of the Catholic religion and the right of the church " to regulate their own affairs" (234). This included the right for the youth of the Catholic faith to come together and form their own youth organizations.
The Catholic Youth organization closest in spirit and activity to the Wandervogel was Quickborn. This organization was church sponsored, but was in the hands of the youth. There were separate groups within for boys and girls, although they did meet together for regional meetings. "These meetings consisted of camping, games, folk singing, group dancing, and religious observances and moral discussions" (Walker 23).
There were powers behind the youth organizations. The Nazi regime supported its youth to their fullest potential, and the Vatican were the arms and legs of the Catholic youth organizations. The bishops even rejected the notion that the youth be assembled and educated by the state. The Church in turn made demands for the complete rights for its own youth organizations. These demands consisted of full educational rights, physically, spiritually, and in occupational training (Walker 52). The forces behind the youth were influential and secure, both for the Nazis who found every loophole possible to try and conquer their opposition, and the Catholic Church rested in the hands of Pope Pius in the Vatican.
The largest Catholic Youth organization was the Jungmannerverband (JMV) dating back to 1896. Its organization was structured into three age groups which shared the insignia PX, which in Greek symbolizes "Christ". The three groups were: Jungschar to age 14, Jugenschaft 14-18 years, and Jungmannschaft over 18 years of age. By 1933, the JMV totaled 470, 800 members, leaving approximately a quarter of a million members of the JMV fair game for Hitler Youth recruitment (Walker 26). Several other Catholic organizations for youth existed as well as the JMV. Such groups included a social and religious association for journeymen, a younger version of the latter, and organizations for young clerical personnel. Overall, one and a half million Catholic boys and girls belonged to at least one of the many Catholic organizations still advancing in Germany. However, on December 1, 1936, Hitler decreed a law outlawing the Catholic Youth Association and all other non-nazi organizations for young people (Shirer 253).
The year of 1930 saw the full incorporation of the German youth into the Nazi family. They had their own uniform and a creed that officially recognized them as an organization. In December of 1936, in order to complete his dream of a sound future in the youth of Germany, Hitler issued this decree: 1. The whole German youth inside the region of the Reich are incorporated into the Hitler Youth. 2. The whole German youth, outside of home and school, is physically, spiritually, and morally to be educated in the Hitler Youth in the spirit of National Socialism to the service of Volk and Volk community. 3. The task of the education of the whole German youth in the Hitler Youth is given over to the Reich Youth leader of the NSDAP. He holds the office of a Highest Reich Authority with its seat in Berlin and is directly responsible to the Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor. 4. The legal orders and general administrative regulations requisite to the execution and completion of this law will be issued by the Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor (Walker 161-162). This Decree outlawed the Concordat of 1933, which protected the Catholic Youth from any other organization, but Hitler disregarded this and incorporated them into the HJ anyway (Shirer 253).
According to Walker, "The Nazi state had enormous power; but that was not enough, for Nazism was not a simple dictatorship, but a movement which intended to involve the whole people, and to direct their energies toward national and racial goals. Anything short of total involvement of its citizens was intolerable imperfection" (75). This was the biggest obstacle the regime sought to overcome. The Nazis did not get the total involvement from the Catholics. Not only were they not getting the membership of the Catholic youth, but they were also faced with the role the priests played in the lives of these youth. The Churchs faith had lain in the conception that religion goes beyond the church doors and must pervade the whole life. Wherever a question of morality was involved, the Church was also involved.
Many of the Catholic practices offended the Nazi party, but their practices did not end in just their prayer and services. The Nazis were infuriated that Hitler Jugend boys were no longer permitted to be altar boys (Walker 81). During burials, priests removed the Nazi flag from the casket before sending a blessing upon the body. Catholics intruded upon the National Socialist realm by symbols which were somewhat disturbing to the Nazi party such as borrowing the BDM acronym to mean Bund Deutscher Marienkinder to rename the girls sodality. Catholic youth and workers associations even devised a satire on the SS oath refilling it with Christian purposes. These and other satirical practices are what made the Nazis blood boil.
Despite the restrictions placed on them, the strength of the youth organizations did not perish. It was their courage which helped them to remain steadfast which was a part of Catholic attitude toward martyrdom and suffering for their faith. These Catholic youth organizations survived effectively for several years after the Nazi seizure of power. However, the collapse eventually arrived after the conflict was resolved by coercive powers to the Catholic Youth. Individuals were purposely placed at a disadvantage in seeking employment or admission into universities. Those alone were not the only means of the drive against the Catholic Youth. On July 27, 1937 the Gestapo dissolved the JMV and confiscated its goods. Violations of the prohibition set upon the Catholic activities were the charges for almost everything they were jailed, punished, or fined for. Slowly, diocese after diocese, the Catholic Youth organizations of Germany were eradicated. Soon after, the man most responsible for the continued support, motivation and guidance, Piux XI, died (156).
Throughout the years of Nazi seizure and power, many organizations faced the disapproval of National Socialism in one form or another. One movement which had its earlier beginnings and problems was the Youth Movement itself. This movement lured German youth by the thousands to a variety of different organizations. Many conflicts arose causing great ordeals. With the motivation to rebel against the elder counterparts, the youth of the time came forward and took a stand by forming these groups. The two organizations which had the most discrepancies were both backed by forces of exceptional power. These two youth organizations were the Hitler Jugend and the Catholic Youth. The Nazi regime and the Catholic Church were the background advocates. With a precursor to rebel against society, a search for independence and a determination for a place in the world, the youth sought to transform society into their own utopia. They had large capacities for loyalty and idealism, and a direct sense of accomplishment through the membership numbers.
Although the Hitler Youth and the Catholic Youth were entirely different organizations, they had their similarities. Both groups were formed from prior smaller establishments. Both groups had the support of higher powers. The HJ had training of a more military fashion with its focus on physical training and firearms training for boys, and home making, exercise training for the girls. The Catholic Youth had training of a more spiritual and moral fashion. Both boys and girls participated in activities much more opposite than those of the HJ. They partook in singing, dancing, praise and activities of a more artistic and religious nature.
Despite their similarities, their differences in devotion, and the differences in their background forces caused great conflicts. The Catholics had their religion of faith, the Hitler Youth had their religion of blood and soil (Walker viii). Hitlers dream of the thousand year reich could only be made possible by gaining the trust of Germanys youth, the only ones he could trust without reservation. He had every appealing notion to systematically train "the future of Germany". From what these youth wore to how they thought, Adolf Hitler played them like little soldier dolls. He had every resource possible to indoctrinate and discipline the children of the National Socialist way of life. On the other hand, the only dream of the Church is peace and salvation, and this could only be made possible through the children, innocent and willing with free spirits and open minds. The Church seeks to train its young to live for God and to do whats right and moral. The Church has every resource possible to indoctrinate and discipline the children of the teachings of Christ and His way of life.
Hitler was unsuccessful in gaining the trust of all "his" young people. Although attempts were made to quietly secure their membership into the Nazi regime, the Catholic Youth held out long enough to build up a strong organization such as the JMV. With the support and great commitment of Pope Pius XI, the youth remained steadfast to the taunting of the Hitler Youth. In the end, the resolution of conflicts resulted in the termination of a group half a million strong. To this day, the Catholic youth have remained a reserved Young Army of God. There is no longer that once prominent "Hitler Army of the Future".
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971.
Majamaa, Lynn & Amy Morris. "Hitler Youth: The Future of Germany". 1998. Online
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Internet. 2 Dec. 1998. Available: www.cord.edu//homepages/ammorris/paper.html.
Massingill, John. "Our Banner Means More to Us Than Death: The Hitler Youth in WWII." 1996. Online. Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Internet. 2 Dec. 1998. Available: www.vwc.edu/wwwpages/jmassingill.hj.htm.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon and Schuster: New York. 1990.
Walker, Lawrence D. Hitler Youth and Catholic Youth 1933-1936. The Catholic University of America Press: Washington D.C. 1970.