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USS North Carolina vs Bismarck
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Battle of Buna-Gona
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
Lodge Act Soldier
The Fate of the Kido Butai
Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Battle for Seaports
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
Memories of D-Day
Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
The 9th SS Panzer Division
The Warsaw Uprising
Sea Lion vs. Overlord
Maginot Line
Battle of Bastogne
Battle of the Barents Sea
Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

Guy Nasuti Articles
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
Lafayette Escadrille Pilots
Giuseppe Garibaldi
The Story of a "Go Devil"

Recommended Reading

Hitler Youth

Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler's Shadow

Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika

The 12th SS: The History of the Hitler Youth Panzer Division Volume II

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The Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization for Total War
The Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization for Total War 
by Guy Nasuti

Youth organizations have been a part of most cultures for generations. Seldom have they been organized for total war. After Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, it was decided by members of his totalitarian regime to organize the youth of the nation so that they would one day become the future warriors for the armed forces. These young Germans could be manipulated and put into service for the good of the Third Reich and would also go on to become the future warriors that would carry out the total war policies of Hitler and his loyal henchmen. In time, many of these youthful Germans would become fanatically devoted to the Nazi cause themselves. The Nazis molded the Hitler Youth into an effective organization for total war through its racist and martial education of young Germans, the pressing of Hitler Youth members into an impressive labor force, and the creation of the 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitlerjugend), famed for its ferocity on the battlefield.

The one man most instrumental in organizing German youth was a fervent Nazi. Baldur von Schirach, a fawning admirer of Hitler's, and the son of an American mother, rapidly climbed the ladder of success, and was appointed the leader of the Hitlerjugend (HJ) organization. Schirach was a great organizer and quickly began educating his new charges. One way he educated the young masses were by holding youth rallies, the first two occurring on October 1 and 2, 1932 at Potsdam, near Berlin. The thunderous marches, speeches, drills, and other fanfare were what moved the crowd and also added new recruits into the HJ. That single occasion in Potsdam drew "an impressive 70,000 boys and girls from all over Germany, all of whom paid for the journey themselves." The organization grew remarkably up until the start of the Second World War. By the end of 1933, 2 million young Germans had become members. Three years later that number more than doubled to 5.4 million. Schirach soon claimed to "have the allegiance of 60 percent of all young people from ages ten to eighteen." And yet, Schirach would not be satisfied until membership hit the 100 percent mark.[1]

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, also had a hand in educating budding young Nazis. Propaganda was the most effective tool used by the Nazis for brainwashing its citizens. With complete control over the press, speech, education, and the relatively new medium of the radio, the Nazis were able to influence young boys and girls in a way which had never been done before in history. Hitler, Goebbels, von Schirach, and other party leaders were able to speak directly to the youth of Germany, to exhort them to give their all for the good of the Fatherland. In a speech given on 29 September 1940, a year after membership in the Hitler Youth became mandatory, Goebbels tells his fellow Nazis:

"Educating the youth during war can only be done successfully by working closely with the youths themselves…. The war is not only a great equalizer, it is a great educator….War once involved only a small part of the population, whereas today it requires heroic work by all. Since our enemy is waging war even against children, children too must play their part…. When a nation is fighting for its future, which after all is the future of its children, the youth have to be involved, they have to support the battle with their full energy…. It is a good thing for the German youth to fully experience these great days. They should do their best for the war, giving their courage, their idealism, and their faith.[2]

What Goebbels neglected to add, was that the youth should also give their lives.

Many German youth thus joined the HJ because of speeches such as Goebbels', and because of other various reasons. During the early years, before the war, the Hitler Youth held camping trips where they would sing songs devoted to the Fuhrer, athletic competitions, and the camaraderie that is found in being a part of a team. In the 1930s, at the height of their power, the Nazis often held mass rallies that celebrated not only their Fuhrer, but the new Reich as well. These rallies became almost religious in scope, with all the pageantry that attends large rituals. The swastika, which had been used as a symbol of peace in other cultures, came to stand for the strength of the German state. Mystical runic symbols were used to provide the youth with a connection to the Aryan race, and the Teutonic knights of old. Alfons Heck, a young German boy from the small town of Wittlich, described what drew him to the HJ:

"The party had made a fine art of staging enormous spectacles that inspired a new sense of national pride. Each September in Nuremberg, seemingly all of Germany went on a seven-day nationalistic binge that inspired the nation and stunned the rest of the world….it was a jubilant Teutonic renaissance with the unmistakable message that Germany had regained its rightful place among the great powers of the world."[3]

Karl Schnibbe joined the HJ at the age of twelve. He remembers that he "could hardly wait for the ceremony to begin." When Nazi leaders came recruiting eligible children in his neighborhood, he could not wait to sign up. His father did not approve, but it did not stop young Karl. "It was very exciting. The overnight trips, campfires, and parades sounded like a great deal of fun." The boys and girls who joined the HJ had to prove not only that they were healthy, but also that they were "true Aryans." Interestingly, physically disabled children were allowed to join a special section called the "Disabled and Infirm Hitler Youth," so long as they passed the racial tests. Blind and deaf children could join as well, provided their disability was not inherited. Mentally challenged children were not allowed to join the HJ, even if their parents were loyal party members. Jews were strictly forbidden from joining, although some did, hiding the fact that they were Jewish and living constantly in fear of being found out. In the trial period of membership, boys were required to demonstrate their physical fitness: They ran races, swam, and performed gymnastic routines. The boys had to undertake a three-day cross-country hike and, to prove their courage and devotion, were also "required to dive off the three-meter board (about ten feet high) headfirst into the town's swimming pool." After the completion of this, the youth leaders presented their eager charges with the coveted HJ dagger, which bore on the blade the militaristic inscription "Blood and Honor." All of these physical activities, racist indoctrinations, and brainwashing were intended for one simple reason: the education of German youth into believing they were a master race which would subjugate all other races after winning a global war.[4]

The Hitler Youth was not just an organization for educating young boys however. Young German girls between ages ten and eighteen were able to join the Bund Deutscher Madel, or BDM (League of German Girls). The purpose of the BDM, in the patriarchal movement of Nazism, was to train girls in "three important interrelated functions." The first was to "serve as helpmates to the men," the second to "bear them children and rear them according to Nazi values," and the third was "to be faithful homemakers." Hitler needed these German girls to understand that they must procreate to continue the Aryan race and move it forward. The girls also participated in the same activities as the boys, such as hikes in the country, campfires, theatrical plays, and folk dances. The attractive uniforms were designed, much as the boys' officer-like outfits, to subliminally impart conformity and sameness. A few of these girls, once they were older, became female SS guards in Nazi concentration camps. Having been taught anti-Semitism from their time in the BDM, women such as Irma Grese, a former fanatical member of the BDM, entered the SS Female Helpers' training camp. She watched and learned how to practice cruelty on inmates and engaged in promiscuous sex with male SS guards. Such discipline "was designed to rob the girls of any vestiges of conventional morality." Grese shortly thereafter became the "Beautiful Beast" of Auschwitz and was later hanged by the British for crimes against humanity. The BDM, like its male counterpart, was extremely effective in educating girls for life in Hitler's Germany.[5]

Hitler Youth School's were set-up around the country, to further indoctrinate Youth Leaders, but a "normal" education could not be had at these institutions. Instead, they were indoctrinated in Nazism and learned about race, religion, and duty. The Nazis' devised a new standardized school curriculum, which was called Weltanschauung, or "worldview." The Nazi flag and Hitler's portrait hung in every classroom throughout Germany. "In the morning, we stood at attention, and there was the Nazi flag," remembers Karl Schnibbe. "We always had to start class with ‘Heil Hitler!' There was no more, ‘Good morning, children.'" Any teachers who refused to teach the National Socialism agenda were dismissed. HJ students were also more than happy to harass and intimidate teachers who "did not espouse the Nazi worldview." The Nazis' did little to stop their young charges with this outlandish behavior, until Schirach became embarrassed and ordered the boys in his organization to obey the law.[6]

Alfons Heck, who had been educated in a prestigious Gymnasium, an education that was "still largely the privilege of middle-and upper-class children," despite the eradication of class distinctions by the Nazis. Heck was able to learn English at the Gymnasium, despite having "history lessons depicting the Communist-Jewish infamy beginning even during World War I," that "prepared me well, long before the Hitlerjugend knew I existed." The Nazi education system was effective in its propaganda against the Jewish population. The hatred instilled in many young Germans became intense enough to allow the horrors of the Holocaust to happen. Few Germans questioned what they were being taught, even if they had had personal relationships with Jews prior to their re-education by the Nazis. Heck remembers pestering his teacher, Herr Becker, to describe "how and why" the Jewish children were so different. Herr Becker did so in his weekly "racial science" instruction, which contained such observations as the "shape of their noses….[being] shaped like an upside-down 6." Yet, Heck admits that his childhood friend Heinz looked "more Germanic than I with my French blood." When Heinz and the other Jewish children were kicked out of the Gymnasium, Heck later has to undergo "character interviews in the Hitler Youth prior to promotions," and "always denied having associated with a Jew even at the age of seven." Heck was hardly the only HJ member to formerly have, and then later deny having, Jewish friends. The Nazi education system brainwashed an entire generation in its racist policies.[7]

Twisting education in order to brainwash students was not the only effective way the Nazis were able to exploit the HJ. Every HJ member, male or female, were required to spend time in a labor force, working for the good of the party, as well as the land. Heck remembers that:

"When he [Hitler] came to power in 1933, there were six million people unemployed in a population of 64 million. By 1938, that number had sunk to a miniscule 200,000 out of a work force of 25 million. It was an impressive achievement, even if it depended on conscription…. Finally, there was the introduction of compulsory labor service for all young Germans, regardless of their social status."[8]

The HJ-Landdienst, or agricultural service, often spent summers helping peasants work the land. These strong, exuberant, and healthy young Germans helped in "harvesting, cutting wood, or milking cows." Such field activity "helped serve the purpose of keeping the youths physically fit, while at the same time honored the Nazi dogma of "Blood and Soil," while also attempting to "put a stop to the current exodus from the land to the cities." There was also a more sinister reason that the Nazis kept sending HJ members to go help on the farms in the eastern territories-once the war machine came sweeping down to conquer these lands, the HJ "would know those territories and how to exploit them." During the war, this mission was put into effect, and teenagers "were sent to the newly conquered western areas of Poland….The mission of German youth was to re-educate those ethnic Germans, or Volksdeutsche , and lead them back to the proper ways of the life and livelihood of their forefathers." This "re-education" also occurred in occupied parts of Belgium, and the Alsace-Lorraine area, which had been reconquered from France. The HJ also "gave German lessons to ethnic Germans who had lost or adulterated their language." They also spread Nazi-specific culture, such as that "derived from traditional German music or folk dance." By 1942 this colonization work had "become mandatory for members of the Hitler Youth, and they were typically deployed during the summer or fall for a period of six weeks," when entire classes were sent to the job. HJ members also became the guards of other youth in the conquered territories, being "taught the techniques of subjugation," learning and becoming effective in making the indigenous populations slaves on their own land.[9]

Also during the war, the HJ became extremely helpful to the wartime effort at home.

"The Hitler Youth went from door to door collecting valuable raw materials, such as rags, paper, and scraps of metal for recycling, an activity that was essential for the war economy. HJ members also had to participate in the search for mushrooms and for herbs, used for tea and medicinal purposes, as well as helping out in town and country in various auxiliary positions, such as tram conductor, ersatz-coffee dispenser at train stations, or letter carrier."

In addition to these duties, HJ members also assisted soldiers who were home on furlough or sick leave, "many exhausted or disabled, some of them maimed beyond recognition." The boys and girls of the HJ also helped in building fortifications in the streets or near the frontlines and were on call for emergencies and catastrophes such as fire and flooding. Many teenagers also served as air raid wardens and helped pull civilians out of their bombed homes and shelters. With many of their brothers and fathers off at war, the young members of the HJ made a valuable contribution to Nazi society.[10]

Many of these same HJ children became so infatuated by their Nazi education and work ethic, that they became hostile towards anyone who did not share the Nazi view of the world. Often, this included members of their own families. Since it adversely affected whether or not they could become HJ members, these young Germans demanded that their parents tow the party line or at least act like Nazis for their sake. The appeal of the HJ was clear to all Germans, including the parents. In one of the great ironies of history, parents suddenly became afraid of their own children, especially if their sons were HJ members. The adults found themselves living in fear that their son or daughter could report anti-Nazi talk or behavior to the Gestapo, whereby they would end up in a re-education or concentration camp. Alfons Heck, who during the war would end up commanding 800 Hitler Youth soldiers, was completely devoted to the Nazi cause. In his memoirs he writes that he occasionally heard other Germans, both soldiers and civilians, make derogatory comments about Hitler or the Nazis and debated whether to report them or not. He claims never to have done so, but it is telling that Alfons' father once told his younger brother Rudi that he thought his son was "an utter fanatic." The two never spoke about politics throughout the war years. Even while the Allies were closing in on Germany, Heck claimed that he continued to believe that Hitler would see them through, and that German forces would push the Allies back.[11] Schirach, the Reich Youth Leader, "issued patriotic appeals and used psychological ploys such as invoking peer pressure, which would serve as a powerful incentive for non-organized German youths to join." But up until 1939, he did not have the power to force anyone to join, and there were those who resisted, either because of religious reasons, their parents not giving their consent to join, or simply out of not wanting to conform. A popular example of one such group of non-conformists was the Swing Youth, a group of music-and-dance loving German youngsters who refused to join the HJ. Other groups consisted of young toughs who battled the HJ in the streets and delighted in taunting and bloodying any Hitler Youth they caught in their neighborhoods. By March 1939, on the eve of war, Schirach finally got what he had been craving for years. Hitler now thought it "prudent to fashion the HJ more strictly as a training cadre for the Wehrmacht, and this could not be accomplished without coercion." It was thus decreed that all adolescents from age 10 to 18 were "obligated to put in service to the Hitler Youth." This pool of adolescents served as reserves for all the soldiers that the Nazis would lose during the course of the war, with the majority being lost on the Eastern Front. Within a few years, these young boys would become the unquestioningly loyal and brutal soldiers of the 12th SS Panzer Division, the Hitlerjugend.[12]

In 1943, hundreds of thousands of young German lives had been lost on the Eastern Front, with huge casualties in and around Stalingrad. According to Hubert Meyer, who was the chief of staff of the 12th SS "Hitlerjugend" Division, "these events led to extraordinary measures on the German side which can most easily be summed up with the expression ‘Total War.' The Hitlerjugend Division was created from volunteers from the HJ born in the year 1926. The division "was to be a symbol of the willingness of the German youth to sacrifice itself and of its will to achieve victory." On 10 February 1943, Hitler gave his agreement to its formation in principle. Reichsfuhrer SS Henrich Himmler, in a letter to Reichsjugendfuhrer Artur Axmann (who replaced von Shirach in 1940), wrote:

"I have submitted to the Fuhrer your offer, on behalf of the youths born in 1926, to form a division of volunteers for the Waffen-SS, and of the same value as the "Leibstandarte." I have also informed him of your desire and request that this division be identified in a manner which would clearly emphasize its origins and its simultaneous membership in the HJ. The Fuhrer was highly pleased and has directed me to convey to you that you should immediately begin the recruiting of volunteers…. I have further proposed that the name "Hitlerjugend" be conferred on the division."

Much like the strict requirements needed to be a member of the 1st SS, Hitler's Praetorian Guard unit, it was stated that volunteers for the Hitlerjugend Division must be "recruited from those born during the first half of 1926." Minimum height for the infantry soldier was 170 cm and 168 for Panzer, motorcycle, and communications units. By comparison, minimum height for a 1st SS "Adolf Hitler" trooper was 180 cm. The youth had to be fit for service and "should have been, preferably, in possession of the HJ achievement badge." Once recruited, members had to attend a pre-military training period of six weeks. This training was allowed to replace the national labor service. The man who was put in command of the Hitlerjugend was a highly decorated Russian front veteran named Fritz Witt, former commander of the 1st SS. Because the 1st SS had taken so many casualties fighting the Russians, it was also ordered that a number of officers and noncoms be transferred to the new unit as well. Within a few months after its formation, the HJ had a total available strength of 20,540 fanatical and fiercely loyal soldiers.[13]

The HJ soldiers, contrary to widespread relief, had not had military training in peacetime. Instead, their prior education in all things Nazi, coupled with their strong work ethic during summers spent in labor units, made them predisposed to become good soldiers. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, a liaison officer of the army to the Reichs-jugend leadership for a time said of these young men:

"There is no trace of mindless drill. Rather too much spontaneity than too little. It is surprising that the boys adapt to the discipline as recruits without any friction."

HJ leaders who had been wounded in other units, and then sent to the HJ to once again become instructors to these teenaged warriors conducted the training. Three priorities were set during training. The first was physical fitness, which many if not all were already extremely well fit, due to the hikes, sports, and games played by them while in the HJ. Interestingly, the recruits were not allowed to smoke, and were not issued cigarettes, but received candy instead. The second priority was character development. Because of the lack of noncoms, many HJ recruits were encouraged to show initiative and leadership abilities so that they may become noncoms. Those that succeeded were sent for additional training to a special noncom course, where others would be chosen as officer cadets. The third and probably most important training priority was weapons and combat training. The youthful soldiers were trained in firearms in open terrain. Often, they trained in battlefield conditions, with live ammunition. This training would later lead to combat effectiveness on the battlefield.[14]

In April 1944, the HJ Division was redeployed to Normandy, between the lower Seine and Orne rivers. The division began to dig in and make its defenses ready, camouflaging its tanks, artillery, and anti-aircraft guns. They had endured nine months of training since officially being formed, and according to Jochen Leykauff, a volunteer born in 1926, "was waiting for the attack across the Channel….we were looking forward to it." Leykauff's determination and confidence in throwing back the Allied attack can be gleaned from his memoirs:

"The Allies planned to take apart the "baby milk division," as they called us. But we were not afraid. Sometimes we even got carried away a bit, and big-headed….We trusted our officers and noncoms who had been hardened in battle….During combat training with live ammunition we had enjoyed seeing them in the mud together with us…."

On 6 June 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy, France. The HJ Division was finally going to have its chance to prove itself in battle, fighting for the Fatherland and their Fuhrer.[15]

With the confusion that accompanied the paratroop airdrops and the successive landings of the Allied forces from the sea, the 12th SS was ordered to do reconnaissance duties in the area of Caen, France. On 7 June, the HJ Division was ordered to attack the right flank of British and Canadian forces near the Caen-Luc sur Mer railroad line and drive the enemy into the sea. Close to 20,000 HJ soldiers were ready for battle and twenty-eight Canadian tanks were promptly knocked out of action. One former HJ member said, "Our division fought valiantly." By the middle of July, the division had lost 3,000 soldiers and replacements were becoming more difficult to find. Many of these youthful soldiers engaged in suicide missions that seasoned Wehrmact soldiers would never have dared to attempt, such as allowing tanks to roll over them and then detonating a grenade. Their commanding officer, Kurt Meyer, proudly claimed,

"I know every single one of these grenadiers. The oldest is barely eighteen. The boys have not yet learned how to live, but by God they know how to die!"

But they became more hated for their war crimes than their utter fanaticism. In the late summer of 1944, the HJ Division shot sixty-four British and Canadian prisoners-of-war (which led to the sentencing of death of their commanding officer Kurt Meyer after the war). Other sources put the number of POWs killed outright at one hundred and sixty-four. Many Allied soldiers came to hate the young fanatics, but they also earned grudging respect. One Canadian soldier said, "They're a bad bunch. But are they ever soldiers!"[16]

After being pushed out of Caen, the HJ became encircled some twenty miles south with only 600 men fit for duty and no tanks. The Allied air attacks had helped destroy the division in Normandy, and the 12th SS regrouped as part of the 6th SS-Panzer Army. During twelve weeks of fighting in France, they lost 8,626 personnel, with at least 1,951 confirmed dead, including their beloved general Fritz Witt. As tenacious as they were, the teenaged soldiers could not counter Allied airpower or the massive amounts of soldiers and materials of the Allied war effort.[17]

The HJ Division also played a role in the Ardennes Offensive, Hitler's bold but ultimately useless plan to push the British and American armies out of Germany, as well as being redeployed to Hungary, before being pushed back by the Russians. Towards the end of the war, the HJ was refitted and were fighting American troops in lower Austria. Near the river of Enns, the Americans arranged for the unconditional surrender of the division. A general of the division thanked his boys for "their valor, loyalty, and comradely spirit." They had fought until they could no longer hold out, long after their beloved Fuhrer committed suicide. With a heavy heart, the Brigadefuhrer closed with the words:

"….We set out on the bitterest journey of our life as soldiers with our heads held high. In quiet composure, we will march toward our destiny. We have fought bravely and with integrity on all theaters of war, still, the war is lost. Long live Germany."

When the HJ entered captivity on 8 May 1945, 328 officers, 1,698 NCOs, and 7,844 men, a total of 9,870 men of the 12th SS "Hitlerjugend" were going into American POW camps. The war for the Hitlerjugend division was over. But other members of the Hitler Youth swore to continue to fight on against the Allies approaching Germany from all sides. They called themselves, "Werewolves."[18]

Joseph Goebbels had created the Werewolves, a desperate gamble to continue the war through guerilla warfare. It would rely on German youth that had been reared in Nazi doctrine. These young guerilla fighters, some younger than twelve, would hold out and strike at the Allies behind the lines. Author Michael Kater states "in order to inure HJ adolescents to inhuman acts, to make them complicit in the crimes of the Third Reich, and to bond them to their murderous reputation, its leaders ordered them to commit atrocities." Escaped concentration inmates were hunted and killed, Allied soldiers were sniped at, and wire was strung across roads in order to decapitate soldiers driving down German roads. Kater claims: "Werewolves, by the more narrow and technically correct definition, were small suicide commandos of boys and sometimes even girls who were dropped behind enemy lines on what was already foreign-occupied German soil, to reverse the conquest…." Werewolf commandos of the HJ were organized and trained by the SS. The most successful Werewolf attack was the assassination of the anti-nazi lord mayor of Aachen, Franz Oppenhoff. An SS man, two HJ boys, and a BDM girl parachuted into Aachen, entered the mayor's home, and shot him to death in March 1945. All were killed on their way back to Germany after stepping on land mines. Many other young HJ members were parachuted behind enemy lines, either Russian or American, to wreak havoc. Two Hitler Youths were captured by the Americans near Brunswick, and were executed on 1 June 1945. They were sixteen and seventeen years old. The Werewolf program was ultimately a failure and never really got off the ground, due to lack of weaponry and coordination, but not because of lack of will on the part of the HJ. Many of the most fanatical HJ members were regrouping towards Berlin for the final battle.[19]

As the Allies approached Berlin, SS squads, including young HJ members, were rounding up every available man and boy that could fight. Anyone who failed to show up for training or report for duty was considered a traitor and was hanged or shot on the spot. Karl Damm's Hitler Youth battalion was sent to the front lines to dig trenches thirty miles east of Berlin. He stood guard duty one night and heard rifle fire. The next day he counted fifty Russian tanks drive past his unit's position. He later found his comrades dead in one of their freshly dug trenches, all shot down by the Russians. Still, the youth continued to fight. At the Havel River in Berlin, five thousand Hitler Youth were ordered to defend the Pichelsdorf Bridge so a relief army could arrive from the south. The relief army never came, as the Russians had destroyed it. The HJ held the bridge for two days and nights against Russian tanks until 4,500 of them lay dead or wounded. One of these wounded boys, carried into a hospital was told by a doctor, "You dummy! Look at what this has gotten you!" The boy straightened up, spit in the doctor's face, and said, "Long live the Fuhrer!" Such was their fanaticism, even at the end.[20]

Their Fuhrer however, did not live much longer. While his youth were making the Russians pay a heavy price for entering Berlin, their leader had committed suicide, rather than suffer the humiliation of surrender. He would leave that for his own people. With the war finally over, many young Germans had to come to terms with the horrors they had unleashed on the world. Like Reinhold Kerstan, who was indoctrinated as a young boy into the HJ, later serving as a flak-gunner in an adolescent anti-aircraft crew, many would take years to admit that the man they admired most had wronged them:

"Adolf Hitler, my beloved Fuehrer, had died. Crushed with grief….[I] started to weep. Yes, I cried, great wracking sobs that had built up in me for years. The old admonition, "A Hitler Youth never cries," meant nothing to me now that he was gone. I was no longer a Hitler Youth. It was over, the dream, the fantasy. No one could ever take his place. The tears, unstoppable, poured down my face."[21]

Some would never admit that they had been wronged or had done wrong. Such was the awesome hold that Hitler had had on their young psyches. A few, like the former BDM-turned-SS guard Irma Grese, who never showed any remorse for her murderous deeds, were held accountable for their war crimes and were executed by the Allies. But most former HJ members were forced to live on with the desolation and despair that the Nazis had inflicted on Germany. Their education and work ethic, dictated and enforced by the Nazi regime, had been a way to control and use them for Hitler's own evil purposes. The creation of the 12th SS Hitlerjugend Division was deemed necessary by an army losing thousands of soldiers to the Allied war machine. The fact that they were adolescents barely of high school age was unimportant. They had been the recipients of a Nazi education and were raised to believe that they owed their lives to Hitler and the Fatherland. Many of them were fanatical followers who fought until the bitter end. The 12th SS had amassed an impressive war record against the Allies for having existed for such a short time. One of the most tenacious, fanatical, and effective fighting units in Hitler's army, the Hitlerjugend slowed the Allied advance in Normandy, giving the Allies an enormous amount of difficulty in securing its flanks and making progress towards Paris. They later held the Russians for a time and inflicted a steep price upon them for entering the Fatherland. While the Werewolf program never got off the ground because of poor planning and lack of materials, the will of the adolescent Nazis was there to continue fighting on for the Fuhrer and the Fatherland. The Nazis, while unsuccessful in their claims for world domination, were successful in creating the means of an effective fighting force to unleash total war.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2006 Guy Nasuti.

Written by Guy Nasuti. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Guy Nasuti at:

About the author:
Guy Nasuti was raised outside of Detroit, Michigan, and is a veteran of the US Navy, having served in the Iraq War.  A gradute student seeking his Masters in Military History with a concentration in World War II, Guy currently attends American Military University and is also attempting to write his first book about his grandfather, Guy I. Wetherell, a veteran of the Second World War.  He currently resides in historic Martinsburg, West Virginia. 

Published online: 12/03/2006.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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