Complete control through indoctrination of young people was the declared goal of the NS regime. Boys and girls were to be supervised and controlled by the government both whilst at school and during their leisure time in order to be incorporated into the ‘Führer state’ at an early stage in their lives. The youth organisations of the regime – ‘Hitler Youth’ (‘Hitlerjugend’ – HJ) and the ‘League of German Girls’ (‘Bund Deutscher Mädel’ – BDM) – fought the other political, confessional and independent youth organisations, which were eventually forced to disband.
Bans, forcible coordination and suppression
The years of the Weimar Republic were characterised by large and diverse youth organisations with independent, confessional or political backgrounds. After the NS movement took over power, it immediately voiced its leadership claim in this area and aimed at completely eliminating other youth organisations, leaving only their own. After having disbanded the workers’ youth movement in spring of 1933, the free youth movements were banned or forced into conformity in mid-1933. While the youth groups with a Protestant background were integrated into the Hitler Youth at the end of 1933 based on an agreement between the church and the government, the Catholic youth movement in Cologne, which was of particular importance at the time, continued to exist under the protection of the Reich Concordat.
However, the price paid was high, and the youths who were organised in Catholic groups were prohibited from carrying out any activities outside the restrictively defined confessional and religious context. This in particular also applied to hiking tours and outings in their respective uniforms. As many groups refused to accept this, from 1934 they faced even more prohibitions, various forms of harass - ment and increasingly rigorous persecution similar to that suffered by other groups outside the Hitler Youth. This affected mainly youths who assembled in informal groups in parks to sing and talk or went on outings on the weekends. Many of these were still inspired by the free youth movement. As such non-conforming youths they were referred to as ‘Navajos’ and were regarded as a threat and provocation for the NS regime and the Hitler Youth above all.
Although the various Jewish youth organisations were not immediately banned after 1933, they were entirely excluded from public and social life and could only continue to exist secretly with their activities being continuously more restricted.
Hitler Youth as ‘state youth’
From 1933 ‘Youths are Germany’s future!’ was the motto also in Cologne, where in the context of Hitler Youth rally week in October of that year the call was voiced: ‘Join our ranks, join the Hitler Youth!’ There was no more room for other groups. Until 1936 the party organisation ‘Hitler Youth’ had been turned into a ‘state youth’.
But the beginning of the Hitler Youth – founded in 1926 and from 1931 controlled by the SA as a youth department – was more than humble. In Cologne, for example, it had only 70 members in 1927, in 1931 a total of some 2,000 youths in the Cologne-Aachen district were members. The membership of the Hitler Youth increased from about 100,000 in 1932 to more than 8.7 million in 1939 across the Reich. In December 1936 the ‘Law on the Hitler Youth’ made membership – which had previously been formally voluntary – binding and thus the introduction of the ‘compulsory service of youths’ made membership mandatory in 1939 so that almost all young people became members of the Hitler Youth under the compulsory member ship scheme.
Under the umbrella of the Hitler Youth, youths were categorised according to age and gender and assigned to separate formations. Boys and younger girls aged 10 to 14 were organised in the German Youth (Deutsches Jungvolk –DJ) and in the Young Girls’ League (Jungmädelbund – JM); the Hitler Youth consisted of male teenagers and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) consisted of girls aged 14 to 18. In addition, there were numerous special formations (e.g. Flieger-HJ,Marine- HJ, Reiter-HJ, Motor-HJ). Within the HJ the slogan ‘youth leads youth’ was propagated in order to suggest independence from adults – which in reality did not exist.
Between fascination and coercion
The Reich Youth Leadership aimed at influencing young people’s ideological beliefs as early in their lives as possible. Boys were subject to a permanent military education, whereas girls were prepared for their tasks as mothers. Children and teenagers were intended to spend all their leisure time under the strict control of organisations of the Hitler Youth, this had the effect of bringing the youths beliefs in complete alignment with the NS regime. There were also many forms of education in camps such as the ‘Landjahr’ (year of service in the countryside) or the ‘Reichsarbeitsdienst’ (Reich Labour Service) and finally the ‘Erweiterte Kinderlandverschickung’ (extended programme for sending children to rural areas).
However, it would be erroneous to believe that the NS regime forced youths into the Hitler Youth. Despite the pressure exerted, we must not underestimate the increased fascination, fuelled by omnipresent propaganda that adolescents experienced with the Hitler Youth and the BDM. The sense of belonging, teamed with the opportunity to participate in so many activities independent of the adult world such as youth camps, major events, singing and hiking, made it seem natural for most children and teenagers to become part of the state youth voluntarily and to undertake certain tasks. The opportunities for advancement within the Hitler Youth and the BDM were no doubt also a great incentive for many young people.
Hitler Youth and schools
Also essential to the Hitler Youth power base, was the need to build up a strong position within the school system so that their interests could be pursued aggressively. For example, teachers and school boards were forced to promote membership of the NS youth organisations. Furthermore, Hitler Youth events were often prioritised over school interests. This resulted in 90 per cent of public school children in Cologne being members of the Hitler Youth in early 1936. Those children and teenagers who withstood the pressure and did not become members of the Hitler Youth or the BDM faced exclusion and reprisals.
Control over schools
The NS regime also found other ways and means, through interference with the public school system, to ensure comprehensive control over young people. Repressive measures, whereby total control and subversion of all teachers was the main goal, were initiated as early as the first few weeks and months of NS power. Following the passing of a ‘Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service System’, in the administrative district of Cologne in spring 1933, a committee of ‘confidential men’ was assigned the task of examining the political reliability of all teachers. Not only the Jewish and communist teachers were made redundant in the following months but also many politically undesired teachers were transferred or were given early retirement. About 10 per cent of the teaching staff in city-owned secondary and vocational schools in Cologne were affected by these measures by the end of 1933. Nevertheless, the NS regime received considerable support from teaching staff and the majority of those who were not affiliated with the regime adjusted without any major resistance to the new situation.
In fact, there is hardly any evidence of opposition to demands of National Socialist school policies in Cologne. The curricula changed within a short period of time and NS ideology did not become a separate subject but an underlying and cross-cutting educational theme. The study of race, the special focus on sports, the specific training of girls to become mothers and housewives as well as pre-military education of boys were typical of National Socialist school education. ‘Ideology’ seminars, school celebrations with a clearly political-ideological background – such as the celebration of the birthday of the Führer or on the occasion of the National Labour Day - and rituals such as the hoisting of the swastika-flag on the school yards every morning soon characterised the daily school routine. In this way, the National Socialist values and symbols were rooted in the minds of youths also outside the Hitler Youth and the BDM and traditional and especially Christian values were suppressed.
Deconfessionalisation of schools
Das NS-Regime war von Beginn an bestrebt, den Einfluss der Kirchen an den Schulen zurückzudrängen, beispielsweise durch Einschränkungen des Religionsunterrichts oder Disziplinarverfahren gegen Religionslehrer. Auf die Kölner Privatschulen, die meist konfessionell gebunden waren, wurde Druck ausgeübt, um sie zur Auflösung oder zur Umwandlung in städtische oder staatliche Einrichtungen zu zwingen, ein Prozess, der bis 1939 weitgehend abgeschlossen war. In diesem Jahr wurde gegen erheblichen Widerstand der katholischen Kirche auch die von NS-Seite schon lange angestrebte Umwandlung der konfessionellen Volksschulen in Gemeinschaftsschulen vollzogen. Die in Köln bis dahin bestehenden 155 Bekenntnisschulen waren nunmehr »Deutsche Volksschulen«.
Racial exclusion in schools
From 1933 the regime introduced various measures to achieve ‘racial segregation’ in schools. Until then it had been normal for Jewish children to attend public schools. But at that time the regime started to restrict this attendance and finally prohibited it in late 1938. In early 1939, ‘gypsy children’ were excluded from public schools and attended separate ‘gypsy classes’, in which children of all age groups were taught together; this happened on the initiative of the office for racial policy of the Gau district Cologne-Aachen. In mid-1942 the last Jewish school in Cologne, the Reform-Realgymnasium Jawne, was closed after the deportation of the children and teachers; in spring 1943 the children and teenagers attending the ‘gypsy classes’ were also deported.