German Girls' League

In 1930 the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth) was formed as the female branch of the Hitler Youth movement. It had a small membership until the election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor in 1933. Traudl Junge was one of those who joined after the election: "In school and generally it was celebrated as a liberation, that Germany could have hope again. I felt great joy then. It was portrayed at school as a turning point in the fate of the Fatherland. There was a chance that German self-confidence could grow again. The words "Fatherland" and "German people" were big, meaningful words which you used carefully - something big and grand. Before, the national spirit was depressed, and it was renewed, rejuvenated, and people responded very positively."

The BDM was run directly by Hitler Youth leader, Baldur von Schirach. The historian Cate Haste has pointed out: "The leadership immediately set about organizing youth into a coherent body of loyal supporters. Under Baldur von Schirach, himself only twenty-five at the time, the organization was to net all young people from ages ten to eighteen to be schooled in Nazi ideology and trained to be the future valuable members of the Reich. From the start, the Nazis pitched their appeal as the party of youth, building a New Germany.... Hitler intended to inspire youth with a mission, appealing to their idealism and hope." Hedwig Ertl remembers. ""All the time you were kept busy and interested, and you really believed you had to change the world... As a young person, you were taken seriously. You did things which were important.. Your dependence on your parents was reduced, because all the time it was your work for the Hitler Youth that came first, and your parents came second."

In 1934, Trude Mohr, a former postal worker, was appointed as the leader of the Bund Deutscher Mädel. In a speech soon after taking control of the organisation she argued: "We need a generation of girls which is healthy in body and mind, sure and decisive, proudly and confidently going forward, one which assumes its place in everyday life with poise and discernment, one free of sentimental and rapturous emotions, and which, for precisely this reason, in sharply defined feminity, would be the comrade of a man, because she does not regard him as some sort of idol but rather as a companion! Such girls will then, by necessity, carry the values of National Socialism into the next generation as the mental bulwark of our people."

German Girls' League
German Girls' League poster

Richard Grunberger, the author of A Social History of the Third Reich (1971) has argued: "The Bund Deutscher Mädel (German Girls' League) was the female counterpart of the Hitler Youth. Up to the age of fourteen girls were known as Young Girls (Jungmädel) and from seventeen to twenty-one they formed a special voluntary organization called Faith and Beauty (Glaube und Schonheit). The duties demanded of Jungmädel were regular attendance at club premises and sports meetings, participation in journeys and camp life. The ideal German Girls' League type exemplified early nineteenth-century notions of what constituted the essence of maidenhood. Girls who infringed the code by perming their hair instead of wearing plaits or the 'Grechen' wreath of braids had it ceremoniously shaved off as punishment."

All girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel were told to dedicate themselves to comradeship, service and physical fitness for motherhood. In parades they wore navy blue skirts, white blouses, brown jackets and twin pigtails. Isle McKee wrote about her experiences in the German Girls' League in her autobiography, Tomorrow the World (1960): "We were told from a very early age to prepare for motherhood, as the mother in the eyes of our beloved leader and the National Socialist Government was the most important person in the nation. We were Germany's hope in the future, and it was our duty to breed and rear the new generation of sons and daughter. These lessons soon bore fruit in the shape of quite a few illegitimate small sons and daughters for the Reich, brought forth by teenage members of the League of German Maidens. The girls felt they had done their duty and seemed remarkably unconcerned about the scandal."

The daughter of the American ambassador in Germany, Martha Dodd, explained how the system worked: "Young girls from the age of ten onward were taken into organizations where they were taught only two things: to take care of their bodies so they could bear as many children as the state needed and to be loyal to National Socialism. Though the Nazis have been forced to recognize, through the lack of men, that not all women can get married. Huge marriage loans are floated every year whereby the contracting parties can borrow substantial sums from the government to be repaid slowly or to be cancelled entirely upon the birth of enough children. Birth control information is frowned on and practically forbidden."

German Girls' League
Members of the League of German Girls were expected to take children from
large families to visit the park while the mothers of the infants were at work.

It has been argued by William L. Shirer that the sending of young women to work on farms caused certain problems: "At eighteen, several thousand of the girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (they remained in it until 21) did a year's service on the farms... Their task was to help both in the house and in the fields. The girls lived sometimes in the farmhouses and often in small camps in rural districts from which they were taken by truck early each morning to the farms. Moral problems soon arose. Actually, the more sincere Nazis did not consider them moral problems at all. On more than one occasion I listened to women leaders of the Bund Deutscher Mädel lecture their young charges on the moral and patriotic duty of bearing children for Hitler's Reich - within wedlock if possible, but without it if necessary." As Richard Grunberger pointed out: "The degree of parental supervision naturally diminished as young people went to camp and hostels for long periods of time. In 1936, when approximately 100,000 members of the Hitler Youth and the Girls' League attended the Nuremberg Rally, 900 girls between fifteen and eighteen returned home pregnant."

After Gertrud Scholtz-Klink married in 1937, she was required to resign her position (the BDM required members to be unmarried and without children in order to remain in leadership positions), and was succeeded by Dr. Jutta Rüdiger, a doctor of psychology from Düsseldorf. Rüdiger argued: "The task of our League is to bring young women up to pass on the National Socialist faith and philosophy of life. Girls whose bodies, souls and minds are in harmony, whose physical health and well-balanced natures are incarnations of that beauty which shows that mankind is created by the Almighty... We want to train girls who are proud to think that one day they will choose to share their lives with fighting men. We want girls who believe unreservedly in Germany and the Fuhrer, and will instil that faith into the hearts of their children. Then National Socialism and thus Germany itself will last for ever."

Jutta Rüdiger
Dr. Jutta Rüdiger

Heinrich Himmler complained about the look of the Bund Deutscher Mädel and considered their uniforms too masculine. Himmler told Jutta Rüdiger: "I regard it as a catastrophe. If we continue to masculinize women in this way, it is only a matter of time before the difference between the genders, the polarity, completely disappears." A new uniform was designed and it was eventually approved by Adolf Hitler: "I have always told the Mercedes company that a good engine is not enough for a car, it needs a good body as well. But a good body is also not enough on its own." Rüdiger later recalled that she was "very proud that he had compared us to a Mercedes Benz car."

According to Jutta Rüdiger, her commanding officer, Baldur von Schirach always used to say, "You girls should be prettier.... When I sometimes watch women getting off a bus - old puffed-up women - then I think you should be prettier women. Every girl should be pretty. She doesn't have to be a false, cosmetic and made-up beauty. But we want the beauty of graceful movement." Joseph Goebbels also became concerned about what he called the "masculine vigour" of the BDM: "I certainly don't object to girls taking part in gymnastics or sport within reasonable limits. But why should a future mother go route-marching with a pack on her back? She should be healthy and vigorous, graceful and easy on the eye. Sensible physical exercise can help her to become so, but she shouldn't have knots of muscle on her arms and legs and a step like a grenadier. Anyway, I won't let them turn our Berlin girls into he-men."

Adolf Hitler argued that the BDM should play its role in persuading women to have more children. "Good men with strong character, physically and psychically healthy, are the ones who should reproduce extra generously... Our women's organizations must perform the necessary job of enlightenment.... They must get a regular motherhood cult going and in it there must be no difference between women who are married... and women who have children by a man to whom they are bound in friendship.... On special petition men should be able to enter a binding marital relationship not only with one woman, but also with another, who would then get his name without complications."

Richard Grunberger, the author of A Social History of the Third Reich (1971) has pointed out that B, the Minister of Education, reduced opportunities for girls: "Within the grammar-school population, the proportion of girls was reduced from 35 per cent to 30 per cent. In 1934 only 1,500 out of 10,000 girls who had taken the Abitur were allowed to proceed to university, and up to the outbreak of war the number of girls taking the school-leaving examination remained well below the pre-1933 average. When new boarding-schools for rearing a Nazi elite (the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten or National Political Educational Establishments - "Napolas" for short) were set up, the allocation of places for girls was given such low priority that only two out of thirty-nine Napolas constructed before the outbreak of war catered for them."

During the Second World War there was an acute labour shortage. Jutta Rüdiger was at a meeting where Heinrich Himmler called for German women to have more children: "He (Himmler) said that in the war a lot of men would be killed and therefore the nation needed more children, and it wouldn't be such a bad idea if a man, in addition to his wife, had a girlfriend who would also bear his children. And I must say, all my leaders were sitting there with their hair standing on end. And it went further than that. A soldier wrote to me from the front telling me why I should propagate an illegitimate child." A deeply shocked Rüdiger replied: "What! I don't do that."

In 1942 Martin Bormann suggested that the BDM established women's battalions to defend Nazi Germany. Rüdiger replied: "That is out of the question. Our girls can go right up to the front and help them there, and they can go everywhere, but to have a women's battalion with weapons in their hands fighting on their own, that I do not support. It's out of the question. If the Wehrmacht can't win this war, then battalions of women won't help either." Baldur von Schirach said "Well, that's your responsibility". Rüdiger retorted: "Women should give life and not take it. That's why we were born." However, when the Red Army was advancing towards in Berlin in 1945 Rüdiger instructed BDM leaders to learn to use pistols for self-defence.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Martha Dodd, My Years in Germany (1939)

Young girls from the age of ten onward were taken into organizations where they were taught only two things: to take care of their bodies so they could bear as many children as the state needed and to be loyal to National Socialism. Though the Nazis have been forced to recognize, through the lack of men, that not all women can get married. Huge marriage loans are floated every year whereby the contracting parties can borrow substantial sums from the government to be repaid slowly or to be cancelled entirely upon the birth of enough children. Birth control information is frowned on and practically forbidden.

Despite the fact that Hitler and the other Nazis are always ranting about "Volk ohne Raum" (a people without space) they command their men and women to have more children. Women have been deprived for all rights except that of childbirth and hard labour. They are not permitted to participate in political life - in fact Hitler's plans eventually include the deprivation of the vote; they are refused opportunities of education and self-expression; careers and professions are closed to them.

(2) G. Zienef, Education for Death (1942)

A subsequent visit to an ivy-covered school for older girls in Berlin, Westend, about ten blocks from the American School, gave me further information about this domestic-economy curriculum. When I arrived, the schoolyard was crowded with girls. They looked serious as old women. Most of them were jumping, running, marching to the tunes of Nazi songs, to make their bodies strong for motherhood. Some were talking about Party duties, and the latest decrees of their Youth Leader, Frau Gertrud Scholtz-Klink.

A whistle shrilled and the girls gathered about an elevated platform. A Gruppenleiterin was making announcements. Different groups were assigned duties. Some were to go on hikes over the week end, others were to attend anti-air-raid rehearsals. One of the troops, No 10, was specially honored. It had been selected by the district to represent the school at the annual parade on Hitler's birthday.

Group 4 was selected to attend a graduation ceremony in the Palace's courtyard. Jungmaedel from the district would be promoted to ihe BDM status. A stir of reverence went through the group at the mention of this sacred rite.

For fifteen minutes the girls received minute instructions until each knew exactly what to do and when to do it. There was no whining, no complaining. Everybody seemed eager and happy to follow orders.

(3) Traudl Junge, later Adolf Hitler's personal secretary, was a schoolgirl when the Nazi Party gained power in 1933.

In school and generally it was celebrated as a liberation, that Germany could have hope again. I felt great joy then. It was portrayed at school as a turning point in the fate of the Fatherland. There was a chance that German self-confidence could grow again. The words "Fatherland" and "German people" were big, meaningful words which you used carefully - something big and grand. Before, the national spirit was depressed, and it was renewed, rejuvenated, and people responded very positively.

(4) Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (1971)

The Bund Deutscher Mädel (German Girls' League) was the female counterpart of the Hitler Youth. Up to the age of fourteen girls were known as Young Girls (Jungmädel) and from seventeen to twenty-one they formed a special voluntary organization called Faith and Beauty (Glaube und Schonheit). The duties demanded of Jungmädel were regular attendance at club premises and sports meetings, participation in journeys and camp life.

The ideal German Girls' League type exemplified early nineteenth-century notions of what constituted the essence of maidenhood. Girls who infringed the code by perming their hair instead of wearing plaits or the 'Grechen' wreath of braids had it ceremoniously shaved off as punishment...

The degree of parental supervision naturally diminished as young people went to camp and hostels for long periods of time. In 1936, when approximately 100,000 members of the Hitler Youth and the Girls' League attended the Nuremberg Rally, 900 girls between fifteen and eighteen returned home pregnant.

(5) Isle McKee was a member of the German Girls' League, later recalled her experiences in her autobiography, Tomorrow the World (1960).

We were told from a very early age to prepare for motherhood, as the mother in the eyes of our beloved leader and the National Socialist Government was the most important person in the nation. We were Germany's hope in the future, and it was our duty to breed and rear the new generation of sons and daughter. These lessons soon bore fruit in the shape of quite a few illegitimate small sons and daughters for the Reich, brought forth by teenage members of the League of German Maidens. The girls felt they had done their duty and seemed remarkably unconcerned about the scandal.

(6) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959)

At eighteen, several thousand of the girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (they remained in it until 21) did a year's service on the farms - their so-called 'Land Jahr', which was equivalent to the Labour Service of the young men. Their task was to help both in the house and in the fields. The girls lived sometimes in the farmhouses and often in small camps in rural districts from which they were taken by truck early each morning to the farms.

Moral problems soon arose. Actually, the more sincere Nazis did not consider them moral problems at all. On more than one occasion I listened to women leaders of the Bund Deutscher Mädel lecture their young charges on the moral and patriotic duty of bearing children for Hitler's Reich - within wedlock if possible, but without it if necessary.

(7) Cate Haste, Nazi Women (2001)


For Nazis, the key to the future of the Thousand Year Reich was the allegiance of youth. Hitler professed particular concern for children. He made a point of being filmed with them - at the Berghof, where he played the role of "Uncle Adolf" to the offspring of other leaders, looking unusually at ease as he chatted to them and cuddled them on his knee. It is a chilling picture. With children - and dogs - Hitler appeared relaxed. Other, more formal, photo-opportunities show him surrounded by uniformed young girls and boys, laughing as they look up adoringly at him. It was another aspect of stage-management of the leader cult.

The boys' Hitler Youth movement was set up in 1926 and the League of German Girls - the BDM (Bund Deutscher Madel) - established in 1932. As soon as the Nazis came to power, they set about eliminating all other rival youth organizations, just as they Nazified the rest of German life. Within a short time, the Catholic Youth organization was the only group left with a rival claim to young people's loyalty. All existing religious political and other youth groups were taken over, disbanded or banned. In one year the Hitler Youth movement, including girls, had climbed from a membership of 108,000 to more than three and a half million.

The leadership immediately set about organizing youth into a coherent body of loyal supporters. Under Baldur von Schirach, himself only twenty-five at the time, the organization was to net all young people from ages ten to eighteen to be schooled in Nazi ideology and trained to be the future valuable members of the Reich. From the start, the Nazis pitched their appeal as the party of youth, building a New Germany. The leadership was fairly young itself, compared with the elderly, whiskery leaders of the Weimar Republic. Hitler was only forty-three in 1933, and his associates were even younger - Heinrich Himmler was thirty-two, Joseph Goebbels thirty-five and Hermann Goring forty. Hitler intended to inspire youth with a mission, appealing to their idealism and hope....

Girls joined the Jungmadel from age ten to thirteen, and the BDM from fourteen to eighteen. Posters of fresh-faced, smiling young girls in uniform with swastikas in the background proclaimed "All Ten-Year-Olds To Us" or, more menacingly - because this was the intention - "All Ten-Year-Olds Belong To Us!" Young people were schooled in loyalty to the Volk, which excluded all other loyalties, including to the family.

Many parents were disturbed that their young daughters were being swept up in this movement. Hedwig Ertl recalled the evening of 30 January 1933 when Hitler came to power. She was aged ten: "There was a lot of singing and shouting in the streets. I came home inspired by these events, with my copy of Der Sturmer in my hand. And I said to my father, "The Jews are our misfortune." He looked at me in horror and slapped me in the face. It was the first and only time he hit me. And I didn't understand. But later, when he would go to visit her mother's grave, which was near the Memorial To Nazi heroes, and rail under his breath against the Nazis, Hedwig could hardly conceal how ashamed she was of him. She felt that her father didn't understand the significance of this great movement. The BDM had started to alienate daughters from their fathers.

Susanne von der Borch's mother was thoroughly opposed, and tried to deter her daughter: "My mother went early on, before Hitler was elected, to a political rally and she listened to him yelling. She was convinced that something terrible was happening to us. As a child, I could not judge. I was simply besotted by it... "Little Nazi", they called me.'

For many girls, joining the BDM was an act of rebellion against their parents. Susanne von der Borch was "the ideal German girl" - tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed and mad about sport: "From the first day on, this was my world. It fitted my personality, because I had always been very sporty and I liked being with my friends. And I always wanted to get out of the house. So this was the best excuse for me, I couldn't be at home, because there was always something happening: I had to go riding, or skating, or summer camp. I was never at home." Renate Finckh found consolation in the BDM when her parents became active Nazis: "At home no one really had time for me." She joined, aged ten, and "finally found an emotional home, a safe refuge, and shortly thereafter a space in which I was valued". The summons to girls - "The Führer needs you!" - moved her: "I was filled with pride and joy that someone needed me for a higher purpose." Membership gave her life meaning.

(8) Melissa Muller, Traudl Junge (2002)

As in most of the youth groups of the Third Reich, there is hardly any discussion of politics in the Faith and Beauty organization. Its activities concentrate on doing graceful gymnastics and dancing, deliberately cultivating a "feminine line" so as to counter any "boyish" or "masculine" development. In fact this gymnastic dancing is also a way of making use of young women for the purposes of the Party and the state - not, of course, that anyone explicitly tells them so, and Traudl junge herself hears about it for the first time decades after the war. Their artistic commitment is intended to bring these young girls up to be "part of the community", and keep them from turning prematurely to the role of wife and mother; instead, they must continue to devote themselves to "the Fuhrer, the nation and the fatherland". Finally, Faith and Beauty will also qualify some of the rising generation of women for leadership; that is to say for posts in the BDM, the Nazi Women's Association or the Reich Labour Service.

(9) Jutta Rüdiger, head of the German Girls' League, was shocked when she heard a speech given by Heinrich Himmler in 1939.

He (Himmler) said that in the war a lot of men would be killed and therefore the nation needed more children, and it wouldn't be such a bad idea if a man, in addition to his wife, had a girlfriend who would also bear his children. And I must say, all my leaders were sitting there with their hair standing on end. And it went further than that. A soldier wrote to me from the front telling me why I should propagate an illegitimate child.

(10) Statement issued by the German government on 3rd May, 1941.

The Hitlerjugend (HJ) come to you today with the question: why are you still outside the ranks of the HJ? We take it that you accept your Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler. But you can only do this if you also accept the HJ created by him. If you are for the Fuehrer, therefore for the HJ, then sign the enclosed application. If you are not willing to join the HJ, then write us that on the enclosed blank.

(11) Richard Grunberger, A Social History of the Third Reich (1971)

Given this overall educational atmosphere, the Nazi rulers saw little need for radical innovation after the seizure of power; apparent continuity had the dual advantage of conserving resources and reassuring conservative opinion. Thus there was little surface disturbance of the routine of education. Few teachers were dismissed (among those who were, some of the non-Jews were reinstated during the subsequent shortage) and a sizeable proportion of old textbooks remained in use for the time being. One drastic new departure, which, however, only affected the top strata of the school population, stemmed from the regime's law against the overcrowding of German schools and universities, which in January 1934 froze the female share of diminishing university places at 10 per cent. At the academic level the resultant contraction was quite drastic. By the outbreak of war, university enrolment as such had declined by almost three fifths and the number of grammar-school pupils had been reduced by under one fifth.

Within the grammar-school population, the proportion of girls was reduced from 35 per cent to 30 per cent. In 1934 only 1,500 out of 10,000 girls who had taken the Abitur were allowed to proceed to university, and up to the outbreak of war the number of girls taking the school-leaving examination remained well below the pre-1933 average? When new boarding-schools for rearing a Nazi elite (the Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten or National Political Educational Establishments - "Napolas" for short) were set up, the allocation of places for girls was given such low priority that only two out of thirty-nine Napolas constructed before the outbreak of war catered for them.

Girls staying on at higher schools were shunted into either domestic-science or language streams, the former leading up to an examination that became derisively known as "Pudding Matric", and represented an academic dead-end. The inadequacy of these arrangements occasioned widespread discontent. In 1941 girls who had obtained the "Pudding Matric" at last became eligible for university studies in the same way as their colleagues who had gone through the language stream. So keen was the competition for the limited academic career opportunities available that sixth-formers on occasion even resorted to denouncing classmates to the Gestapo.