Kurt Gruber formed the first group of young members of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1926. Rudolf Hess suggested the name of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) and later that year transferred the leadership of the movement to Franz von Pfeffer of the Sturm Abteilung (SA). Pfeffer's main intention was to train young men to fight against members of left-wing youth groups.
The Hitler Youth (HJ) were taken over by Ernst Roehm in 1930 and remained as a adjunct to the SA. After Roehm was murdered during the Night of the Long Knives the group came under the control of Baldur von Schirach, the Reich youth leader. In this post he had proved himself to be a master organizer. For example, he directed a massive youth demonstration in Potsdam, at which more than 100,000 youngsters marched past the Führer for seven hours.
Schirach asked Adolf Hitler for permission to create an independent youth movement. Hitler agreed and Schirach now made several important changes to the way it was organized. His main objective was to re-educate German youth in the spirit of National Socialism. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Von Schirach would permit no opposition to his plans. As early as February 1933 he had led a surprise raid of fifty boys on the office of the rival Central Committee of Youth Organizations and confiscated its records."
Cate Haste, the author of Nazi Women (2001) has argued: "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."
Baldur von Schirach was also put in charge of German Girls' League. The daughter of the American ambassador in Germany, Martha Dodd, wrote: "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."
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."
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."
At the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, described as the Rally of Youth, Adolf Hitler told Germany's young people: "Regardless of what we create and do, we shall pass away, but in Germany you will live on. And I know it cannot be otherwise for you are the flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, and your young minds are filled with the same will that dominates us... And when the great columns of our movement march through Germany today, I know that you will join these columns. And we know that Germany is before us, within us and behind us."
Herman Rauschning claimed Hitler told him: "In my great educative work I am beginning with the young. We older ones are used up. Yes, we are old already. We are rotten to the marrow. We have no unrestrained instincts left. We are cowardly and sentimental. We are bearing the burden of a humiliating past, and have in our blood the dull recollection of serfdom and servility. But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at these young men and boys! What material! With them I can make a new world.... My teaching is hard. Weakness has to be knocked out of them. In my Ordensburgen a youth will grow up before which the world will shrink back. A violently active dominating, intrepid, brutal youth - that is what I am after. Youth must be all those things. It must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness or tenderness in it. I want to see once more in its eyes the gleam of pride and independence of the beast of prey. Strong and handsome must my young men be. I will have them fully trained in all physical exercises. I intend to have an athletic youth - that is the first and the chief thing. In this way I shall eradicate the thousands of years of human domestication. Then I shall have in front of me the pure and noble natural material. With that I can create the new order."
In 1936 Hitler banned all youth organizations other than the Hitler Youth and decreed that all German boys aged 15 and 18. He called on Baldur von Schirach "to project National Socialism through German youth into enternity." Von Schirach carried out a massive drive by von Schirach to recruit all ten-year-olds. For boys aged between 10 and 14 years Von Schirach set up the Jungvolk. The boys had to learn semaphore, arms drill, and take part in two-day cross-country hikes. They also had to learn Nazi dogma and once they passed the necessary tests they were given a special dagger marked "Blood and Honour". The main objective of the organization was to provide Adolf Hitler with loyal supporters. Reluctant parents could be imprisoned; before then, they might be threatened with losing their jobs.
Anna Rauschning managed to escape from Nazi Germany in 1936. She wrote about the experiences of her own son in No Retreat (1939): "A twelve-mile march was considered a mere nothing for boys who are trained until they can make a march of fifty miles without other food than the concentrated ration they carry in their packs. Nupp was convalescing from a heavy cold but he was not excused the hike. He had a severe relapse as a consequence. I told our doctor I feared the boy would not be able to do the strenuous tasks required, and he gave me a written statement to the effect that our son must be excused from the more violent features of training. Later the doctor confided to me that often after one of these lengthy marches he had as many as thirty boys in hospital. Pale-faced little fellows sometimes made a march of thirty miles singing Nazi songs through the night, for their graduation ceremony."
Pictures of Baldur von Schirach were second only to Hitler's in displays throughout Germany and were used more widely than those of either Hermann Goering or Rudolf Hess. However, this gave him powerful enemies and they started a campaign of vilification against him. According to his biographer: "Jokes about his effeminate behaviour, especially concerning his preference for a 'girlish' bedroom in white, became a national pastime. He was ridiculed as a transplanted Berliner in Bavarian leather breeches."
By 1938 there were 8,000 full-time leaders of the Hitler Youth. There were also 720,000 part-time leaders, often schoolteachers, who had been trained in National Socialist principles. One teacher, who was hostile to Hitler, wrote to a friend: "In the schools it is not the teacher, but the pupils, who exercise authority. Party functionaries train their children to be spies and agent provocateurs. The youth organizations, particularly the Hitler Youth, have been accorded powers of control which enable every boy and girl to exercise authority backed up by threats. Children have been deliberately taken away from parents who refused to acknowledge their belief in National Socialism. The refusal of parents to 'allow their children to join the youth organization' is regarded as an adequate reason for taking the children away."
For boys aged between 10 and 14 years Baldur von Schirach set up the Jungvolk. The boys had to learn semaphore, arms drill, and take part in two-day cross-country hikes. They also had to learn Nazi dogma and once they passed the necessary tests they were given a special dagger marked "Blood and Honour". The main objective of the organization was to provide Adolf Hitler with loyal supporters.
Bernhard Rust, the Education Minister, complained: "There is, indeed, twofold evidence to show that something was wrong with education. In the first place, the high level of popular enlightenment had failed to protect the German people against the poisonous effects of Marxist teaching and other false doctrines... The attainment of high intellectual standards will certainly continue to be urged upon the young people; but they will be taught at the same time that their achievements must be of benefit to the national community to which they belong. As a consequence of the demand thus clearly formulated by the Nuremberg Laws, Jewish teachers and Jewish pupils have had to quit German schools, and schools of their own have been provided by and for them as far as possible. In this way, the natural race instincts of German boys and girls are preserved; and the young people are made aware of their duty to maintain their racial purity and to bequeath it to succeeding generations." Baldur von Schirach responded to this by producing his book, Revolution in Education (1938).
During the Second World War the Hitler Youth were often used in air defence work. In 1940 Baldur von Schirach was replaced by Artur Axmann, as leader of the organisation. When Germany ran short of soldiers members of the Hitler Youth were encouraged to join the 12th SS Panzer Division, commanded by Germany's youngest general, Kurt Meyer. In 1945 members of the Hitler Youth were armed and told to fight to the death.