We simply believed. — Balder von Schirach
To us Germans everything is religion. What we do we do not merely with our hands and brains, but with our hearts and souls. This has often become a tragic fate for us.— Balder von Schirach
The National Socialist movement, especially before and immediately after the conquest of power, has been widely interpreted as an upsurge and victory of youth. Outside observers, like the spokesmen of National Socialism themselves, have claimed that the NSDAP, more than any rival political group, represented the 'mission of the younger generation' in contrast to the rotten and crumbling world of yesterday. At the end of the 1920s Gregor Strasser stressed this viewpoint in an article the title of which later became a slogan, 'Make Way, You Old Ones! '; Goebbels was eloquent in his efforts to activate the radicalism of the youth of the big cities; and Baldur von Schirach proclaimed succinctly, 'The NSDAP is the party of youth.' (1)
In such appeals to the younger generation, which coloured the style and subject-matter of its propaganda, National Socialism, here as everywhere else, was merely exploiting emotions which already dominated the political arena and were a symptom of the transitional character of the period. The idea that youth, free from all burden of proof, was a value in itself, which went hand in hand with a summary contempt for age, was part of the signature of this as of every revolutionary epoch. Youth, the style of youth, the youth movement, were expressions of the same idea on various planes, and had already been given a concrete political turn in the myth of the 'young nations' or the youth ideology of Italian Fascism, whose anthem was significantly called Giovinezza. Youth had right, hope and the future on its side: age had death. Like most of the central-concepts of National Socialism, 'youth' was vague enough in meaning to be employed at will to defame or enhance the value of anything whose disparagement or commendation suited the tactical needs of the moment. Thus liberalism, the bourgeoisie, parliamentarianism or the democratic order could just as easily be condemned as belonging to an old and outworn era as values of a different kind could be usurped for the National Socialist cause in the name of youth.
'Faust, the Ninth Symphony, and the will of Adolf Hitler are eternal youth and know neither time nor transience,' proclaimed Baldur von Schirach. (2)
Although it had featured prominently in the jargon of the turn of the century, the myth of youth made its breakthrough in politics only with the First World War. Not least among the experiences of the war generation was the witnessing of the collapse, along with so many other values and positions, of the pre-war antitheses liberal and conservative, national and social, left and right, which had given the pre-war era its essential stamp; the true division now was between old and young. 'We see in the war the fall of the older generation and the rise of the younger,' wrote Max Hildebert Bohm in 1919 in a book with the significant title 'Call of the Young'. (3)
By the way in which it took up this call, answered it and repeated it the rising National Socialist movement once more demonstrated its extraordinarily effective manipulation of mass emotions. It made equal use of the expectations of the young themselves and of the widespread hopes placed in 'youth'. While all the other parties were attempting to carry on in the old way, in their programmes, membership and style of activity, the NSDAP arose as a party without, indeed opposed to, any past; its lack of tradition, and its denial of tradition, made it considerably the more attractive to a generation without links with the past. From the beginning its propaganda was directed towards this generation, for which, with persuasive eloquence, it offered tasks and aims, and a 'pioneer role' (4) that corresponded both to its members' personal ambitions and to their hunger for action. Along with a skilful emphasis on its antithesis to the 'old', this programme of promises was one of the decisive factors in the NSDAP's success in attracting a strikingly large membership of younger people, which in turn largely determined the membership structure and shape of the original militant movement, at least until its development into an amorphous mass party. There were many influences at work here: the difficult conditions of everyday life after the war; a longing for new, 'organic' forms of community aroused by the experience of comradeship during the war and in the Bunde, or youth associations, which the other parties were unable to exploit; an urge among the young to prove themselves; and various anti-bourgeois attitudes, for the most part reflecting the idea that 'times were changing' and so aggravating the widespread hostility towards the Weimar Republic as the 'state of the old'. These and other motives of similar origin pushed an ever-increasing section of middle-class youth, especially among academic circles, towards the NSDAP and gave it the character of a youth movement of its own special type.
'Among youth,' a contemporary writer noted in an analysis of this phenomenon, 'social despair, nationalistic romanticism, and inter-generational hostility form a positively classic compound'. (5)
This observation was true not only of the younger generation that had taken part in the war and formed the determining element during the initial phase of the movement, but also of the whole post-war generation. Credulously, fanatically, unhesitatingly ready for extreme measures, they saw themselves mobilized for the aim of National Socialism and, right down to the teenagers, swarmed into the ranks of the party.
'What happens inside a boy like this,' asked an advertisement for Schenzinger's 'Hitler Youth Member Quex', 'when the great river catches him? What is it that sweeps him along, that draws him, that inspires him, that destroys him? How does a child of fifteen come to leave his mother, to hate his father, to despise his former friends? Norkus and Preisser [two young National Socialist 'martyrs'] were hardly older when they died for an idea whose greatness they could not yet understand, of which they had only a presentiment.' (6)
What was it, in fact? The commercial sentimentality of the advertisement should not blind us to the fact that this type of youthful absolutist aged between fifteen and twenty, radically different from later party members, did indeed exist. Post-war difficulties, or youthful radicalism, offer only a partial explanation of such a boy's blind, self-sacrificing idealism. There was, too, undoubtedly a romantic attraction about a party that always operated close to the edge of legality and under the urge to ruthless action stepped over it. (7) But over and above such explanations the particular susceptibility of the younger generation to Hitler's party indicates a faulty understanding of itself which cannot be explained in everyday political terms or in those of normal psychological development. For this generation had long been living and arguing on an irrational basis; turned towards the past instead of open to reality, it was introverted and hostile to society and civilization and had embarked upon 'the retreat into Germany's forests' long before the National Socialist ideology came to show it the way. Here latent correspondences in attitude made it easier for National Socialism's demagogic power to lead these people astray even before the devastating effects of the 1918 collapse produced the great breakthrough.
All this was most clearly seen in the German youth movement, though as a universal phenomenon it was to be met far beyond it. It is not the case as defenders of the regime in search of precedents have claimed, that the National Socialist revolution started in the youth movement or the 'Wandervogel' who roamed the countryside. (8) Nevertheless this development around the turn of the century created an emotional climate that contained elements of the later evolution and left many of the younger generation ideologically open to the National Socialist programme. Despite all differences in detail, the common elements are repeatedly visible: the vague terminology, the pseudo-romantic cult of the past, the proclamation of membership of an elite association. Guided by other motives and certainly with other, well-meaning aims, the youth movement nevertheless developed the prerequisites for its own perversion by National Socialism. The SA, even more the Hitler Youth, and in a wider sense also the SS, were fundamentally the end products, distorted by totalitarianism, of a process which even at the outset had shown numerous pre-totalitarian features as it moved from the innocent days of the Wandervogel movement first to the Bunde and then with a certain inner logic, though also as the result of outside influence, to the forms created by National Socialism.
In spite of all revolutionary claims, the Wandervogel movement was fundamentally escapist. What purported to be a revolt against the dullness and dreariness of the bourgeois world was at bottom a retreat into a special state of mind not seeking to change the world but despising it. As the protest against society was confined to a turning away from society, it denied itself and devalued the 'wanderer's joy', the rediscovery of the homeland and its past, into acts of lonely self-gratification. Significantly, the Wandervogel movement, although its members were undoubtedly the country's elite, evolved no theories or concepts of social criticism and left only intoxicated protestations of its youthfulness, just as its whole reproach against society began not from concrete social phenomena but from its own malaise and remained stuck at its starting-point. Always 'what dwells beyond the mountains' seemed to this movement more important than what was happening in the factories, the centres of power, or the scientific laboratories. Its inability to articulate clearly, demonstrated in a plethora of proclamations, was merely the expression of its political, technological and social apathy, which a high-minded and impetuous, but at the same time self-satisfied idealism could not counterbalance. One cannot help a certain irritation on observing part of the intellectual avant-garde of a great industrial nation at the beginning of the twentieth century devoting itself with passionate enthusiasm to the revival of items of dead national heritage, the collection of Landsknecht songs, or the wilful return to an ideologically determined primitivism. In constant alternation between a narcissistic ego-cult and ecstatic groping in cosmic expanses, this generation withdrew its gaze from the near at hand and the necessary, and even the famous 'wrestling with problems' around night-time camp-fires — the prerogative of youth in search of an orientation was always a form of escapism. The philanthropic enthusiasm which the movement aroused remained entirely uncommitted and devoid of any 'impulse to enlightenment'. (9)
Even in its own sphere the Wandervogel movement was unable to establish an alternative to the world of the previous generation, and its efforts, for example, to overcome religious, class or even racial prejudices scarcely made any headway. Its criticism of bourgeois society did not touch its foundations but merely opted for looking for a romantic way of life within it. Strictly speaking, this protest against the lies lived by the elder generation was, for all its striving after 'inner truthfulness', a demand by these young people for the right to live their own lies. They despised the celebration of Sedan and 'operatic Germanness', being led into the new century by the ideal of the sixteenth-century peasant mercenary Jorg von Frundsberg. Of all their literary productions, what survived for only a short while were, significantly, a collection of songs and above all Walter Flex's book 'Wanderer Between Two Worlds', whose hero in fact wanders exclusively towards that other world which he has built up in his daydreams out of 'theology, political irrationality and resignation to fate'. (10) To remain pure and become mature: this formula summed up the self-knowledge of that pre-war generation which withdrew from the demands of its present to the 'investigation of being'. It was entirely consistent with this that the legendary gathering on the Hoher Meissner, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, proclaimed retreat to 'inner freedom and personal responsibility' as the answer to the contemporary situation, which it clearly felt to be an emergency. The best the Wandervogel movement had to offer was honesty, self-discipline and the capacity for enthusiastic faith, but all this remained largely self-centred, without anchorage in an objective system of values and hence wide open to abuse. There was always something curiously antiquated about the peculiar type developed by the youth movement, an Old Frankish uprightness, which only imperfectly concealed the youths helplessness in the face of the world from which he had too long withdrawn.
The 'search for roots' had not left him better fitted to cope with life, but rather unsure of himself, so that on entering a profession and ordinary life he
'landed all the more decisively in the critical zone of the long-avoided conflict with his environment' and was confronted 'either by a compromise that was contrary to his convictions or by a radical break with the existing order'. (11)
The First World War further reinforced the attitudes established by the Wandervogel movement. Experience with the weapons of war was no more successful in awakening the movement's followers to reality than the revolution and the beginning of democracy brought the awakening to politics which was their avowed historical purpose. 'First the new man, then the new state', ran one of the current slogans, still calling for 'inner' responsibility (12). Only about one third of the 15,000 or so Wandervogel who went to the front returned, and the exceptionally high casualty rate was seen as confirming their way of looking on selfless devotion, self-sacrifice and readiness to die as high virtues. But the old anti-civilization attitude, too, remained and in fact emerged even stronger, imbued now with nationalist bitterness. It was no longer directed solely against the phenomenon of the city, against urban degeneration and over-refinement of life, but now also against the Allies as the representatives of the 'shallow West' and against imposed democracy, parliamentarianism, and the party system as products of that civilization. (13) These and similar reactionary attitudes bore witness to a still disturbed relationship to reality that remained half self-reflection and half utilitarian political mythology. The will to join and to serve, the cult of community and leader, the myth of comradeship, the cultivation of ancient customs, the socialism of the Bunde, a mystical image of the nation: these were now the starting-points of a vehement controversy in which the protagonists were still concerned to achieve a divorce from existing reality.
'Does not political activity', one publication asked, 'all belong to that urban civilisation of yesterday, from which we fled when we set up our community of friends out in the forests? Is there anything more unpolitical than the Wandervogel? Were not the Meissner festival and its formula a repudiation of the party men who were so anxious to harness youth to their political activities? Is not the sole task of the Free German communities to educate free, noble and kind people?' (14)
In other publications the attempt at insulation was presented as a concern about
'uncalled-for politicisation [of youth], about premature, harmful submergence in organizations, about the nervous modern activism dictated by immaturity and the urge to intrude',
and they cited the educational monopoly of the Bunde. (15)
All this was far more dangerous in the new political circumstances than it had been before the war, because the youth movement now being formed, the so-called 'Bundische Jugend', soon became a mass organization with a membership of hundreds of thousands, whose refusal of political responsibility withdrew an important source of energy from public life. The position was even more difficult because the Republic was far more dependent upon active participation than the pre-war state. Whereas the imperial structure could not be shaken by the 'displeased reaction' of what was in any case only a small minority,
'the weaker Republic was bound to suffer considerably, if not to become impossible, through the refusal of the middle class to make use of its machinery'. (16)
There was no help in the crude nostrums with which numerous representatives of the Bundische Jugend intervened in public debate, pointing the way to the 'rediscovery of heroic standards in politics' or complaining of the lack of 'struggle for the eternal in man' in everyday political life — a struggle which the Germans had to fight out 'between death and the Devil' and demanding the establishment of a 'state of the young' or the 'conquest of the parties by the spirit of youth'. These merely recapitulated the same old refusal, compounded of arrogance and social immaturity, to accept political responsibility. The Bundische Jugend's public utterances were visionary and declamatory, not factual and analytical.
For the individual Bunde, however, the attempt to stand apart became increasingly difficult, and all their contortions could not prevent at least the echo of political conflicts from breaking into the anxiously protected circle. The increasingly obvious splitting up of the movement, which vividly mirrored the chaos of opinions in the narrower political sphere, emphatically bears this out. Nonetheless the Bunde held fast to the principle of apolitical self-preservation, and in the case of the liberal, socialist, nationalist, pacifist, Christian, folk, world citizenship and other factions, what was involved, apart from personal rivalries, was at bottom simply the particular style in which the refusal to cooperate in the state and society was stated. The self-defence leagues, fighting associations and youth formations of the radical parties, which the more openly political young people joined, were only another sort of escapism based on a romantic spirit of opposition.
Over and above this fundamental similarity, the groups of the Bundische Jugend had in common a comparatively strict form of organization, instead of the loose, individualistic forms of association evolved by the Wandervogel. This reflected the influence of the war generation, and indeed the new situation was marked altogether by a certain swiftly developing militarization. The soldier became the ideal figure, the command structure the model of organisation, and where pre-war youth had wandered the Bundische Jugend began to march. It was in keeping with their divorce from reality that the idea of a 'soldierly existence' was based not on the real experiences of the war but upon vainglorious illusions; not upon dirt, disgust and the fear of death, but upon that myth of the front-line soldier with which the older generation compensated for defeat. The first steps towards a contempt for life developed by the Wandervogel, the battlefield romanticism with 'mounds of dead', the transfiguration of striking and stabbing and throttling, the whole aestheticization of violent death culminating in the intoxication of grandiose disasters, now underwent unlimited extension in an ignorantly blissful shudder before the Nibelungen and the Last of the Goths, before the Lost Warrior Bands of the Middle Ages, before Langemarck, Koltschak and the Samurai ideal praised by Tusk, the leader of the 'German Youth 1.11'. All this was not merely the expression of a historicizing hero-worship but also a symptom of a deep-rooted tendency of German educational tradition to prepare the young for death rather than life. Rarely did the character of the Bundische Jugend, in its mixture of commonplace metaphysics, ego-assertion, and pseudo-military spirit, find for itself a more apt formula than in the 'German trinity' proclaimed by one of its members: 'God, myself and my weapons.' (17)
At this point some qualification is needed, for the development was by no means as straightforward and simple as this necessarily compressed survey may suggest. Also, there were important shades of difference in the make-up of the Bundische Jugend, above all between the so-called Free German groups, which for the most part tolerated the Republican state, and their völkisch counterparts, who thought in pan-German and anti-Semitic terms. It was not these differences of emphasis that determined the nature of the Bunde, however, but their fundamentally false, romantic attitude to reality, which left the youth of both sides incapable of asserting themselves intellectually and morally in the confusion of the time, above all during the great crisis at the end of the 1920s. The points of contact with the right which, despite all disagreements over details, had always been present, at least in the ideological foreground, now inevitably worked in favour of the powerfully advancing Hitler movement; and even if, at least in the case of some of the groups, there was not yet an amalgamation, this was only because they were more than ever jealous of their own individual existence, even if they could no longer convincingly define their distinction from National Socialism. Hence Hitler's speedy and progressive breakthrough took place less within the Bunde themselves than among the proletarian and petty-bourgeois youth who till then had been excluded, or had kept their distance from the Bunde Movement. (18) By the end of 1932 the Hitler Youth Organization (Hitler Jugend) after a long period of stagnation, numbered almost 110,000 members. Quite unaware that an unpolitical attitude was in itself a form of political behaviour, the Bunde clung to their principle of isolation from political events. Even in its issue of 1st February 1933 the Zeitung of the Deutsche Freischar youth movement contained not a word on the real political situation. (19)
Inevitably the Bunde fell victim, after 30th January 1933, to the universal urge to toe the party line. The spontaneous acts of self-adaptation to the new masters were the result not so much of opportunism and apostasy as of that political naivety in which the Bundische Jugend, with some arrogance, trained itself. Only isolated outsiders or small groups went-into consistent opposition; apart from this, such resistance as was offered was less a struggle against the new holders of power and the Third Reich than an indignant effort to preserve the Bunde. At the beginning of April, Obergebietsfuhrer Nabersberg, with fifty Hitler Youth members, seized the building of the Reich Committee of German Youth Associations in a surprise attack, giving the cue for an uncompromising elimination of all the other youth groups, even the 'volkisch' groups, so that it was soon possible to announce the end of 'everything which in the past could be referred to as the German Youth Movement'. (20) The Hitler Youth organization, rising quickly, through the influx of members from all camps, to a membership of millions, was given 'the task of becoming the most important educational force in National Socialist society and was developed into a system for including and influencing the whole of youth'. 'The fighting elite of the Hitler Youth must now become the national youth,' was the motto of the new phase (21).
On 17th June 1933 the twenty-six-year-old Baldur von Schirach was appointed Youth Leader of the German Reich. Schirach did not come from the Hitler Youth in the narrower sense, but had first gained a reputation in the party as leader of the National Socialist German Students Union (NSDStB) with the mobilization of an exceptionally large proportion of the academic youth for National Socialism, before Hitler called upon him in 1931 to become Reich Youth Leader of the NSDAP. (22) Burdened by his numerous official tasks, he never completed his studies, and this fact was of fundamental significance for his personal development. He always looked like a student, immature in both a good and bad sense: idealistic, lyrical, educated. He never managed to become a true representative of the Hitler Youth, and if he could not claim an origin in either the urban working class or the middle class, his outward appearance corresponded even less to the ideal type of the Hitler Youth. He was not hard, tough or quick, as demanded in the famous motto formulated by Hitler himself, but a big, pampered boy of good family who laboriously imitated the rough, forceful style of the boys' gang. His unemphatic, rather soft features held a hint of femininity, and all the time he was in office there were rumours about his allegedly white bedroom furnished like a girl's. His brown uniform always looked like fancy dress. He painstakingly stylized himself into the desired posture and tried to live up to the robust, swashbuckling ideal of the Hitler Youth boy which he himself had helped to create without ever being able to match up to it. Consciousness of this discrepancy finally warped his whole personality, introducing into it unauthentic, artificial elements. Both his pathetic aspect and the arrogance of which he was accused arose from this incessant disguise; even his comradely gestures seemed pretentious and smacked of forced affability. He enjoyed some esteem within the Hitler Youth, but he was never popular, especially with the lower ranks; he was regarded as a bit of a literary figure, and on many sides he met a contempt that was only held in check by his position as leader. His speeches too failed to inspire; they were full of sentimental enthusiasm but lacking in fire, 'a blend of academic lecture and lyrical poem'. (23) Nevertheless he took his ideals seriously, and within the narrow area which they left him he exercised his own judgement and gave evidence of open-mindedness and a certain amount of moral courage, as for example on the day after the so-called Crystal Night on which windows of Jewish shops were smashed throughout Germany, when he called together the top leaders of the Hitler Youth in Berlin, spoke of a 'disgrace to civilisation', and forbade the Hitler Youth to take any part in 'criminal actions' of this kind. (24) His approach to ideology was innocent of cynical calculation; he 'simply believed', and saw acts of violence and terrorism as deviations from the pure idea, which he pursued to the end unwaveringly and true to his boyish concept of loyalty.
Baldur von Schirach came of an officer's family with artistic tendencies and a cosmopolitan background. Both his parents were born in the United States; his father had served in Germany as a regular officer, before obtaining his discharge in 1908 in order to take over the management of the Hoftheater in Weimar, later to become the Weimar National Theatre. After his dismissal during the post-1918 revolution, fear of becoming 'declasse' brought him in the early 1920s into contact with Hitler's followers and eventually into personal contact with the leader of the NSDAP himself, whose appearance made an indelible impression in particular upon his son, then eighteen. At Hitler's suggestion, the boy went to study in Munich, and if he was not already he now became 'one of his most loyal followers'. (25)
Looking back upon his youth in Weimar, Schiraqch declared at Nuremberg that it was above all 'the aura of classical but also of post-classical Weimar' that exercised a decisive influence upon his development. But in fact he was far more influenced by the spirit of a folksy, denatured romanticism that was much closer to the German Rembrandt (Julius Langbehn), Paul de Lagarde or the Nietzsche of Elizabeth Forster than to E. T. A. Hoffmann, Tieck or Heinrich Heine. The order, reason and humanity of the classical era were totally alien to him as to the whole of this post-war generation with its disturbed equilibrium and neurotic self-obsession, and classical Weimar gave him the empty sensations of national pride rather than sound standards of self-education. Henriette von Schirach, the Youth Leader's former wife, has described in her memoirs the group of student friends which met regularly in Munich beneath a picture of Napoleon to read Stefan George, discuss Talhoff's 'Monument to the Dead' poems, recite Rilke's 'Cornet' by candlelight, and quote Ernst Junger. (26) The choice is extremely revealing of the circle's state of mind, especially when we add the works which Schirach himself said had exercised 'the most lasting influence' on his development: Houston Stewart Chamberlain's Foundations of the Twentieth Century, the writings of the nationalist, anti-Semitic literary historian Adolf Bartels, Henry Ford's The International Jew, and Hitler's Mein Kampf. (27) His own poems, which in the words of the Reich Theatrical Controller Rainer Schlosser introduced 'Year 1 of National Socialist poetry', (28) are a kind of summary of this cultural background, though free from the stuffiness and stale bombast of the majority of these works and containing instead the feeling of personal participation and an excess of emotion which for the most part far outstrips the author's poetic ability. Nevertheless, as poetry with a political purpose, they exercised considerable influence and guided his generation's self-assertiveness in the direction of flag, struggle, heroism and self-sacrifice. Of the fifty poems in the volume 'The Banner of the Persecuted' almost all follow this theme, and more than half are variations on the idea of death, which was the great obsession of this nationalistic youth. In the name of his generation, which like him had not experienced the war at the front, Schirach wrote,
'We wish to give meaning to our lives: The war spared us for war!'
Self-sacrifice, death in battle, flag-draped coffins, marble monuments, the 'celebration of the front' — this was the basic vocabulary in ever new, ever unchanged contexts. In keeping with his insincere nature, a high proportion of the content of these verses was purely literary emotion, a belles-lettres delight in disaster. But here literature was transformed into life; his formulas set the direction of Hitler Youth training and taught a generation of young people to believe, to obey and to die.
For with the seizure of power the ethos proclaimed in these poems became the core of a state education that was immediately organized with both all-embracing totality and extreme intensity. Of the slogans which Schirach now enunciated year by year in order to designate the points requiring special organizational or ideological emphasis, the first, that for 1934, was 'The Year of Inner Education and Orientation'. The assault on the individual, so characteristic of the totalitarian nature of the regime, was directed most consistently towards youth and aimed at including every individual, at every single phase of his development, within an organization and subjecting him to a planned course of indoctrination.
'The Hitler Youth seeks to embrace both the whole of youth and the whole sphere of life of the young German.' (29)
The movement thus provided the first step in an almost faultless system for the organisation and indoctrination of every individual.
This youth [Hitler declared in 1938, with some cynicism] learns nothing else than to think German, to act German, and if these boys enter our organisation at the age of ten and there often get and feel a breath of fresh air for the first time, then four years later they come from the Jungvolk [Young People] into the Hitler Youth, and we keep them there for another four years, and then we certainly don't give them back into the hands of the originators of our old classes and estates, but take them straight into the party, into the Labour Front, the SA or the SS, the NSKK [National Socialist Motorized Corps], and so on. And if they are there for another two years or a year and a half and still haven't become complete National Socialists, then they go into the labour service and are polished for another six or seven months, all with a symbol, the German spade. And any class consciousness or pride of status that may be left here and there is taken over by the Wehrmacht for further treatment for two years, and when they come back after two, three, or four years, we take them straight into the SA, SS, and so on again, so that they shall in no case suffer a relapse, and they don't get free again as long as they live. And if anyone says to me, yes, but there will always be a few left over: National Socialism is not at the end of its days but only at the beginning! (30)
The majority of the preconditions for this programme requisitioning youth had already been set up in the course of seizing power. The elimination of the Bund groups and Hitler's decree of 17th June 1933, giving Schirach control of all youth work, cleared the decks for the construction of a state youth organization. By the end of 1934 it had more than three and a half million members, by the end of 1936 around six million. This was due not merely to compulsion and the well-tried methods of psychological pressure, but also to a considerable extent to the wave of nationalist enthusiasm by which the young were seized and carried away, showing even more credulity than the rest of the population. The appeal to the younger generation which was now launched with all the weight of the state behind it certainly helped to bring about the impetuous change of allegiance, and the majority of young people followed the more easily because it was only in rare cases that the type of youth group evolved by the Bund movement felt the new forms to be a break with the past. Moreover, in keeping with Hitler's principle of the 'creeping revolution' in all fields, the Reich Youth leadership was at pains to carry out the transition as imperceptibly as possible. The organisation, style of activity and leadership principle of the Hitler Youth, as well as the travels, camps, uniforms and communal evenings, were in any case derived from the Bunde; the Hitler Youth was able to take over unchanged the songs, the rituals and a certain background ideological consciousness in order only later and piecemeal to adapt them in detail to its own aims. The Hitler Youth Law of 1st December 1936 merely legalized something that had really taken place long before, and two subsequent regulations put service in the Hitler Youth on the same footing as service in the Labour Corps and the Wehrmacht. (31) 'The battle for the unification of youth is at an end,' Schirach declared on 1st December 1936. He expressed the hope of also 'reconciling and inwardly winning over' the young people who were now being added, in particular those from the ranks of the remaining Catholic youth groups, which had managed to carry on until then in spite of endless harassing. In a second speech that evening, to parents, he supplemented his reference to the 'hard and uncompromising' unification campaign by an almost open invitation to political opportunism.
'Every Hitler Youth cub,' he assured them, 'carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack. But it is not merely the leadership of youth that stands open to him; the gates of the state are also open for him. He who from his earliest youth, in this Germany of Adolf Hitler, does his duty and is competent, loyal and brave need have no worries about his future.' (32)
The motives of calculation or fear nourished by such hints, often backed by pressure from worried parents, undoubtedly led many young people into the ranks of the Hitler Youth. But just as many were attracted by the leaders' ability to display ideals, arouse faith, and fill the imagination with an exciting utopia. To a degree hitherto unknown, young people were able to satisfy their spontaneous urge towards involvement, activity and demonstration of their worth. The National Socialist regime seemed to provide what they longed for:
'To throw oneself into a cause, to take responsibility for one's contemporaries, to be able to work for an even stronger Fatherland in unison with equally enthusiastic comrades,' as one of its members wrote, looking back. 'Public acknowledgment and promotion to positions which previously had been unthinkable lay open.' (33)
When Schirach repeatedly declared at Nuremberg that his aim had been the formation of a 'youth state within the state', it was at least true that an attempt had been made to give the nation's youth an awareness of its own self and its pre-eminent position. The problem of the generation gap, which was officially denied and was claimed to have been overcome in the national community, did seem to have been largely solved. On closer inspection, however, we see that it had merely undergone a remarkable process of reversal and that now it was the adults who had been largely forced into a condition of dependence. In this form the division was open deliberately kept alive and turned above all against the rival authority of parents, churches and teachers. Schirach once accused these of simply forgetting 'that in a higher sense the young are always right'. (34) To keep them aware of their own separateness and superiority the young had their own code of honour, their hymns, their leaders, and in Herbert Norkus and the twenty-one members of the so called 'Immortal Band' their own martyrs. 'Youth must be led by youth,' was the formula coined by Hitler himself.
All this, however, could not conceal the fact that rarely had any growing generation been less independent than this one. Their independence was solely in relation to the bourgeois environment, and was a means of undermining the traditional forces of education. The rigid integration of the Hitler Youth into the party organisation made it totally amenable to the directives of the top leadership, and hence Schirach also called it the 'Youth Sector of the National Socialist Workers Party'. (35) With a barely concealed consistency the organized young were brought up as 'material' for the regime's plans for future expansion and taken into account in calculations of relative strength in considering foreign policy. Incapable, because of their whole apolitical education, of discerning the motives behind the measures adopted by the state, young people saw them only in the context of their own needs; even the ideological training, the 'service' activities, or the organisation of the Hitler Youth in structures taken over from the Wehrmacht, they saw for the most part only as concessions on the part of the leadership to young people's urge towards play and adventure, and naively interpreted as an appeal to a universal idealism what in fact served concrete aims of power politics. Although the disguise technique of the National Socialist leadership facilitated such misunderstandings, they would scarcely have been possible without German youth's traditional alienation from politics, which dated from the Wandervogel movement but reached its worst in the storms of enthusiasm that rose in front of Hitler's rostrum. These young people always imagined that the arguments were addressed to their 'sound understanding', not that they were part of imperialist manipulations. Unpolitical as fundamentally they still were, they imagined they heard moral imperatives in situations that involved human malleability before totalitarianism, the accumulation of central power, and war. Thus for example, when Hitler cried out to them:
We must be dominated by one will, we must form one unity, we must be held together by one discipline; we must all be filled with one obedience, one subordination. For over us stands the nation. You must practise today the virtues that nations need when they wish to become great. You must be loyal, you must be courageous, you must be brave, and among yourselves you must form one great, splendid comradeship. Then all the sacrifices of the past that had to be made and were made for the life of our nation will not have been offered in vain. (36)
The whole practical and ideological training of youth was subordinated to the regime's political aims. The year 1935 had already been designated as the 'Year of Training', thereby opening the floodgates of terminological inflation. There was talk of physical training, defence training, artistic, professional racial and even domestic training (within the framework of the Bund Deutscher Madel (BDM), the Association of German Girls). Side by side with this went a systematic defamation of reason, knowledge and the intellect, each of which was frequently coupled with the adjective 'cowardly'.
'We wish in the course of the year,' ran a speech by Obergebietsfuhrer Dr Hellmuth Stellrecht, 'to reach the point where the gun rests as securely in the hand of German boys as the pen. It is a curious state of mind for a nation when for years it spends many hours a day on calligraphy and orthography, but not one single hour on shooting. Liberalism wrote over the school doors that "Knowledge is power". But we have learnt during the war and the post-war years that the power of a nation ultimately rests exclusively on its weapons and those who know how to use them.' (37)
According to an achievement report issued by Schirach's successor as Reich Youth Leader, Arthur Axmann, in 1943,
'30,700 Hitler Youth marksmen have been trained. 1-5 million Hitler Youth boys have done regular rifle practice. At the beginning of 1939 an agreement was reached between the Wehrmacht High Command and the Reich Youth Leadership concerning the training of the whole leadership in all aspects of defence in special training camps. While training in shooting and manoeuvre exercises was extended to all young men, the defence training of the Hitler Youth was expanded into special units. In 1938 the Naval Hitler Youth numbered 50,000, the Motorized Hitler Youth 90,000, the Air Force units 74,000, the model-airplane clubs of the German Youth 73,000, the Communications Hitler Youth 29,000.' (38)
This programme was supplemented by 'ideological training'. Hitler laid down its task as 'to bring up that unspoilt generation which will consciously find its way back to primitive instinct'. (39) The key ideas were struggle and race. As the two central concepts of National Socialist ideology, they accompanied and dominated the young person's development from the earliest moment. Even fairy stories were seen 'as a childhood means of education to a heroic view of the world and of life', and a volume of fairy tales forming part of the educational work 'Nation and Fuhrer' bore the significant title 'People Fight'. For the so-called 'Robinson Crusoe' age groups, according to the directions of the National Socialist League of Teachers, descriptions of the World War and Hitler Youth literature were prescribed.
'From an early age youth must be able to face a time when it may be ordered not merely to act, but also to die,' it must 'simply learn to think like our ancestors again. A man's greatest honour lies in death before the enemy of his country.' (40)
'God is struggle and struggle is our blood, and that is why we were born,' sang the Hitler Youth. This line of verse reveals the close connection between 'heroic' and 'racial' complexes of ideas, to which all other education was subordinated. Germany was abundantly rich in 'philosophical systems, in excellent grammars, in beautiful poems'. But 'because in Danzig, Vienna or the Saar region, in Eupen and Malmedy, we are at present very poor', was the explanation for the new line given in 1933, at first restricted to the immediate aims of foreign policy. (41) Behind this lay from the outset far more ambitious projects. The object of the education programme was no more and no less than
'one day to obtain the generation that is ripe for the last and greatest decisions on this globe', as Hitler stated (42)
My pedagogy is hard. The weak must be hammered away. In my castle of the Teutonic Order a youth will grow up before which the world will tremble. I want a violent, domineering, undismayed, cruel youth. Youth must be all that. It must bear pain. There must be nothing weak and gentle about it. The free, splendid beast of prey must once more flash from its eyes. I want my youth strong and beautiful. In this way I can create the new.
There was a marked 'literary' flavour about such early utterances by Hitler, and the regime's education policy reflected this only in so far as these visions could be combined with the rigid theme of domination. The 'free, splendid beast of prey' was in reality a domesticated variety trained to react as required. Predictability, extreme effectiveness, all the functional qualities determined the image of the type that was called for. The capacity for independent decisions and responsibility was developed only halfway and was kept to prescribed aims. The 'belief in the impossible' which, according to a phrase of Schirach's, youth was to acquire, simply meant credulous readiness to carry out seemingly impossible orders. (43)
The war, which put these educational maxims to the test, confirmed their effectiveness as expected and enabled the generation schooled according to them to achieve results whose splendour could not, of course, conceal the wretchedness of personal degeneration involved. At the beginning of 1940, which he had proclaimed as the 'Year of Testing', Schirach himself went to the Western front before being called to the Fuhrer's headquarters in July of the same year and appointed Gauleiter of Vienna. Either because the intention from the outset was to get him out of the way, or because the influence of the still comparatively liberal and cosmopolitan city released him from his ideological fixations and aroused his first doubts, he soon found himself growing further and further away from the Fuhrer whom he had once so vehemently admired. He had already adopted a sceptical opposition to the decision to make war; his family ties with America and his unorthodox cultural politics as a Gauleiter strained relations still further, and at the beginning of 1943 Hitler remarked to Goring that he felt 'a vague distrust' of Schirach. (44) When the former Reich Youth Leader organized an exhibition in Vienna at about this time, in which works of 'degenerate art' were included, Hitler felt challenged on his most intimate ground and accused him of 'leading the cultural opposition against him in Germany'. This excited outburst did not accurately describe either Schirach's real position or the direction and extent of his efforts. A few weeks later, during a visit to the Berghof, Schirach urged a more moderate policy towards the Russian peoples and, with the assistance of his wife, tried to draw Hitler's attention to the barbaric conditions of the deportation of the Jews, provoking a clash which led to the couple's premature departure. From this point on he found himself isolated, and if his subsequent statement that he had expected to be arrested and charged before the People's Court was probably simply self-dramatization, it is nevertheless true, as he claimed, that after the controversy at the Berghof he was 'politically a dead man'. He retired into the background, partly out of personal fear and also no doubt out of the embarrassment of a man who saw his romantic ideals and fantasies of self-sacrifice, heroism and marble monuments contradicted by the reality of the war, even if he refrained from putting it into words, 'in order to maintain a foolish dream a little while longer'. (45) When the Hitler Youth went into action in the Breslau Fortress, when the Volksturm units made up the 'Third Levy', or when they defended the Pichelsdorf Bridge in Berlin, the boys of the Hitler Youth died in reality the death that he had celebrated in rhymes.
Schirach's defence counsel emphasized in his closing speech at Nuremberg that there was no blood on his client's hands. However true this may be in a strictly legal sense, it obscures certain relevant facts about the person and career of the Third Reich's Youth Leader. We misconstrue the problems and also the possible meaning of a figure such as this if we argue, from whatever point of view, for or against his guilt as a murderer; in fact what is involved is suicide in response to an irrational emotional impulse. Not the adversary's death, but one's own death, was the burden of Schirach's intoxicated utterances, and with him — and long before him — one of the major themes of the younger generation. This, far more than the brown Hitler Youth uniform he wore, makes him the representative of one type, or one widespread attitude — how widespread this investigation, in spite of its restricted frame of reference, has I hope already shown. 'We were born to die for Germany', was written over the entrance to one Hitler Youth centre; but the sentence might also have come from the diary of a member of the Wandervogel or one of the countless publications of the Bundische Jugend. What linked them all, along with numerous other common features, was their rapturous suppression of the instinct of self-preservation, their faith in the magic of self-sacrifice. It was a romantic attitude that was described and construed as heroic, when in truth it was only an ineptitude for life and a readiness to die.
It would be hard to deny that the Third Reich's youth programme represented, as the title in one of Schirach's books put it, a 'Revolution in Education'; but at the same time it also contained countless pre-National Socialist elements that had arisen out of lack of self-knowledge. Faith in authority, political irrationalism, the cult of the past, flight from reality into an 'inner' realm not of this world, resignation to destiny, a mystic readiness for death: these were motifs, long in the air, which National Socialism merely exploited and cynically put to its own purposes. When at his Nuremberg trial Schirach repeatedly called upon German youth to abjure anti-Semitism he demonstrated his misunderstanding of the complex character of the problem, whose solution demanded not merely the repudiation of extreme or criminal phenomena but a radically different self-interpretation on the part of youth. The first steps towards this are apparent in the transition from the credulous to the 'sceptical' generation.