Were the Nazis able to completely control the German Youth?

Much like the rest of the population, Hitler wanted to control the youth as best he could to maintain a loyal German people. How did the Nazi state go about controlling young people, and were they successful in achieving this?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

Eugenics = The study of genes in different races and how certain ones can ‘benefit’ the human race. It is completely unscientific, but it was a very popular idea in the early 1900s, and was used by the Nazis to try to legitimise their ideas on desirable and undesirable races.

Look at the school timetable for a girls’ school in Nazi Germany in 1935 below. Briefly give an answer to the following questions:
1) Why would the Nazis make sport compulsory every day for children?
2) What would have been the focus of the ‘race studies’ lessons?
3) What might the students be learning in their History lessons?

A timetable for students at a girls’ school in Nazi Germany, 1935.

TASK ONE: How did the Nazi state control young Germans?

Read the information below on how the Nazis controlled young people in Germany. Complete the following table as you look through the information:

How did the Nazi state control young people in Germany?

Hitler quickly understood the importance of controlling young people in order to control the wider population. Their innocence meant that their thoughts could be manipulated easily to benefit Hitler and the Nazi state. He knew that adults in Germany may question him, but if he controlled the thoughts of the young, he could create a ‘thousand year Reich’ where nobody in the future would ever question Nazi rule. This meant controlling two main pillars of young life: (1) what young people did at school, and; (2) what young people did in their ‘free’ time.

Young people and their schooling

Schools had been controlled by local councils or the Churches in the Weimar era. These usually set children up to work or provided them with education to help them get into university.

This all changed under the Nazis. In 1934, a leading Nazi called Bernard Rust became education minister. His definition of schooling sums up the aims of the Nazi school curriculum:

‘The whole purpose of education is to create Nazis’.

Words by Bernard Rust, Nazi Education Minister.

Education for boys and girls was no longer about extending the knowledge of young people, but instead acted as a propaganda programme to control them. Boys and girls went to seperate schools, with each type providing different types of education – getting boys ready to work or fight, and getting girls ready to look after families and do housework. The Hitler Salute was performed at the start and end of every lesson, with teachers and students required to shout ‘Heil Hitler’.

Sport was increased in schools heavily in order to build a ‘strong’ German race. In addition, students were taught eugenics frequently to prepare them to choose the most ‘ideal’ partner to start a family with. Eventually, in 1938, Jews were banned from attending German schools and universities, and Jewish teachers and lecturers were sacked from German schools and universities.

A teacher teaches a class on eugenics and ‘perfect’ genes.

Traditional subjects were taught, but manipulated to control the minds of children. Math questions would ask students to work out the number of bombs aircraft carriers had to have to successfully bomb Jewish towns. History textbooks were issued teaching students about the ‘stab in the back’ by Weimar politicians following the Treaty of Versailles.

Some boys were placed in special schools if they showed high levels of physical ability. These schools, called Napola schools, prepared boys from the ages of 10 to 18 to join the army or SS corps.

To ensure this new curriculum was carried out effectively, all teachers in Germany had to swear allegiance to Hitler and join the Nazi Teachers’ League. Teachers that refused to sign up, or those that the Nazis did not like, were sacked. Rust personally sacked 180 headteachers in Prussia (a state in Germany) alone. Teacher training programmes gave teachers strict guidelines as to how to teach their lessons.

A class of young students perform the Nazi salute on their way in to school.

Young people and their ‘free time’

The Hitler Youth had been in place before Hitler became Chancellor. It provided both boys with physical training and taught them Nazi values. Hitler promptly banned all other youth groups in 1933. In 1936, the Hitler Youth’s numbers swelled when it became compulsory. There were 7 million boys in the Hitler Youth by 1939.

Boys were given military training in the Hitler Youth. They were taught to read maps and give signals, and millions of children were given gun training. They were given harsh punishments for defying orders from their seniors, and were frequently required to partake in intense outdoor training exercises. Many enjoyed the summer camps with their friends that the Hitler Youth ran.

An older group of Nazi Youth boys practicing rifle shooting.

For the girls, the League of German Maidens was in place. Much like the Hitler youth, they were given political lessons and physical activities to do. Yet these activities were not based around military training, and instead centered around athletics and dancing. Similar to their schooling, eugenics was frequently taught to prepare women to find a husband with the ‘best’ genes.

TASK TWO: Were the Nazi policies towards young people effective?

Look at the three sources below. They all suggest different levels of effectiveness of these Nazi policies towards young people in Germany.

Which source belongs in which box and why?

SOURCE A: The memories of a Hitler Youth Leader.

What I liked about the Hitler Youth was the comradeship. I was full of enthusiasm when I joined the young people at the age of ten. I can still remember how deeply moved I was when I heard the club mottos: “young people are hard. They can keep a secret. They are loyal. They are comrades”. And then there were trips! Is anything nicer than enjoying the splendours of the homeland in the company of one’s comrades?’

SOURCE B: From a British magazine, 1938

There seems little enthusiasm for the Hitler Youth, with membership falling. Many no longer want to be commanded, but wish to do as they like. Usually one third of a group appears for roll call. At evening meetings, it is a great event if 20 turn up out of 80, but usually there are about 10 or 12.

SOURCE C: Hitler Youth member, private letter, 1936.

How did we live in Camp S, which is supposed to be an example to all the camps? We practically didn’t have a minute of the day to ourselves. This isn’t camp life, no sir! It’s military barrack life! Drill starts right after a meager breakfast. We would like to have all athletics but there isn’t any. Instead we have military exercises, down in the mud, till the tongue hangs out of your mouth. And we have only one wish: sleep, sleep…

TASK THREE: How effective were policies towards the youth in Germany?

After analysing the information in this lesson, can you write an answer to the question? This isn’t an exam style question, so write it in any way you wish. I would suggest one paragraph on why it was effective, one on why it wasn’t, and a conclusion stating what you believe.

CHALLENGE: Can you include evidence about youth resistance from our lesson a few lessons back to help you form your evidence and conclusion?

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