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What happened to the children of the Hitler Youth? How did the Nazi influence on their childhood affect them post-1945 and how have they responded to the Holocaust and the Nazis in adulthood?(r/AskHistorians)
I don’t believe I’m able to answer your question about any sort of feeling of guilt or how the adults have responded in today’s culture without sourcing from personal anecdotes, however I can broadly answer what the allies (especially the Americans) did to try to break down German Nationalism after the war, and I shall try my best to apply it to the Hitler Youth. Also it’s worth mentioning that very little of what I’m writing applies to the Soviet side of Germany, enough so that I’d say any similarities are pretty much coincidence.
To start with some background, Germany’s Nazi Party actually only contained about 10% of the population, roughly 50% of the population was involved in Nazi related organizations and activities (Such as the Hitler Youth, but also organizations such as the League of German Women, Doctor’s League, and numerous others) So while I’m unable to find any actual numbers for how much of the population actively supported the Nazis, those numbers seem to suggest that not everyone was estatic about Hitler’s programs. However there’s also numerous other factors in those numbers, such as who was a citizen according to the Nuremburg laws, so I simply offer that as an aside for painting the picture of Nazi Germany’s variety of fanaticism towards Hitler. What we know as The Hitler Youth however was mandatory for all children of Aryan blood, and actually was subdivided into 2 other organizations as well. These organizations were “The League of German Girls”, “Deutches Jungvolk” or roughly translated German youth, and then the Hitlerjugend or Hitler Youth. For the purposes of clarity, I’ll address each branch by it’s official name for this post, with the Hitler Youth being a reference to the organization as a whole, and Hitlerjugend meaning that individual organization within the Nazi Youth Organizations. Anyways, that provides about enough background for me to explain.
The process was aptly called “Denazification”, and largely was centered around propaganda. The process began with the numerous war crime trials, which were publicized widely. Some of the members of the Hitler Youth were also accused of war crimes, but these accusations were really never pursued, as no one in the Hitler Youth was above the age of 18 at the time of their alleged crimes. Really in post war Germany, it seems that most of the Hitler Youth was not held responsible for crimes at all, and in the evaluation of Nazi members that followed the war, were essentially all exonerated. (I hesitate to say that none of them were held responsible for their actions, as I’m sure there were a couple select exceptions that I was simply unable to find) The Allies also implemented a strict censor on all German newspapers and radios, in a way that quite frankly was almost the same process that the Nazi’s used throughout their reign. All forms of written, visual, and audio news were all controlled by the occupying government. 30,000 Nazi books were banned, including Mein Kampf (Which only just came back on to the German market this year) and possession of any banned books was a punishable offense. Mein Kampf being banned actually didn’t do much to reduce Nazi sentiments, as the book was written for people who already agree with the ideas, however it did create an idea of taboo about the topic. At the same time, the Americans also worked to reconstruct Germany with the Marshall Plan, attempting to create an idea that they weren’t conquerors, but rather liberators. This was somewhat furthered by the massive amounts of publications about the Holocaust, giving the Allies essentially the ultimate trump card in claiming they were in the right, and the Nazi’s in the wrong. Incredible amounts of books, newspaper articles, and films such as “Die Todesmuhlen” (Meaning “The Death-Mills”, it was a film on the holocaust that was released in Western Germany) were published and distributed throughout Germany about the events, and essentially placed the guilt of it on the German people. It seems this was placed just as much on the youth as it was the rest of the population, despite their amnesty when it came to the war crime trials. It’s worth mentioning a lot of the propaganda strategies used were almost identical to Nazi propaganda, as it’s effectiveness was incredible within the German people from 1933 to 1945. (For a great example of Nazi propaganda’s influence, the chapter “I Believe in Him” in the book Language of the Third Reich by Victor Klemperer gives a better perspective on the German people’s completely illogical faith in Hitler towards the end of the war) However as for the effectiveness of the Allies application of the propaganda, I’ve found conflicting evidence, so I can’t speak to it. In the end however, the most effective Nazi nullifying aspect was the crippling depression and destruction of Germany itself after the war. The Nazi leaders were all dead, and unlike WWI where it could be argued Germany still had some fight left, the Germans had unquestionably been beaten. The things that had brought people to the Nazis, such as jobs and community provided, were gone and the ideas banned. The Hitler youth had been led largely by older members of the party, so it immediately ceased to be an influence at the war’s end.
To attempt to answer what happened to the members of specifically the Hitler Youth after the war however, I did a little bit of research on West Germany’s economic activities after the war. West Germany actually ended up overtaking Britain in productivity levels by 1950. This is very much because of the Marshall plan pouring money into West Germany in an attempt to stave off communism. However what followed afterwards was an economic boom. (Also called the “Wirtschaftswunder” if you want to look it up) This boom also happens to coincide right when almost all of the Hitlerjugend had reached working age, and due to the large amount of industrialization, the military repetitiveness and tenancies that they had learned in the Hitler Youth likely served to only exaggerate this industrial boom. This idea is furthered by Germany’s economic growth slowing in 1960, which also happens to coincide shortly after when the last of the Deutches Jungvolk had entered the workforce. Germany also really didn’t start to receive many immigrants until about 1960, so it’s workers were very primarily Germans who had lived through WWII. So it appears that the Hitler Youth’s structure may have been beneficial for Germany’s, and it’s member’s, economic well being after the war, however it could also be simply a case of correlation and not causation.
In regards to the psychological impact of the war on the youth, I could not find a conclusive survey or study on specifically the youth. This probably is because of the earlier mentioned American censorship. I did find that the United States conducted a study of occupied Germany with questions like “Were the Nuremburg Trials unfair?” and “Was Germany better off without the jews?”, which might help clear up how the German people as a whole felt immediately after the war, but I was unable to find the study itself. If anyone is able to locate this study, it might be a way to delve deeper into this question.
Lastly, during the last months of the war, Germany utilized a tactic of using units called “Volkssturm“, or People’s Storm. These units suffered somewhere upwards of 600,000+ deaths in the last months of the war. While these units were not expressly filled with Hitlerjugend, and also included the elderly and infirm who weren’t normally fit for military service, they did make up a very large percentage of these units. So unfortunately, an decent amount of the most fanatical Hitlerjugend who volunteered to be in the Volkssturm (especially in Berlin) didn’t survive WWII.
Conclusion: The Hitler Youth that survived had the best opportunity to live a “normal” life of any Germans, and their childhood in the Hitler youth may have actually prepared them better for the industrial working world.
Note: This is my first post in r/askhistorians. Moderators, if you feel the need to delete my post, I would appreciate it if you could message me telling me how to improve my future posts.
edit: formatting and added a sentence on immigration in the economic paragraph. Also thanks to u/rocketman0739 for fixing my German spelling & providing the translation of “Die Todesmuhlen”.
edit 2: Since it was requested, I’m providing my sources for Denazification as well below.
JCS 1067 was the guidebook for the plan on restoration of normal German life after the war, and was signed by Truman. It includes the American Censorship guidelines in part I, section 10.
For comparison to Nazi censorship and propaganda practices, I got most of my content from The Ministry of Illusion by Eric Rentschler.
I believe in Him chapter by Victor Kemperer (amazon link)
General knowledge on The Hitler Youth and it’s structure sourced primarily from A Hitler Youth in Poland by Jost Hermand
Germany’s economic improvement data largely sourced from this paper by Wendy Carlin