The Hitler Youth is a youth organization under the NSDAP, which was officially formed in 1926. The organization was headed by the Reich Youth Leader, who reported directly to Adolf Hitler. It was initially voluntary, but after the Nazis came to power, it became mandatory for all male adolescents. The Hitler Youth had branches not only throughout Germany and in the countries conquered by the Germans, but also in the Axis powers - in Italy and Japan. During the Second World War, especially at its final stage, the Hitlerite regime decided to use the organization for military purposes. Initially, the younger Hitler Youth worked in the rear, and their older comrades were called up to the front. But at the final stage of the war, everyone, without exception, began to be put under arms. The organization ceased to exist immediately after the defeat of Germany, together with the dissolution of the Nazi party.
Currently, one of the most little-studied and little-known pages of the world war concerns the role of participation in hostilities of children and adolescents. One often hears that the Soviet regime and Stalin exterminated their own people, and Hitler and the Germans exterminated other peoples, but then it was the Hitlerite regime that threw children and adolescents into the millstones of war. In the Red Army, the conscription age began at the age of 18. Even in the most difficult years of the war for the Soviet Union, there was no reduction in the draft age. Only the last draft of 1944 began at the age of 17, however, adolescents who were called up at this age mostly did not take part in battles, being used only in the rear in numerous auxiliary detachments and subunits.
Even in the most difficult months of the Great Patriotic War for the USSR, when German troops were stationed at the gates of Moscow and on the Volga, the draft age in the Red Army did not decrease. And a completely different situation was observed in Germany. And although the draft age in the Wehrmacht did not officially drop below 18 years old, it was the German military units that took part in the hostilities that consisted of 16-17-year-olds, and at the very end of the war even 12-year-old children could be found at the fronts.
At the same time, it is much easier for adults to bring children to a state of thoughtless submission and make them fight fearlessly. Children are good fighters as they are young and eager to show themselves. They believe that what is happening is some kind of game, which is why they are often so fearless. All this was fully characteristic of the pupils of the Hitler Youth and those who, at the end of World War II, ended up in Volkssturm units or werewolf detachments (the German militia for conducting partisan warfare). As a result, even seasoned Soviet front-line soldiers were often surprised by the fearlessness and belligerence displayed by the German youth. Often these teenage soldiers threw themselves under the tanks.
With fanatical stubbornness, they could burn Soviet tanks and tanks of the allies, fired and shot down planes as part of anti-aircraft crews, shot unarmed prisoners of war, and some especially fanatical continued fighting even after May 9, 1945, shooting frontline soldiers from ambush. Children and adolescents were often more violent than adults. Today this is still confirmed, but already in Africa, where a huge number of children are fighting in various paramilitaries, sometimes as young as 8 years old, who have no pity for their enemies.
At the same time, there is little documentary evidence of war crimes that would have been committed by underage soldiers of the Wehrmacht and SS troops from among the pupils of the Hitler Youth during the Second World War. There are two explanations for this - the juvenile criminals themselves did not want to remember and brag about their "exploits" during the war. In addition, there was an unspoken taboo on the dissemination of such information in the USSR, and the children and adolescents themselves were recognized as victims of the Hitler regime.
There was really little evidence of crime. So, for example, one of them refers to the memoirs of Allied Forces Lieutenant Colonel Robert Daniel and concerns the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. It is almost the only documentary evidence of crimes committed by underage Nazis. According to the officer's recollections, he heard the sounds of shots and approached the fence of the concentration camp. There were four young SS men or even pupils of the Hitler Youth, they all looked very young. All of them shot at living people and corpses, while diligently tagging men and women in the crotch, trying to inflict maximum pain on them. Robert Daniel shot three of them, and the fourth managed to escape. What happened to that "fourth", how his fate developed, and what kind of life he lived, now hardly anyone will know. But the fate of some members of the Hitler Youth is well known to historians.
Popes and communists
For example, the previous Pope Benedict XVI in the world was called Joseph Alois Ratzinger. In 1941, at the age of 14, he joined the Hitler Youth, and later served in the anti-aircraft and anti-tank defense units and in the infantry. A few days before Germany's declaration of surrender, he deserted and spent some time after the end of the war in an American prisoner of war camp. After his release from the camp, Joseph Ratzinger changed his life abruptly, entering a theological seminary, and was ordained in 1951. In 1977 he became Cardinal and then Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 2005, after the death of John Paul II, he became the new pope.
Konstantin Aleksandrovich Zalessky, an employee of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies and a military historian, notes that the fate of Joseph Ratzinger is not only unique, but also to some extent typical of German adolescents during the war. German children who were drugged by Nazi propaganda in the Hitler Youth and participating in the armed resistance to the Allied forces on the Eastern and Western Fronts became, in fact, victims of that war. Having matured, many of them were able to reconsider their views on "Greater Germany".
Pope Benedict XVI
The fate of another famous German teenager, Alfred Cech, who was born in 1933, is also indicative. He was a member of the Jungfolk organization (the Hitler Youth division for adolescents under the age of 14). On April 20, 1945, this German boy was awarded the Iron Cross by Hitler himself, he received an award for saving wounded German soldiers from the fire of the Soviet army. After being awarded, he was immediately sent to accelerated courses in the handling of weapons, and later to the front, where he spent the last weeks of the war. Not having fought for a month, he was wounded and ended up in a prisoner of war camp, in which he spent 2 years.
After returning home, he discovered that he would no longer live in Germany. His hometown of Goldenau was transferred to Poland. Growing up, a former member of the Hitler Youth, who received the award from Hitler, joined the Communist Party (who would have believed that even in 1945!). True, he did this in order to get the opportunity to emigrate to West Germany, where he worked the rest of his life as a construction worker. He had 10 children and more than 20 grandchildren.
Alfred Cech - Youngest Knight of the Iron Cross 2nd Class
German teenagers go to fight
The defeat in the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the reasons for attracting members of the youth organization Hitler Youth to armed resistance to the advancing units of the Red Army and its allies - the United States and Great Britain. Already in January 1943, a service for German youth of pre-conscription age was established. Most often, it was about high school students who were recruited to serve in anti-aircraft artillery units by entire units of the Hitler Youth under the command of their Jugendführer. Such teenagers were considered persons performing "youth service", and not real soldiers, although they actually served in the Wehrmacht. They also made it possible to send adult anti-aircraft gunners to the front.
Apparently, these were the "cheapest" soldiers in the Hitlerite army. Until they reached the age of 16, they received only 50 pfennigs for each day of service, and after reaching the age of 16, they received 20 marks a month. In the final months of World War II, even girls began to be recruited to serve in air defense units. German teenagers were also attracted to service in the Air Force, where in 1944 92 thousand young men already served, who were sent here from the Hitler Youth, teenagers were also used in the navy.
From the end of 1944, Adolf Hitler authorized a total mobilization in Germany. According to the personal order of the Fuehrer of October 18, 1944, the entire male population between the ages of 16 and 60, who is not in military service, is subject to mobilization. By May 1945, approximately 700 Volkssturm battalions had been formed in Germany, which operated on the front line against Soviet troops. On the Eastern Front, some of these detachments offered fierce resistance to the advancing units of the Red Army. The Volkssturm fighters distinguished themselves in the battles for the Prussian village of Noendorf in November 1944. Their resistance was no less fierce in Bresslau, which, together with units of the Wehrmacht, they defended from January to May 1945, the city's garrison capitulated only on May 6, 1945.
Already in 1944, 16-year-old German boys went to the slaughter for the sake of their Fuhrer. But this threshold did not last long, and soon the Hitler Youth was already sending 12-15-year-old German children into battle. At the final stage of the war in Germany, they began to organize detachments of werolfs, which were supposed to carry out sabotage in the rear of the allied forces and wage a guerrilla war. Even after Germany surrendered and the war was over, some "werewolves", among whom were many children aged 14 and older, continued to carry out their combat missions, since they did not receive an order to cancel them. At the same time, the fight against individual "werewolves" on the territory of East Germany and a number of other countries of Eastern Europe continued almost until the early 1950s. Even suffering final defeat in the war, the Nazi regime dragged tens of thousands of lives of children and adolescents into oblivion.
12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Youth"
One of the units of the German army, which was entirely formed from the pupils of the Hitler Youth, was the 12th SS Panzer Division of the same name. On February 10, 1943, a decree was issued, according to which the formation of the SS Hitler Youth division began, it was supposed to consist of conscripts born in 1926 (age -17 years old, previously only conscripts aged 23 years and older were recruited into the SS troops). SS Oberführer Fritz Witt of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler division was appointed commander of the new unit. Until September 1, 1943, more than 16 thousand members of the Hitler Youth were drafted into the new unit, all of them underwent a special six-month training. In addition, more than a thousand veterans of the SS troops and experienced officers from the Wehrmacht units were transferred to the new division. The total number of the newly created unit exceeded 20 thousand people with 150 tanks.
With the start of Operation Overlord, this division found itself at the epicenter of the fighting in Normandy. The "Hitler Youth" division, together with the 21st Panzer Division, were the closest German tank units to the Allied landing site. In the very first days of the battle in Normandy, the 12th SS Panzer Division was able to prove itself very brightly, inflicting tangible losses on the Allied forces in manpower and equipment. In addition to its military successes, the division earned a notoriety as ruthless fanatics not only among the enemy, but also among the German troops. In the June battles in Normandy, both sides rarely took prisoners, military historians say.
Formation of the division's tank crews during an inspection by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundsted, France, January 1944.
Indeed, the Canadians and the British behaved far differently from Captain Miller from the movie "Saving Private Ryan", who simply released the prisoner who had nowhere to go. The British and Canadian military sometimes killed German prisoners - especially in tank regiments, which did not have enough infantry to escort prisoners to the rear. But on the conscience of the German troops there were more such cases. Already in the first days of the fighting in Normandy, the Germans executed at least 187 Canadian soldiers, most of these victims were on the account of the SS Hitler Youth division. A French woman from Cannes, visiting her aged aunt in Autie, found about 30 Canadian soldiers who had been shot and chopped to pieces by the Germans.
On June 14, 1944, the commander of the Hitler Youth division was killed; his place was taken by Kurt Meyer, who became the youngest division commander in World War II (33 years old). Later he was accused of committing numerous war crimes, among other things, he demanded from his units not to take enemy soldiers prisoner. Later, the soldiers of the Royal Winnipeg Rifle Regiment discovered that the SS had shot 18 of their captive comrades, who were being interrogated at Meyer's command post in Arden Abbey. At the same time, one captive Major Khoja was beheaded.
A captured Panzergrenadier of a division taken prisoner by a Canadian reconnaissance company during the Battle of Caen. August 9, 1944
Ideologically, the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Youth" was one of the most fanatical formations in the SS troops. The killing of prisoners was perceived by her soldiers as revenge for the bombing of German cities. The fanatical unit fought well, but by July 1944 it had suffered significant losses. For a month of fighting, the division lost in killed, wounded and missing up to 60% of its original composition. Later, she ended up in the Falaise cauldron, where she lost almost all of her equipment and heavy weapons, was subsequently withdrawn for reorganization and continued hostilities until the end of the war. She took part in the offensive in the Ardennes, as well as in the battles at Lake Balaton.