Wednesday 21 September 2011

Guido Knopp’s ‘Hitler’s Children'

This book attempts to explain how children were indoctrinated with Nazi ideals.
Knopp is head of history and current affairs at ZDF. He backs up his statements with primary resources-  photos and eye-witness accounts, though the people interviewed have now had  70+ years to think about what happened then.
Knopp identifies five aspects of this indoctrination: seduction, submission, bloodstock, war and sacrifice. Perhaps he makes several valid points here.
Certainly the children were seduced. Participation in the Hitler Youth movement and the Bund Deutscher Mädel must have been welcome. The uniforms were smart. The children got a chance to spend time doing sporting activities with other young people. There was a feeling of belonging. However, it wasn’t quite the boy scouts and there were often some more sinister aspects of the activities – like learning how to fire a rifle or how to throw a grenade.
The girls were indeed brought up to be submissive and BDM also stood for ‘Bald deutsche Mütter’(soon German mothers),  ‘Bubi drük Milch’ (boob presses milk)  and ‘Bedarfsartikel Deutscher Männer’ (German men’s necessities). The boys were submissive too, however. Absolute obedience was taught. Initiative was discouraged.
Bloodstock was important to the Third Reich and its mission to create the Master Race. No matter, then, that Renate in my story had no idea she was Jewish. No matter for her grandmother Clara Lehrs (later Klara Sarah Lehrs) that she was first catholic and then an anthroposophist; the blood was tainted.        
The war was glorified for the young people but not in a soft romantic way as had happened with World War I. They were brought up to be tough and resilient. Faith in the Führer and the Vaterland was encouraged. Hitler was put upon a pedestal rather like rock stars and footballers are today.
As the Nazi regime began to lose the war, a last ditch attempt was to fight back, using Hitler Youth and BDM girls as soldiers. They were beginning to lose faith in their leaders and they were beginning to worry a little about the cattle trucks they saw passing, from which they heard human voices and occasionally saw faces at the ceiling–high windows.  The young people with poor soldiering skills and equipment that was too big and heavy for them still wanted to defend their family and their country from the allied liberators, though they no longer trusted, respected or liked their government.
All according to Knopp.
Yet I see little of this in the letters.
The girls were aged 14-18 in the volume of letters I have, so they would have been obliged to be members of the BDM. So far, they have not mentioned it once. I suggest three reasons.
  1. It was so much part of everyday life that they did not think it important. Possibly anyway their membership of the BDM made them healthy and athletic.
  2. They lived in the countryside around Nuremberg. The HJ and the BDM were more active and fanatical in the big industrial towns.
  3. There was more dissent than Knopp acknowledges.                   


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