Hitlerjugend – The Hitler Youth (WW2 German Youth Party)
The Hitler Youth – the Hitlerjugend or HJ – was officially formed at the second Reichsparteitag (National Party Day) on July 4th, 1926. Although the Hitlerjugend would become the only youth organization of Germany shortly after the NSDAP came to power in 1933, the Hitlerjugend was certainly not the first attempt to formally organize German youth along political, social, or religious lines. It was also not the only youth organization in existence at the time of its original formation. German youth had been a major focus of numerous groups during the early 1900s including both Left and Right-wing political parties, as well as those groups more generally benign in nature.
In fact, the phenomenon of youth organizations at the beginning of the 20th Century was not limited to Germany at all as they were found in nearly all parts of the world. The Boy Scout movement, still highly active today, was founded in America in 1910, and officially charted by Congress in 1916, and in Italy, youth groups were also very popular in the early 1920s.
The history of youth movements during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries is very complex, and even the limited scope of those that existed exclusively in Germany is nearly impossible to fully document. But as complex as the subject may be, no study would be complete without a mention of the root of most all 20th Century German youth movements – the Wandervogel.
The Wandervogel, roughly translated as Birds of Passage, was a movement that began in 1896 in a suburb of Berlin which consisted of youth-led nature hikes and excursions. The concept of youth-oriented nature hikes was by no means unique, but the fact that they were now being led by other youth and not adults, was.
The Wandervogel was in its truest form a movement against the values of the time (the Wilhelmine period) and an attempt to re-evaluate the social situation with the idea of creating a better human condition – a noble and lofty goal indeed, but one in direct response to the conditions experienced by many lower and middle-class youth.
The Wandervogel movement was at first a limited and completely unofficial affair. It consisted of young boys meeting to discuss ways to break free of the seemingly repressive system of values dominant in Germany at the time. They organized treks to explore the vast German countryside in attempts to both free themselves of parental control as well as to gain a better sense of value through the experience of hardship and raw nature.
In 1901, the Wandervogel formally became an association, even though it had informally existed for nearly 5 years.
The Wandervogle movement, not unlike many other youth movements that would soon follow, adopted a specific style of dress, a ranking system, and even a system of addressing fellow members. More specific to Germany was a focus on traditional German folk stories, folk songs, and folk heroes. At first, the movement consisted of exclusively boys, but girls were soon after allowed into the movement as well although the sexes were not integrated together.
The First World War destroyed an entire generation of German youth, and with it, the seemingly idealistic folk-oriented Wandervogel was lost to history – but elements of the Wandervogel would continue on long after the First World War had ended. For example, the future Hitlerjugend would take on the notion of “youth-led by youth” and incorporate it into its core of ideals, while the unique style of dress pioneered in the Wandervogel would continue on in many forms among most all of the new organizations.
In the years post-1919, the number of youth groups in Germany exploded. A comprehensive listing of these numerous post-WWI youth groups would be both tiring and complex, not to mention beyond the scope of this article, but an abbreviated listing of some will show the extent to which youth was organized during the period. Not all such groups were affiliated with the NSDAP though, in fact, there were many Left-wing groups and others still that were not even political at all!
This list is long but doesn’t come close to being complete:
The first NSDAP-related organization of German youth was the Jugendbund der NSDAP which was announced on March 19th, 1922. Adolf Lenk was named as the leader of the Jugendbund at age 19, and the organization fell under the command of the chief of the Sturmabteilung, the SA.