Hitlerjugend – The Hitler Youth
The Hitler Youth – the Hitlerjugend or HJ – was offically formed at the secondReichsparteitag (National Party Day) on July 4th, 1926. Although theHitlerjugend would become the only youth organization of Germany shortly afterthe NSDAP came to power in 1933, the HJ was certainly not the first attemptto 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 youthhad been a major focus of numerous groups during the early 1900’s including both Left andRight wing political parties, as well as those groups more generally benign in nature. In fact, the phenomenon ofyouth organizations in the begining of the 20th Century was not limited to Germany at all as they were found in nearly allparts of the world. The Boy Scout movement, still highly active today, wasfounded in America in 1910, and offically charted by Congress in 1916, andin Italy youth groups were also very popular in the early 1920’s.
The history of youth movements during the end of the 19th and begining of the20th Centuries is very complex, and even the limited scope of those thatexisted exclusively in Germany is nearly impossible to fully document. But as complex as the subject may be, nostudy would be complete without a mention of the root of most all 20th Century German youthmovements – the Wandervogel. The Wandervogel, roughly translated as Birdsof Passage, was a movement that began in 1896 in a suburb of Berlin which consisted ofyouth-led nature hikes and excursions. The concept of youth-oriented naturehikes was by no means unique, but the fact that they were now being led byother youth and not adults, was. The Wandervogel was in its truest forma movement against the values of the time (the Wilhelmine period) and an attempt tore-evaluate the social situation with the idea of creating a better humancondition – a noble and lofty goal indeed, but one in direct response to theconditions experienced by many lower and middle class youth. The Wandervogel movement was at firsta limited and completely unoffical affair. It consisted of young boys meetingto discuss ways to break free of the seemingly repressivesystem of values dominant in Germany at the time. They organized treksto explore the vast German countryside in attempts to both freethemselves of parental control as well as to gain a better sense of valuethrough the experience of hardship and raw nature. In 1901 the Wandervogelformally became an association, even though it had informally existed fornearly 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 addressingfellow members. More specific to Germany was a focus on tradional German folkstories, folk songs, and folk heros. At first the movement consisted ofexculsively boys, but girls were soon after allowed into the movement as wellalthough the sexes were not intergrated 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 elementsof the Wandervogel would continue on in long after the First World War had ended.For example, the future Hitlerjugend would take on the notion of “youth led byyouth” and incorporate it into its core of ideals, while the unique style ofdress pioneered in the Wandervogel would continue on in many forms among mostall of the new organziations.
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 bothtiring and complex, not to mention beyond the scope of this article, butan abbreviated listing of some will show the extent to which youth wasorganized during the period. Not all such groups were affiliated with theNSDAP though, in fact there were many Left wing groups and others still thatwere not even political at all! This list is long but doesn’t come closeto being complete:Adler unf Falken, Deutsche Falkenschaft, Geusen, Schilljugend, Scharnhorst Jugend, Hindenburg Jugend,Bismark Jugend, Jugendbund Graf von Wartenburg, Jungwolf, Jungdeutscher Orden,Freischar Junger nation, Freischar Schill, Deutsche Freischar, Jugend-Internationale,Jugendverbande, Bund der Artamenen, Tannenbergbund, Jungstrom Kolberg,Deutsche Kolberg, Deutsche Pfadfinderbund, and many, many more.
The first NSDAP-related organization of German youth was the Jugendbund derNSDAP which was announced on March 19th, 1922. Adolf Lenk was named as theleader of the Jugendbund at age 19, and the organization fell under thecommand of the chief of the Sturmabteilung, the SA.