February 2, 2017
Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
“I begin with the young. We older ones are used up . . . But my magnificent youngsters! Look at these men and boys! What material! With them, I can create a new world.” –Adolf Hitler, Nuremberg 1933
By the time Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, 3.5 million children belonged to the Hitler youth. What did he offer them that drew so many young people into the fold?
For many, it gave them a sense of pride and belonging. They enjoyed camping and hikes and getting to perform feats of bravery. Hitler promised to make Germany great again, to create jobs and to give the young a source of pride.
Bartoletti tells the story of the Hitler Youth, focusing on the lives of 12 young people. Some were enthusiastic Hitler Youth members, reporting their parents and leading marches. Some started out enthusiastic but resented the loss of personal freedom, coming to see the organization in a more ominous light. Others were not welcome to join because they were Jewish or simply had no interest in joining a group that worked so hard to curtail freedom. I have to admit that my favorite stories were of the defiant, Hitler Youth who fiddled with their radios that would only pick up approved German radio so that they could listen to forbidden British broadcasts.
This book isn’t a rosie posie look at the Third Reich. Bartoletti tells about Hitler’s work to strengthen Germany by emphasizing physical fitness and forcibly sterilizing and even killing the institutionalized unfit who he saw as a drain on the country’s resources. It tells about the rise of the camps and how they were used to discipline non-Jews and scare people into line although later it was said that no one knew about these same camps.
But it isn’t an entirely dark story. Bartoletti also tales about brave young people who refused to be brainwashed. She tells about the struggles of those who were and how they worked to change their lives and their outlooks in years to come. Yes, there is a warning but there is also a note of hope. The young can be used but they can also overcome.