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Munich 1938: If I had been a Hitler youth, what would my life have been like?

June 24, 20233 min read

Jeanne Moran, author of Risking Exposure, a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honor book for historical fiction, explains what life was like for Hitler Youth – an organization her 14-year-old character, Sophie Adler, had to face first as a member and then as a target.

When I see historical fiction set during the Nazi years, I wonder—if I’d been a German kid during that time, what would have my life been like?

For starters, I’d be a member of Hitler Youth whether I wanted to or not. That was the law for all kids ages 10-18. If my parents refused to enroll me, they could be sent to prison. There were even threats that the government would take me away from my parents and place me in an orphanage if they didn’t comply.

Being a Youth member meant I wore my uniform to the mandatory weekly meeting, paid my dues, and participated in required events and outings. Boys my age went camping, held athletic competitions, even learned to sail, fly a glider, or ride a motorcycle. Like many girls’ activities of that era, my Youth activities would have included camping but also more home- and family-focused ones such as learning first aid, child care, and folk dances.

Sounds like an old-fashioned Scout program, right? That’s on purpose. The Nazis showed the world a Youth program that looked wholesome, full of family values, exercise, and adventure. At least on the outside. The world didn’t see what happened at those weekly meetings and community outings.

The troop leader would lead the Youth in a song declaring Germany’s greatness. Sometimes the lyrics to an old folk tune would be changed to Nazi slogans denouncing certain groups of people. The troop leader endlessly recited Nazi propaganda—how Germany’s history is filled with excellence, how chunks of land were taken away by treaty at the end of the Great War (WWI,) and how certain groups of people threatened the nation. Youth were told that ‘real Germans’ were people who had six generations of German heritage and were free of other ‘imperfections’ such as following certain religions, being homosexual, or having a disability.

Over and over again, they were told that as ‘real Germans,’ the Youth must do everything in their power to restore the nation to its rightful place at the center of the world stage. The lessons emphasized the hard times ahead, but that the end result (the return of the German empire,) would make the effort and sacrifice worthwhile. Hitler Youth were told it was the solemn but joyful duty of each and every one of them to literally fight to the death for that ultimate goal.

After meetings, uniformed troops of boys and girls marched through city streets singing songs about hard work and restoring Germany to power. Athletic competitions originally emphasized teamwork but later focused on unreserved brutality and triumph at any cost. Leaders looked the other way while winning teams beat up losers or engaged in street fights and vandalism. That fanatical mindset carried over into WWII when a Panzer division manned only by Hitler Youth ages 16-18 fought the Allies on D-Day, when Youth manned anti-aircraft guns and searchlights, and when boys as young as ten were ordered to fight the Allies in hand-to-hand combat. It is estimated that thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of Hitler Youth were killed in action during WWII.

So if I was a German kid during the Nazi years, my mind would have been stuffed full of Nazi propaganda. I would have been brainwashed into believing it was my job to root out everyone different than me and get them out of the country at any cost. I would have believed that doing so would bring my country back into its rightful place—the greatest empire in the world.

A terrifying thought.

Learn more about Jeanne Moran at:

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Risking Exposure by Jeanne Moran book coer

When fourteen-year old Hitler Youth photographer Sophie Adler contracts polio, there’s no turning back. Her new disability has given her a label: Nazi target. Her only weapon is her camera.

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World War IIRisking Exposure bookJeanne Moran
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