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The Problems of the Young Generation from the Perspective of an SED Functionary (September 1946)

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If we wish to examine the political and ideological conditions and currents among youth, then we must proceed from the realization that while the young generation may represent a uniform body on the outside, it breaks down internally into various groups. Fairly sharp boundary lines can be drawn between the 14- to 18-year-olds and the 19- to 25-year-olds. And they, in turn, are different from the young people in the older age cohorts. Common to both of the first-named groups is the possession of no other criteria than those of the Hitler period, whereby the 18- to 25-year-olds are still the group of young people who are taking a wait-and-see attitude. “We have burned our fingers enough, just leave us alone!” is an oft-heard refrain. To this group, especially, applies the observation of one foreign journalist who wrote: “Evidently there are very many people in Germany who, when they think of politics, can only think of what the National Socialists turned politics into, something bad that should be rejected. [ . . . ] This attitude seems particularly widespread among the young generation, among those who have known only National Socialism and its conceptual world. [ . . . ]”

Raised in Nazism, educated in the abominable teachings of Hitler barbarism, unfamiliar with the ideas of other nations – for these young people a world collapsed, a world that made them unstable and mistrustful, skeptical, and partly cynical to the new. This second group, especially, is having a very hard time finding its way. The younger ones are managing more quickly, and they are already developing considerable social activity. That is also reflected in the fact that the large majority of the members of the “Free German Youth” are boys and girls between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.

Since the days of the collapse, a process of political clarification has been occurring among youth, and this has had a very broad and deep effect in the Soviet-occupied zone. Shortly after the creation of the democratic political parties, there arose, within the self-government of the cities and villages, youth committees whose task it was to gather the youth and educate them in the democratic spirit. The significance of the youth committees lay in the fact that they paved the way for youth to create a large, uniform, and non-partisan mass youth organization. The youth committees also gave rise to the activists who are at the head of the organizations of the “Free German Youth” [Freie Deutsche Jugend or FDJ] today. The FDJ has existed in the Soviet zone since March 7 [1946]; currently, it includes around 300,000 members in the five states and provinces, and it already plays a considerable social role alongside the parties, unions, and women’s committees. The FDJ is a youth organization whose ranks accommodate all worldviews and confessions, as well as the most diverse strata of youth. After all, one result of the war was the breakdown of a whole host of social barriers. The same major problems confront the workers’ youth, students, the farming youth, and young white-collar workers. Those problems can only be solved together and through joint exertions. That is also why the idea of a united youth organization fell onto fertile ground. And that is why the youth movement is much more progressive in the Soviet-occupied zone than in the Western regions of Germany.

[ . . . ]

(Verner was a KPD functionary and a “West emigrant.” In 1946-47, he was a member of the Central Council of the FDJ.)

Source: Paul Verner, “Probleme der jungen Generation” [“Problems of the Young Generation”], Einheit no. 1 (September 1946), p. 240ff; reprinted in Christoph Kleßmann and Georg Wagner, Das gespaltene Land. Leben in Deutschland 1945-1990. Texte und Dokumente zur Sozialgeschichte [The Divided Land. Life in Germany, 1945-1990. Texts and Documents on Social History]. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1993, pp. 126-28.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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