Although the Nazis touted the traditional family, their efforts to increase the birthrate among German women represented an incursion against it. Strenuous organizational activity and propaganda designed to politicize and indoctrinate German children and youths – who were deemed more important for the future than older generations – placed additional burdens on the family. The Nazi goal was to create overriding and instinctive loyalty to Hitler and the system, partly by excluding or minimizing other sources of influence, including parents.
In 1933, Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach (1907-1974) was given the authority to oversee all youth activities. The subsequent “coordination” [Gleichschaltung] of a wide range of preexisting youth organizations resulted in their elimination or absorption into the Hitler Youth early in the regime. With the passage of the “Law on the Hitler Youth” on December 1, 1936, membership in the organization became at least nominally compulsory, and the authority of the Hitler Youth was placed on a par with that of schools and the home. The “Second Execution Order to the Law on the Hitler Youth” of March 25, 1939, provided specific guidelines on mandatory membership in Nazi youth organizations – the Hitler Youth, the Junior Hitler Youth, and the League of German Girls – for all children between the ages of 10 and 18.
The Nazi youth experience did not wear well with everyone (34). There are indications that, over time, the excitement and dynamism of the 1930s youth experience gave way to regimentation, professional opportunism, and even alienation. A report issued by the domestic unit of the SD [Sicherheitsdienst or Security Service] on August 12, 1943, described the relatively pessimistic and cynical attitude of senior members of the Hitler Youth. Even more alarming was a Ministry of Justice report from early 1944 on the problem of youth gangs. In the face of wartime constraints and multitudinous other problems, discontentment was so high that even the threat of severe punishment could not eliminate dissident youth groups.
During the Third Reich, primary and secondary education was suffused with Nazi propaganda, and university teaching was altered to suit the times as well. History was a particularly sensitive discipline. Thus, in 1938, the Reich Ministry for Science, Education, and Public Instruction published guidelines for the teaching of history in secondary schools. The Nazis benefited from nationalistic and xenophobic traditions that existed even among university students and faculty members. But Nazi regimentation eventually encountered limits, as some university students kept their distance and others became politically apathetic (35).
(34) For a general assessment, see Michael H. Kater, Hitler Youth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004).
(35) Geoffrey J. Giles, Students and National Socialism in Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); Steven Remy, The Heidelberg Myth: The Nazification and Denazification of a German University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).