The Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend, often abbreviated to 'HJ') was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. It existed from 1922 to 1945. The HJ was the second oldest paramilitary Nazi group, founded one year after its adult counterpart, the Sturmabteilung (or the SA). It was made up of the Hitlerjugend proper, for male youth ages 14–18, the younger boys' section Deutsches Jungvolk for ages 10–14, and the girls' section Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, the League of German Girls).
Adolf Hitler founded the Hitler Youth ("Hitlerjugend") in the 1920's. By 1933, when Hitler had consolidated his power and become The Fuhrer, the membership of the Hitler Youth was vast with more than 100,000 children and young people committed to the party's junior organisation. Hitler used the Enabling Act of 1933 to see to the end of all other groups for young people. and so the strength of the Hitler Youth abounded in the absence of all other activities for young people.
By 1936, the Hitler Youth had an astonishing 4 million members. It was effectively compulsory to join the organisation. For a period of three years youths could avoid doing active service within the Hitler Youth if they paid a subscription fee but this was out-ruled in 1939. Hitler had effectively created a vast army of young, fit Germans who were trained to fight for their country. Their choice was to follow the orders of the Nazi party or face trial and possible execution.
The Hitler Youth initially catered for boys 10 to 18 year olds. The separate section for girls was organised which focused specifically on preparing girls for motherhood and domestic tasks round the house such as cooking, cleaning and laundering their husband's clothes.
Boys at the youngest end of the Hitler Youth (aged 10) joined a group called the German Young People (Deutsches Jungvolk) until they were mature enough to join the main body of the Hitler Youth, usually at the age of 13. They would then spend five years in the Hitler Youth before transferring into an adult section of the Nazi party. Hitler Youth activities often included marching, bayonet drills, learning to throw grenades, digging trenches, orienteering, self-defence, living in dugouts, and escaping under barbed wire reels under pistol fire - activities that boys were encouraged to find exciting and exhilarating.
Girls also joined the League of Young Girls (Jungmadelbund) when they were 10, and then transferred to the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Madel) when they turned 14. Girls in the Hitler Youth had physical exercise and training too. They were required to run 60 metres in 14 seconds, throw a ball at least 12 metres, march for 2 hours and swim 100 metres. However, a strong emphasis was on more domestic skills such as making beds and peeling vegetables.
To the rest of the world Hitler portrayed his Youth organisation as a template for German discipline, patriotism and strength. The truth was that many despised the Hitler Youth. Teachers and schools complained frequently that children were too tired to pay attention in the class because they had been overworked at party sessions. That young Germans became increasingly narrow-minded and obsessive about the Nazi party, turning arrogant and ignorant due to late night Hitler Youth meetings that were essentially brainwashing sessions.
Hitler's main reason for making the Hitler Youth compulsory in 1939 was because the organisation was grossly unpopular with parents and attendance had fallen to below 25% by 1938. Many young individuals were abused, both violently and sexually by Hitler Youth group leaders. Parents had no knowledge of what happened at Hitler Youth retreat weekends - events at which senior Hitler Youth leaders would whisk away a tightly-filtered selection of the most Aryan youths to provincial castles for supposed training retreats. Fear and loathing spread across Germany, and dark rumours about the Hitler young began to spread. But fear for personal safety had most refrain from speaking out about reports of wrongdoings at Hitler Youth meetings.
The leader of the Hitler Youth from 1933 until 1940 was Baldur Von Shirach and the husband of Henriette Hoffmann (daughter of Heinrich Hoffman - Hitler's official portrait photographer). In 1940 he lost control of the Hitler Youth and so Hitler appointed Artur Axmann as its head, a man who managed to escape conviction after the war and actually lived until 1996.
The Hitler Youth worked effectively, turning Germany's youth into committed Nazis. Basic strategies were used. For many boys, the food at Hitler Youth retreats was better than what they received at home. They were given honour, prestige and enveloped into the stability and comfort of a communal environment, in some cases a welcome replacement to their real family that had perhaps been left fractured by World War One. The uniforms, equipment and striking flags and symbols of the Hitler Youth all added to the mysticism and personality-cult, making the Hitler Youth a colossal self-perpetuating propaganda tool.